The basis, the essence, the very core of being a parent is the eternal struggle between wanting to hug your child and wanting to pound his or her ass.
As if life wasn’t confusing enough already.
I am so proud of my son because he has chosen not to learn to drive for now. He turned 16 last month and told me that he could not, in good conscience, put another motor on the road.
Once in a while, usually when you least expect it, they actually listen to you. But trust me; it doesn’t happen nearly often enough to be a habit or anything. I’m under no illusions that I’m anywhere near as persuasive as any given episode of South Park.
So, my son, the ever-vigilant environmentalist, has informed me that in the interest of slowing down global warming and reducing the greenhouse effect, he will, instead, carpool with a 17-year-old friend of his.
Suddenly, I couldn’t give a fat Fig Newton about truths, inconvenient or otherwise.
I believe I responded calmly and rationally by softly screaming, “Are you kidding me?”
After all, I have been a parent for over 16 years now. I’ve endured sleep deprivation to the point of being psychotic, projectile diarrhea and bazooka barfing so that certain items of clothing had to be disposed of in biohazard bags, broken hearts, difficult school teachers, three moves, psychodramas in too many toy stores to count and enough sibling rivalry to pay for my therapist’s Porsche.
So when it comes to choosing between saving the planet and saving my baby, the choice was obvious to me.
Driver error was, in part, involved in 78% of all fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers in America in 2004. In the same time period, it was the cause of 55% of all fatal crashes for drivers aged 20-49. Vehicle crashes are THE leading cause of death among 15-24 year-olds here.
Furthermore, of all the possible combinations of driver and passengers, the most dangerous is a teenage boy driving with teenage boys riding. Period.
I have met the would-be driver of my son. He is a very nice boy, plays in the band, drives a safe car and is well-spoken and polite. I even followed him for a while when we both left the school at the same time. He drove the speed limit, signaled his turns even in the traffic circle, unlike most pinheads on the road, and never once drove up on the sidewalk.
So I relented. They needed to get together to practice their saxophone quartet twice this weekend. Saturday morning went fine. Then, they told me they also wanted to get together Sunday night.
Night driving. Oh, boy.
The time change helped in that it was still light out at 6:30 when they left but it would be dark when they returned at 8:00. About ten minutes after they pulled out of our driveway, I heard sirens. For real.
An uncommon event anywhere in Central Oregon but especially outside of my dining room window.
I remained in control. I sobbed hysterically only twelve or so times. I wept over my son’s baby pictures. I went into his room and straightened out his bedding. I paced the house remembering his first steps, his first tooth, his first haircut. I recalled each and every labor pain and how he ruined one of my favorite shirts with his grubby-handed ‘hug for Mommy’.
That killed the first half hour or so.
I forbade anyone else in the household from using the telephone. I knew, I just knew, I would be getting one of ‘those’ phone calls. I rehearsed my speeches and reviewed my questions I would have for the nice officer. I planned various ways I would seek revenge upon the teenaged driver and his family. Lawsuits are not nearly violent enough for the likes of them. I rescheduled my appointments for the week so that I would be free to hold the vigil at the hospital
Now, we’re up to 7:30 and remember, he’s not due home until 8:00.
I went over my list of family and friends I would have to call. Who should I call first? Would they talk and get offended that I called someone else before them? What if they want to visit? Should I blow up the air mattress or make hotel reservations? Should they stay closer to my home or closer to the hospital? What if he has to be air-lifted over to Portland?
I make it through Sixty Minutes. That means it is now 8:00. He’s not home.
8:01. Now I’m mad.
How dare he be late? Does he think I have nothing better to do than sit here and worry? Huh? I have a life. I’ll just sit here and watch television. I always watch The Simpsons.
Oh, my baby loved The Simpsons! Wait a minute. I said loved. I meant loves! I didn’t mean to use the past-tense!
Man, karma’s a bitch.
Never mind how many times I made my parents wait up. That was different. Oh, God, why, oh why, did I have to take him to see An Inconvenient Truth? This is all President Bush’s fault. Most everything else is. If only they had allowed the presidential election to be decided by votes cast, Al Gore would be in office and he never would have had time to make an Oscar-winning documentary with polar bear cartoons.
My baby loves polar bear cartoons.
He’s gonna wish he had polar-bear padding when I get through with him. It’s 8:15. Does he think I want these wrinkles? I wasn’t born with this eye twitch, you know. My mouth used to curve up. Gravitational pull wasn’t so strong when I was younger, so much younger than today. And boy, will that son of mine need Help.
8:25. I am past mad. I am furious. I dug out the program from the band concert so I can figure out the last name of the kid whose house is holding the rehearsal. I slam the phone book on the counter and quickly flip to the last name. I begin practicing my indignant speech. Wow, is it good. Just the right tone and plenty of angry-sounding words.
8:30. He saunters into the house without a bloody care in the world. That’s going to change. And how.
After all, I didn’t really need to have a voice for the next week or so. It’s not like anyone ever listens to me anyway.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem