Will had left his car at school overnight and didn’t realize it until he was walking out the door. Of course I jumped in to chauffeur. It should have been the ideal opportunity to turn back the clock and sit together as we did in the days before he got his license, sometimes even holding hands in companionable silence or listening to music. Instead, we had a rare fight.
We were both tired, never a good state to start the day. It had been more difficult than usual to wake him up. He snoozed past the “hard” wakeup request, and then had me doing the human alarm clock routine at least four times before he finally swung his legs out of bed.
I asked what his first obligation of the day might be. “Mr. Moran at 9:05,” he answered. Name didn’t ring a bell. “Who?” I asked. “Mr. Moran.” My brain shuffled through my mental Rolodex, but it still didn’t register. (I snicker as I write the word “Rolodex” wondering how many people out there have no idea what I’m talking about. Okay. Outlook Contacts, if you prefer. Mental filing cabinet.) “Who?” said mama owl once more. “Mr. Moran.” “I don’t know who that is.” “Really??” responded my son. Bam! Wrong answer! “My math tutor,” he finally filled in.
I kept my temper in check, but as we resumed driving after a light, he spilled his coffee all over the front of his shirt and then he had a display of attitude. So I did too.
“Given everything going on in my brain, Will, I really did not remember who Mr. Moran was. And since you had not told me you were meeting with him, I did not have his payment ready for you to give to him, which—from parent to other adult—we had agreed upon. So you were lucky that I happened to have cash in my wallet. And instead of responding with an incredulous ‘really’ you simply should have filled in the appropriate phrase and not made me do mental calisthenics trying to figure it out. Moreover, I upset my expected morning routine to give you a ride, and instead of being grateful, you’re giving me grief.”
He explained that it wasn’t such a big deal to pay Mr. Moran right away; he could have paid him next time. Uh oh. Foot in mouth again, my misguided grasshopper. “If I made an arrangement with your tutor to pay him at the time of your session, then it’s your responsibility to let me know ahead of time so I can have the money prepared. Some people need their money right away to pay bills and you have no idea what their financial obligations are, so you have to stick to the pact.”
I asked him where he had parked his car. This time, he got it correct: the student parking lot. But now I was on a roll. “I’m not happy that you got another ticket for parking in the circle,” I said. His response? “But all the seniors park at the circle.” Bam again! “I don’t care what the other seniors do,” I told him. “Their parents may be okay with their child being a scofflaw but I’m not good with it at all.”
The ticket was $25, and it’s not his first of the year. “How many hours would you have to work to pay this ticket?” I asked. The answer: after taxes, more than three hours. (He has his first job ever—part-time at a pizza place in Princeton). And he will be paying that ticket. And not parking in the circle again. “Or your car will be taken away,” I threatened, “and we will be back to us driving you around again.”
I reminded my child that of all the rules he was breaking, the most important was the one saying it’s not okay to be rude to your mother.
We proceeded to school in silence. After a perfunctory bye, love you, have a good day, my son sent me a text, “I’m sorry I got your day off to a bad start. I didn’t realize I was rude, I was just tired.”
“Okay, I’m sorry too,” I responded, adding a heart emoji. I do love him very much, after all.
Parenting a teenager is tough, especially as these days breathe warmly with the promise of spring, and our last-term senior is gearing up for his final lacrosse season of high school, prom, and graduation. We’re practically empty nesters already; with Will out of the house so much these days, you hate to spend any precious time with unpleasantry, but then again, you cannot be remiss as a parent.
We both understand that our fight was a rare event, a perfect storm of exhaustion and misunderstanding. To illustrate the full roller coaster effect of parenting a senior, let’s go to the day before when Will had his 100-day celebration at school (100 days until graduation!), and he told us he had been moved to tears by the letters all of us—his sisters and Bill and I—had written him. They were love letters to a baby boy who arrived as a princeling into our world, a child who has brought all of us great joy and entertainment.
“Let your inner strength give you peace, expect the best from yourself and from others, forget yesterday’s mistakes and move on,” were Bill’s words of advice.
I paraphrased the Little Engine That Could. “Anything you think you can, you can. We love you and are proud of you, not just for what you have done and will do, but because of who you are.”
As long as you’re a parent, you will quarrel with your kids. It would be unnatural not to. The point is to forgive, forget, and move forward because ultimately, your disagreements should be small bumps—very small bumps—in the grand scheme of our lives. Our time together in the family nest is all too short and should be treasured.