Mommie Not So Dearest

There’s a line uttered by Faye Dunaway portraying Joan Crawford in the movie “Mommie Dearest” that began to resonate in my mind daily when our oldest son entered adolescence.

Faye/Joan remarks, after yet another argument with her strong-willed daughter, “Why must everything be an argument?” While I certainly don’t condone any of Miss Crawford’s purported parenting techniques, I did find myself wondering the same thing whenever I found myself embroiled in a senseless, heated conversations with my sons when they were teenagers.

Nothing, it seemed, was straightforward with an adolescent. No instructions, suggestions, harmless comments were without, at least to my two kids, sinister implications. If I told one son to wear a coat, he’d ask “Why?” in a suspicious tone that seemed to imply that what I was really suggesting was that he wore one of my dresses to school. When I responded that he should wear a coat because it was 20 degrees outside and snowing, the coat went on but not without a loud sigh, as if I was somehow responsible for the weather.

When I asked my other son how he was doing in math or chemistry or orchestra, he immediately became defensive. “Who have you been talking to?” he’d question with all the subtlety of a completely paranoid personality. “Did you e-mail my teachers again?”

Now a less trusting mother might have thought that perhaps her little darlings were hiding something from her. I never did because, having e-mailed all their teachers and done plenty of sneaky sleuthing on my own, I knew that they didn’t have anything to hide. They simply didn’t want to share the mundane details of their daily lives with me, their boring, intrusive, incredibly nosy mother, and they certainly weren’t interested in my opinion or thoughts on just about anything, from what color it might be nice to paint their rooms to how the latest political race was shaping up.

That role reversal, from being the center of their universe to becoming a far-flung satellite, as not easy to take and is something that all new mothers should be warned about, preferably before they ever contemplate becoming pregnant. Separation starts at birth, but it’s such a slow process for such a long, long time that when it’s finally complete it can be something of a shock.

It’s amazingly easy to convince yourself that you’ll always be brilliant and beautiful to your children when they’re small and gaze up at you adoringly in spite of the fact that you haven’t worn eyeliner for years and your hair resembles a bathroom mat that desperately needs to be tossed.

When my younger son was learning to write, he used to pen (all right, Crayola) little notes to me along the lines of: Mom–Sun, Mon, Stars–I love you! That same child grew into a teenager who refused to believe me when I made factual statements such as Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States (“Are you sure about that, Mom?”). Adolescence arrived with a boom and a shudder after 11 or 12 years of what as basically a mutual admiration society between our children and my husband and me and hung around for far too long.

While I knew it was perfectly natural for them to doubt that we still knew everything, in their eyes we were lost in some middle-aged rut, beyond redemption, which might well have been true, but for some reason their stark assessment of us was more painful than all of the AARP advertisements we’d been inundated with since our 40th birthdays put together.

Thankfully, that is all in the past. We’ve entered a new era and adolescence has left our house, along with our offspring. It most likely won’t help people who are struggling with their own teenagers but believe me when I say that there is light at the end of the tunnel, things will get better and there might even come the day when your actually miss having a lippy, testy, messy adolescent living in your house. FYI, that feeling fades really, really fast.


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