A few years back, when my oldest son approached adolescence, I was delighted and terrified to come upon Anne Lamott’s article, My Son the Stranger.
I cringed when she described “13” as “training wheel adolescence,” and I laughed out loud when I she described her son as, “flamboyantly lazy.” I loved that she put those two seemingly incongruent words together. It captures the dichotomy of loving my teen as he enters what Lamott calls, “hard core biker adolescence” (aka. age 14.)
My biker was in true form last week when we made the bi-monthly trip to grocery shop at Trader Joes, almost an hour and a half south of us. It was a Friday night, and he was disappointed not to spend it with a friend, but happy that we were willing to make some special stops just for him.
At the Goodwill, he studied stereo equipment and picked up two shiny tire rims to adorn his bedroom wall while he dreamed of the real thing. His second request was unusual too: the craft store, to look for Henna tattoos. It seemed a harmless interest so we obliged, but we wanted to get the shopping done first.
He didn’t agree with the timing of our stops and as soon as we set foot in the grocery store, he began a litany of complaints that never let up: “How long will this take? I really don’t want to be here. I’m hungry. I’m starving. When can we leave?”
I explained to him that no one really wants to grocery shop, but that we all want to eat. I explained to him that now was a good time for him to choose items that he would enjoy. I explained to him that the shopping would go much faster if he stopped complaining. I explained to him that we were in a store filled with food so he could buy something and eat it, rather than be hungry.
My explanations failed to make an impact on his sensibilities and he spun himself into the kind of self-absorbed, my life is hell, fury that only a teen can manage (or perhaps a mother in mid-life.)
By the time we loaded the car with the groceries, my husband and I were spent and angry and confused. We made the painful decision to head home–despite our promise to go to the craft store and despite the fact that we too had wanted to make some other stops while we were here–including some “family fun” time.
Our son was furious. He kicked the back seat and made disparaging remarks all the way out of town while his younger brother sobbed beside him. It was one of those “our family sucks” moments where everything seems hopeless. I tried to keep my mouth shut and keep breathing while encouraging my husband to do the same.
When we got to the highway, I offered some gratitude aloud in an attempt to shift my own defeating mentality, “I’m happy we got this fun food,” I started. “I’m thankful the store had good samples.”
Typically, I initiate and prod a session of gratitude like this, asking each family member to contribute. This ritual has grown more challenging with a teen, but this time, I didn’t have to say a word. As soon as I finished my list, he initiated his own, without being asked.
“I’m thankful for...” he started.
I can’t even remember what he said because I was so surprised and humbled by his willingness and desire to bridge the divide.
In response to his graceful gesture, I offered my open hand from the front seat to the back, like I had done when he was a boy, knowing that he always refuses it now. But just I was ready to draw it back, I felt the warmth of his hand in mine.
He held on tightly through the ride, working my fingers with his, until my arm began to tingle and I slowly pulled away.