“Mom, you suck the fun out of everything!” shouted my 13-year-old daughter behind her closed bedroom door. Is this the same sweet girl who, when she was four, told me, “When you grow young and I grow old, I’ll take care of you”?
I knew these middle school years were going to be challenging, with mood swings and reluctance to hang out with mom and dad, but I didn’t figure on the insults that hit the heart. According to the daughter, I was too serious, too concerned, too fretful about her safety and health and school studies and friends, and everything else in between.
I couldn’t win.
Not only was I a fun sucker, but I drove a loser mobile—the name which she had dubbed for our green transport van. It was a convenient vehicle for hauling kids to games, practices, dances, and the third row allowed us to safely pack in a group of girls with everyone seat belted in. Why it was called such a name, I am not sure, but it probably had something to do with me, being a chatty mom to all of her girlfriends instead of just shutting up and driving. I felt like the invisible chauffeur.
Her degrees of embarrassment weren’t just isolated to her parents. One day I asked my mom if she could pick up her granddaughter from basketball practice. She was more than delighted to help. She arrived at school wearing her big, black sunglasses with side panels, a necessity after her cataract surgery, along with our 12-pound Shih Tzu in tow. We called these her glaucoma glasses based on their enormous size, needed to protect her eyes.
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So there was my mom, wearing those windshield size glasses, hanging onto our DIY clothesline dog leash with the wild, barking pup attached while shouting to my cool daughter who was in the parking lot with her group of equally cool girlfriends, “Yoo-hoo, Tessers! Grandma is here to take you home!” And as she yelled, she enthusiastically waved her hands about her head like a signalman on a railroad track as the wild dog, excited to see her beloved Tess, started running in circles, wrapping her leash around my mom’s legs.
For the daughter, the walk of shame ensued. Mom was from then on known as the yoo-hoo grandma.
On another occasion, I asked her at-one-time babysitter if she could pick up my daughter from school and take her to a dentist appointment. Gina was more than happy to comply. Gina had been her babysitter since she was three months old when I went back to teaching, and this would be a nice chance for the two of them to catch up.
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Gina arrived in her boat of a car, more fire-engine red than muted red, and parked at the front entrance of the building. Being the patriotic woman she was, had not one but two American flags attached to both back passenger windows, so each proudly fluttered in the wind as she drove. But, to a young teenager, this was another mortifying moment, getting into a car decorated as if it were in a Fourth of July parade . . . and in front of her peers. More attention drawn and more humiliation.
The year of chagrin and embarrassment disappeared as quickly as her next birthday, much to the relief of all of us.
The fun sucking mom was replaced with the Martha Stewart mom as I baked constantly to feed the bottomless pits that girls possess at that age (and they never gain a pound). The loser mobile lost its negative review and became the next best thing as her learner’s permit was within reach and this would be her vehicle to drive.
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Early teenagers think everyone is looking at them when in reality no one is.
They are all looking in the mirror at themselves thinking others are looking back in judgment, but it is only their own reflection as they compare themselves to others. I am not as short as, or as pretty as, or as smart as . . . and so on it goes. “Everything is relative except by comparison,” 17th-century writer Jonathon Swift once said. These evolving creatures eventually learn these words are true, that each is perfect in his or her own way.
But until they reach that level of confidence, life can be rough for those of us living with them.
But we navigate through their insults, remembering our own teen years when we fought within ourselves and took out that frustration on our parents—I never want to be like you, Mom—which got me a good swat as my brother reminded me. And the payback will come when we watch them as parents negotiate with their own teenagers, as we sit back and smile.