Some days I wish we had a reality t.v. show recording at our house so that you guys could get your entertainment from our shenanigans. We had moody teenager today – all day. And guys, it was brutal! Slammed doors, wailing over super minor issues, and displays of selfishness that would make a real teenager stop staring at their phone and watch, in awe of what he accomplished.
That’s right, he. Not my normally moody, super-emotional middle girl child, nope. My oldest. My son.
We normally have the defiance, the attitude, and the sass, but the emotional upheaval today was beyond normal. In fact, Mr. Genius asked me on one of my forays into the office “What’s wrong with him today?” Because something was wrong, obviously! The best I can figure is that he got a dose of artificial food dye when we ate out yesterday at a place we rarely visit. Sneaky food dye routinely turns our world upside down, but this was different than the usual.
Mr. Genius and I joke about this, but we’re seriously quaking in our shoes over the looming teenage years. If things are THIS bad now, I don’t even want to think about this plus raging hormones. It will be bad. It will be hell. It will strip any remaining hair color from my hair and cause massive clumps of it to fall out.
Like everything else in our lives, it’s almost impossible to fully share the depth of our reality. I can type the words the Engineer says, but text leaves out the disdain dripping from the words like caustic acid. I can’t fully communicate the effect of the eye-roll, the door slam, or the cutting tone of voice. All I can say is picture this pint-sized teenager putting on a very real, very authentic dramatic show.
This is the child, who when told (again) to clean up the toys by Mr. Genius, shot back with “Why can’t mommy do it? It’s her JOB anyway!” Since I was in the kitchen fixing dinner, I heard every word and went on strike the next day. He didn’t enjoy that very much.
This is the child who looked me dead in the face when told to change clothes and told me “I don’t have to do that, because I’m the boss!” I looked at him, speechless, and said “ok” and walked away. He rightfully got scared and promptly ran to obey, and then came back and told me “I’m sorry mom, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m not the boss.” I sweetly smiled and told him “I’m so glad you realized that because you were about to get all the boss things to do around here.”
He looked at me warily, and asked “what things?” I told him that bosses had to do all the things that no one else wanted to do, like laundry (I was in the middle of a huge pile) cleaning up toys, fixing food, doing the dishes …. I went on until he cut me off and said “but bosses get to do the fun stuff!” No child, that’s not how it works.
More often than not, he has “No” in his vocabulary more than a 2-year-old. It’s his canned response to everything. He is full of defiance, raging with anger, and his natural response is to lash out.
He’s lucky he has us for parents. Because we understand that there’s more to it than defiance. We know that something is triggering the emotional response, something bigger than the sibling taking a toy away or not getting a turn. We understand that he’s fighting the demons of anxiety and perfectionism, and we know that makes him react in not-so-pleasant ways at times.
I don’t like it. I don’t enjoy it, for sure! But I do know it’s not personal. I know he doesn’t hate me, he’s just in the grip of strong emotions that he can’t seem to control. He’s six. He just sounds like he’s 16.
I strangle back the laughter when a fellow parent tells me their child is going through a stage of defiance. I know it’s important to them and it’s a difficult deviation from their child’s norm, but they cannot even comprehend what it’s like to live with my child. This intense, defiant, strong-willed child who fights the rules every single day for the sheer joy of battle. They have no clue. They don’t even know how glad they should be that they have no clue!
Like everything else in our lives, we obviously don’t just let the Engineer get away with it. It was a stormy day, full of trips to his room to calm down, apologies, and pushing boundaries. It was a rough day for everyone, because our kids are sensitive enough to pick up on each other’s turmoil and reflect it. The Princess ran around hitting people and pushing them, while the Destroyer added oil to the fire by picking fights. A hard day.
But even though it was a hard day and I almost lost my cool a few times, I’m proud of how I handled it. I managed to work with him, Mr. Genius helped calm him down a few times, and we worked as a team to overcome whatever was triggering this problem. It’s not personal, it just is.
I think of our role as parents sometimes as those barriers you see on piers: the sea barriers. They stand strong. They don’t attack the sea, they just stand there and prevent it from flooding onto the pier. They are a boundary for the wild waves and the wind-blown surge. The Engineer may surge against our barriers and boundaries, but he knows he’s safe. He knows we’re not going to suddenly crumble and let him spill. We are his walls, his barriers to control self for him until he’s older and more mature.
Please tell me it gets better before the teen years, right? I’m still holding a vain hope that maybe I won’t completely lose my mind.