Breathing is harder than getting under the skin of a 13-year-old boy. "You're ruining my life," he rants, right after I tell him to clean his room and right before he asks me to go pick up his girlfriend and take them both to a movie, my treat. "I wish I could have a day to do nothing! Just sit around all day and do nothing!"
The friction in the fissure between adulthood and youth astounds even the stalwart, but I bravely and dutifully penetrate his illusory teenage bubble; to ask him questions he doesn't want to answer and to talk about topics he doesn't want to discuss. Persistent invasion of his unsubstantiated privacy reveals that I am officially mean. My 13 year-old put it in digital print, texting a friend, "Is your mama as mean as mine?"
He had emerged from a restorative period of restriction during which he was made to sit with us, in public, at a baseball game. "This is part of your punishment. You have to be seen with the enemy," my husband tweaked him.
"No," I interjected, reveling in sarcasm, "we're not the enemy. We're worse. We're the parents."
That statement with its clockwork timing propelled me straight from "hard parent" -- a distinction awarded me by our daughter who calls my husband the "soft parent" -- directly to "mean mama"; flattering recognition for a job well-done.
I tell the soft parent, the man the children go to with requests that should, without a doubt, be denied, about the "mean mama" text. Fearing that I might falter into severe leniency and out-soft him, he coaches me to stay tough, like an IGA skirt steak, and get out of the way of the consequences.
Then he softly tells the boy that he will talk to me about letting the child have a day, or a few, to do nothing but lounge around on the sofa in his pajamas watching TV and eating chicken nuggets off of paper plates in the den. He should get the kid an unemployment check, too, while he's at it.
Ah, but too late. Fate intervenes, with a lesson of its own, ripping our son, leaping in the air to catch a football, violently down to earth and sending him for X-rays. His foot swells to the size of a sow's belly. For the rest of the week at summer camp he hobbles after his cabin-mates, doing nothing but watch them make memories.
Once at home, the doctor gives an initial diagnosis of a soft tissue injury and prescribes elevation, ice and walking as tolerated. Optimism that the boy can return to his daily routine of chores and complaining resurges. Sure, the physician ordered my son to refrain from running and jumping, but the man didn't mention anything about unloading the dishwasher.
Secret male code, though, undetected by me, had passed between them. A couple of hours later I receive a call from the "soft" doctor. He has looked again at the X-rays and sees a possible fracture. New orders: no weight on the foot whatsoever. ASAP my son plops on the couch and gets down to the business of cultivating bedsores.
Clockwork timing, however, propels him straight from absorption in the FX channel to the 4th of July. He crutches after his cousins, doing nothing but watch them wakeboard and light bottle-rockets and make memories. I cheer him with a smile: "Look at this way. You weren't careful and you got your wish."
He texts a friend, "Is your mama as mean as mine?"
Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run . She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.