I told you so – Every child’s nightmare

I committed one of the cardinal sins of parenthood. I said, “I told you so.”

My son was texting me from camp–his thrice-weekly gripe fest about how much he hates everything about where he is. The food is inedible, the kids are dweebs, the activities are lame and he has no time to shower. These, don’t faze me. I can rise above it. Teens complain. It’s their purpose. Camp merely provides a focal point for their ever-present dissatisfaction with the universe. What set me off was his complaint that he wasn’t trained for cross-country tryouts and it was all the camp’s fault.

If he’s not ready, it’s his own fault. My dearest son, there is this season called Spring. Three months of moderate temperature and snow-free roads.

I’m worried cuz they make it really hard to run

You have a week before training starts, you’ll catch up

And then I slip up. He didn’t even provoke me. It’s been a long, slow argument that has been brewing since March.

I will not say I told you to train in the spring.

This is me not saying that.

Only 5 runs total

That’s five more runs than you took this spring.

But I’m not saying that either.

We’re done with this topic

Went too far with that last one, I guess. He’s texting with his Dad, who is sitting next to me, about pre-ordering Call of Duty or Black Ops, or some such thing. Hubby is giving him a hard time about having to wait until Christmas. I can’t believe the child is still pining for home.

Saying “I told you so” was less rewarding than I would have thought.  Giving into this particular temptation is far less satisfying than other transgressions, say eating cake. Mostly because my son doesn’t get it.  “I told you so” is a deep and shaded construct, much more than an admonition. It’s more about the parent than the child.

“I told you so” is shorthand. It doesn’t mean “you’re wrong,” as much as my son may feel it does. It means “could you just listen to me next time? I could save us both a lot of grief.” “I told you so” is a plea to be heard and respected. “See, I’m not an idiot, so don’t talk to me like one.” It’s a desire not to see our own mistakes played out all over again. “Don’t make this mistake, make some novel one of your own creation.” But he’ll never see that because teen stubbornness is a Darwinian advantage.  If they make mistakes, they learn. If they make our mistakes, we can be patient, recognizing we are merely our children with love handles and gray hair. We lived through our mistakes, and they will too.

So I texted him some platitude about how if he wanted it, he could do it with work and perseverance, and that I had faith in him. And I promised him cheesesteaks. Hopefully he understood that getting there would still require him to actually run. If he doesn’t make the team, I promise I won’t say “I told you so.” At least not out loud. I’ll save it for here.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Robyn Kalda

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Hello Muddah Hello Faddah

My son hates camp.  I expected he would. He told me he would, pretty much every day leading up to check-in.

It’s a Spanish Immersion camp run by a well-respected language institution. From the minute we stepped on campus, English was gone.  Even check in was in Spanish, which, by the way, I speak almost none of. A perky camp counselor introduced herself and rambled off instructions. My son’s eyes expressed nothing but resentment, not even a flicker of understanding. She finished talking, and I know it was a question because her voice went up at the end.

My son grunted. Something like “uhm.” I had no idea what that meant. Neither did the counselor.

After she left, my husband and I suggested that he might want to say something more substantive to indicate whether or not he had a clue about what he was supposed to do next.

“I know what they said.” He had that geez Mom tone in his voice. He rambled off a long list of tasks we need to complete, in order. “Happy?”

Oh yes. So very happy. Couldn’t he tell?

They handed him an elective sheet and it did nothing to better his mood.  Singing, Dancing, Cooking, Remedial Spanish and Aztec Culture. Aztec Culture it is! “Don’t worry,” they said. “He’ll get to try the others over the four week period.”

I looked at him and he mouthed the word “lame.” I told him that maybe cooking would be okay. “You beg to go to Chipotle every day. At least you’ll get to eat.” He moves right to the death glare. Time for us to leave.

The next day, they let the kids text or call their parents during a quick pre-dinner break. He can text with multiple parties at once.  Call his parents and he’s stuck.  That, and he’d have to actually speak.

Camp sucks.

We were ready for that.

Exactly what makes it suck?

The people, Spanish, the classes, the atmosphere, the phone policy, the activities, people’s energy, the food, the beds, the showers, most teachers, the fields, the air, the water

It sucks the life out of every living creature

If I trip and ACCIDENTALLY break my knee, can I come home?

How does one respond to that? Please, please don’t break your knee? I resort to what I know best.

I can send cookies

He continues on to tell us that he’s bored, it’s too easy, and he has no time to run, which makes me snort because he didn’t run a single day all Spring. Luckily, he can’t hear me, so I can still try the sympathetic mother approach. I’m good at that, too.

