It’s unusual that I find myself annoyed with my seventeen year old, Jake. I’ve been a bit annoyed lately.
Jake wasn’t able to find a job this summer, and that isn’t a totally bad thing: he needs to teach himself German II after a year with a teacher who only got them through the first quarter of the book, study for a second stab at his SAT’s, and I’d be happy to pay him for doing repairs around the house. But every time I check on him he’s plugged into his iPod and reading. I’ve reminded him of the need to study, but I don’t want to nag him. He needs to accomplish these things, not me, and at seventeen it’s time for him to nag himself.
It’s August, though, and I felt it was time for a recap of the summer and a bit of nagging so that he could change direction while he still had time.
We talked for an hour or so. That’s not quite true. I talked for most of it. I pointed out what had not been done, the expected consequences of this inaction, and asked him why he wasn’t doing what needed to be done. His turn. He’d explain why it was impossible to do what needed to be done. My turn. I’d repeat the whole lecture all over again, but this time with metaphors and analogies.
We were at an impasse when Jake laughed and said, “You know what it is, Mom? I’m seventeen and I don’t want to listen to you. And I know you’re right, but you’re usually right, and I hate it. I want to do things my way, not your way, even if your way is right.”
“So I’m right about the studying?”
“Yes. And I hate it. How am I supposed to rebel?”
“Honey, could you NOT rebel scholastically going into your senior year? Please? Could you pick something else? You know, something that won’t keep you out of a really good school?” Do other parents have logical discussions with their teenagers about the pragmatics of rebellion?
“I can’t figure anything out! Every time I try to rebel you’re so logical and you want to help! I say ‘Mom, I’m gonna die my hair blue,’ and you say ‘Cool! I’ll go get the dye, how ’bout a mohawk?’ ” This was four years ago, and apparently a bigger deal than I had thought.
“But a blue mohawk would be cool!” I counter.
Jake flings his hands out towards me as if to show his invisible audience that this is the evidence of which he just spoke. He gesticulates silently, momentarily speechless until he bursts out in laughter, “THAT! THAT! That’s why it’s so hard to rebel!”
I get it, I really do. But anything that can be undone is just not worth fighting over, is it? You might as well enjoy it. Teenagers are supposed to be stupid, and I have always just hoped to arm mine with a bit of intelligent forethought as he approaches any new stupidity. The kid is a great person with awesome grades and a bunch of varsity letters under his belt, who I’ve had to encourage to loosen up. Really, there are much bigger things to worry about, aren’t there?
“Honey, just don’t screw up school, ok? You’ve worked so hard! Maybe you should go get a tattoo or something, and I’ll act really upset? Just get it somewhere discreet, ok? In case you regret it. Because you will. And don’t go to a crappy tattoo parlor, get a good one, OK? And really think about it, because it’ll be there for the rest of your life.”
“SEE?! Now I can’t do that because you thought of it! Like that time I told you I was going to get my ear pierced, and you offered to do it for me?”
“But there’s nothing wrong with a pierced ear! You’re such a good kid, and it’s not a big deal! But I really think you ought to get both pierced, because that’s what’s cool right now. And guys with nipples pierced are cool, too. Why don’t you go do that? Pierce something! That’s rebellious!”
“You really don’t get rebellion, do you?”
“Rebellion…..I guess I just see it as two people with differing agendas, but one is reliant upon the other because they aren’t autonomous yet. I know that’s a frustrating position to be in, honey.”
There’s a thunk as he drops his head to the table and wraps his arms around it. He mumbles something to the table. It sounds like “Ohhh my Goooooood.”