Volume 17 • Issue 19 | October 01 - 07, 2004


Middle-and teen-aged revelations

By Wickham Boyle

My son Henry, a mere two weeks into his 16th year, decided that he does want to have kids after all. He believes kids make you less lonely. But he doesn’t want babies, he wants to adopt a 15-year-old — ”you know mom, a kid who is at that difficult stage, not some mushy baby.”

I wondered if he had chosen an age so close to the one from which he has just emerged because subconsciously he is acknowledging that he was in a terrifically tough phase. Is this his way of saying, to me and perhaps to himself, that he has rounded the corner to 16 and feels as if he cleared a hurdle. Fifteen was a difficult age but now he is on a more mature path?

Did he say it to make me realize he acknowledges, in even a small way, how mind bogglingly hard it is to offer love to someone who is pushing you away?

There is not a windfall of outright appreciation and love from teenagers to parents and visa versa. In fact there is such a dearth of appreciation that even my fantasies have reconfigured. Daydream fantasies no longer involve romance, being whisked away, or lavished. Now my big fantasy involves gratitude.

In these imagined moments my family realizes what I have done for them. Not that I am so wonderful, or a victim or a martyr, but just to hear a simple, “Wow you gave me a lot of attention, time, love, confidence.” A sort of truly reflective statement that lets you know it was all worth while. I also fantasize that my brother would stop berating me for how I care for my father, and thank me, that my ex would actually say, “‘Hey these kids are great, you did that with no help from me. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you, but I am an emotional cripple and chronically unemployed and this is my only lucid moment in three decades so I want to thank you.’ ” Wow, that is a heap of fantasy.

So when Henry said he wanted to adopt a difficult 15-year-old, I saw some kind of appreciation in him. Because after all, by staying with our kids when they are smelly or diffident, confused or rageful aren’t we recommitting ourselves to their cause? Don’t we say to them when we make endless conversation that elicits one-word responses that we are still in here pitching? I believe we do.

Yet I have had moments when I thought “why didn’t I throw him out when I could still lift him;” now it would be at least a solid year of weight lifting before I could heave Henry out the door. I am sure by that time I wouldn’t be angry anymore and what would I do with all those muscles? Become a bar bouncer. I can see it now, a headline reading “Menopausal Mom Muscles Men for Money.”

I also see so much of my middle-age-woman neediness in Henry’s desire to actively want to adopt another human in their difficult, unappealing time.

Henry’s subcutaneous wish to be loved in cranky times is so poignant for me, because in my menopausal moments, my hormonal storms, I too feel as if no one would actively adopt me, fall in love with me, or have an affair with me. And isn’t that what we all universally crave. We all want to be desired in our worst moments not just our shining bursts.

So in order to proffer commitment to my kids during the rocky times I prefer to keep the conversational ball rolling and attempt to ignore the curt answers and pretend that my one-sided jabber is actual talk. And I am astonished when at times the words begin to flow as Henry talks about books he is reading or a teacher who is particularly enlightened or heinous. He jokes a lot now about the muscles he is building from all his tennis workouts. He tells me in a sidewinder way about some girls he likes, how weird he finds it when they apply masks of makeup or obsess about being skinny. He talks to me about the lost ban on assault weapons, political agendas and hip-hop. I feel anointed by his attention.

I am beginning to see who he may become as a man and it heartens me. And although at 14 and 15 he talked about how much he hated kids, how stupid it was to have them and how annoying they were, he now makes a grand pronouncement that he could see adopting a difficult teen so he wouldn’t be lonely. I hope he sees that my attention to him, his sister, our family, friends and work all weave together to provide a fabric that is anything but lonely.

When I think of it, if I knew I would get my Henry at 16, so open hearted, funny, intense and wonderfully sarcastic, I suppose I would have adopted him at 15. But instead I got him as a mushy, giggly baby and so by the time he hit difficult it was too late for me to toss him out, I was deeply in love with him and all he is. I think my ability to love him makes me believe that I too, in my not-as- cute, not-as-speedy, sometimes morose and nervous middle age, am still vitally deserving of lots of love. We all want to be adopted over and over again.

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