You have to know I’d love to run up there and make it “all better” by bringing you home, but do you really think that’s the best solution?

What a dumb thing to say. I totally set myself up with that one.

YES. YES, THAT IS DEFINITELY THE BEST SOLUTION.

Before his texting time is up, we (and by that I mean I) agree that he needs to actually voice his concerns to someone who can do something about it.  If that fails, his father and I will voice his concerns to someone who can do something about it.

Our solution is to fix it, not toss it.

Some things need to be tossed. Like Kevin Youklis, or Manny Ramirez.

At least he didn’t liken camp to Julio Lugo.

No parent wants their kid to be miserable.  But isn’t figuring out how to make things work part of the learning process? Finding that one thing that makes a moment worthwhile? If you do that, and string all of those moments together, you can have a pretty happy life. I know he’d be ecstatic if we brought him home, and wouldn’t think twice about the life lesson lost, but I would.

It’s true that some things in life can’t be fixed. But in trying he will gain maturity and perspective. Honestly, there are a lot worse things he could be stuck with than four weeks on a beautiful college campus with a ton of other kids who are probably as miserable as he is, each of them thinking they are alone. In the meantime, I’ll send him food. That much I can fix.

If I bring him home, he learns that if you don’t like it, you can always bail. While some things need to be tossed, most things in life can’t. You need to deal with them. Just as I have to deal with an unhappy child.

Maybe my mom can send me some cookies, too.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Brian Richardson

Enforcer of the new reality

I just took my son to camp. He’s going away for four weeks to a Spanish immersion program. He’ll pledge to speak only Spanish at all times, save for a break before dinner where he can call his parents. I don’t expect he’ll be doing that, because at the moment, he hates us.

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, very few families sent their kids to camp. Summer was all about riding bikes and playing flashlight tag and eating bomb pops. Every day was full of possibility, and time was generous. We’d get tanned and healthy and tired out enough to start school again in the fall.  I’d love my son to have that kind of summer.  He’d love that kind of summer.  That kind of summer does not exist anymore.

Summer is about enrichment now. Kids go to computer camps and elite sports camps, or they have second homes where they spend their vacation time. There isn’t an army of children to run around with just outside our door.  If my son had his choice, he’d hole up in the basement and play video games until his clothes sprouted mushrooms. That is not an option.

We’ve avoided the competitive parenting mosh pit for most of his childhood. He hasn’t been overly scheduled and we’ve let him choose the activities that he’s interested in. I would have loved for him to take up music, my husband wishes they could tinker on electronics together, but neither of those is in the cards. He likes sports, but he’s non-competitive. No one plays pick up games anymore, which is a pity. But as he gets closer and closer to college, we’ve started to push.

When I applied for college, if you had good grades a couple of activities, you were golden. Now, colleges want to see Advanced Placement courses, and 4.0+ grade points. They want examples of leadership and commitment.  Above average is the new average, and no one wants an average kid. When did this happen?

My son says he goes to school and does what he’s supposed to. He’s got great grades. He does his homework without prodding or nagging. He’s polite and well-behaved. He’s socially adept. He says that should be enough. He wants to come home and do nothing. He has a point. Unfortunately, we can’t let him do that. Not if we ever want him to move out of the house.

Every summer, he has to do something meaningful. Anything. Spanish is his toughest class, so this is what we settled on.  He participated in the decision. He talked to students who’d been in the program, so he knows what he signed up for, but he doesn’t want to go away for four weeks of his summer.

What I can’t tell him is that I wish he didn’t have to go, too.  Yes, it will be nice to have four weeks to work on my novel and spend time alone with my husband. I may have one of those post-disaster clean up crews come and sanitize his bathroom, but I will also miss him every single day. This is the new reality, and I am the enforcer, so I try not to let the glares and the silence get to me. If he senses any hesitation on my part, he’ll turn screws. I am the weak link and both my husband and son know it.

I didn’t want him going in committed to hating camp just to spite us. I told him that punishing us did not require that he be miserable.  He could go, enjoy himself, take advantage of what the camp had to offer, and just tell me and his father than it was a fate worse than death to preserve his cred.

He told me that when he comes home, he will speak exclusively in Spanish. Guess I better get a translator.  No one said being an enforcer would be easy. However, I did notice quite a few girls checking in at the same time we were.  I suspect he did too.  Maybe he won’t be so miserable after all.  That part, he can keep to himself.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Tamara