I start this entry with a very real dilemma: it is Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day or Mothers Day? That question is literally putting me on edge.
Mothering Sunday (phew!) was not a success this year, as my son and I continue to struggle through the end of teenage days.
When your children are young, it’s easy: they need you ALL THE TIME. You can’t go to the toilet or read a book, without being reminded that they cannot survive without your attention. Even when they are not with you, you know without question that you are 100% responsible for their well-being.
Then one day they can dress themselves. Soon after that, your house no longer echoes with the cries of “wipe my bum”. Later still you start letting them go to the loo in restaurants without supervision. Eventually you stop even checking whether anyone tried to speak to them while they were in there. Now my only role is providing a stock of toilet paper.
That is the best metaphor I have ever come up with, even down to the fact that I regularly fail to do my job and we resort to using various travel packs of tissues and torn pieces of kitchen roll.
There are few dynamics more beautiful or dysfunctional than the single parent and only child. We are the same. He may be the only person in the world he knows how much I appreciate a good colander. He loves the fact that I can always pick the socks he would choose himself. He writes me hilariously rude cards because he knows I can’t stand insincere sentiment. This year he told me he was sad that I’d be moving out soon to the new house and asked what arrangements I wanted to make for doing his laundry.
We bicker like siblings but I can count on one hand the number of nights we went to sleep still at odds, and even now those times hurt my heart. In our more furious rows, he gives me no quarter, arguing that he only has me and I must be held to a higher standard. He told me recently that he would prefer me not to date anyone until he leaves home. And I informed my hairdresser this week how much of my hair she was allowed to cut, because he wanted to keep the same length. This sounds insane – almost creepy – but he just wants me to stay the same. He had no sentiment when we left our house last year. But when it comes to me, he wants his home to stay the same.
I see his point but I am faced with an impossible challenge – letting him become an adult, while not changing myself as a parent. Often I am damned both ways, at the same time.
Jackson is 17. He is doing 4 and a half A-Levels. He has a girlfriend. He makes his own way to school. This means I hardly see him, and when I do, it’s usually across my laptop while I’m working. It’s making us both sad. We have tried over the last couple of months, with some success, to spend more time together.
On Sunday, he decided to come home early from his Dad’s house, to spend the afternoon with me. Problem was – he didn’t bloody tell me – because it was, in his words, “obvious”. He just mentioned on Saturday night that was coming home in the afternoon. I thought he knew that I had plans, and assumed he was coming home to see his girlfriend or do homework. These days he comes and goes on his Dad’s weekends as he pleases.
The stage was set. He arrived home and was furious that I wasn’t there. If he had asked me at any point, and hadn’t been so angry and rude, I would have gone home. Instead I told him that it was his fault for failing to communicate with me – why would I expect to spend time with him when it doesn’t happen usually? I knew he was frustrated that his well-intentioned plan was ruined, but it wasn’t my fault. Why shouldn’t I make plans when he is away? Why was he being so childish about it?
Instead I went home for dinner and was met with a sulk that had brewed for five hours.
Him: I should have stayed at my Dad’s and had a home-cooked meal. I’ve had a **** afternoon on my own.
Me: **** off back to your Dad’s then. You ruined my day too.
Him: You should *never* tell me to go to my Dad’s.
Me: You were having a dig about going to your Dad’s and the fact I don’t cook.
SAME SONG, SECOND VERSE, A LITTLE BIT LOUDER, A LITTLE BIT WORSE.
This row went back and forth, up and down the stairs, for a long while. And at the end I cried, because he was so angry with me, and I couldn’t understand what I had got so wrong.
We did make up before bedtime, as we always do.
I know most days he still wants a proper hug, and sometimes he still needs to be a kid, and occasionally he still needs me to step in and put my foot down.
But I realise now, through writing this blog, that he still needs to know that I’m there ALL THE TIME. I’ve worked so hard on letting him go, that I almost forgot to hold on. I’ve focussed so much on how sad I am about him leaving, that I almost forgot that he will always be my son. I’m not going to stay at home on the off-chance that he turns up, but I’m going to try and notice more when he needs me, and stop pointing out that it’s contrary. Although I may still hark back to the days of “wipe my bum”, which was a much somewhat simpler request.
Photo is my Mother’s Day gift and video is a throwback to a slightly more successful parenting attempt – because we really do love each other.