Mother cut her activist teeth in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Deep South in the 1960s. She met all kinds of people and learnt many valuable lessons. It was from those experiences that she developed an intense dislike for activists who treat individuals badly. She firmly believed that it was the height of hypocrisy to march for better rights and conditions for people and then treat a checkout operator with disdain and condescension or cheat on your spouse or beat your kids, whatever. I’ve certainly met some of those people and I share Mother’s dislike. Yesterday, however, I was one of those people. It’s all very well to sit at the computer and write what I hope are eloquent blogs or shop with the Ethical Consumer Guide in my hand but I left my grumpy footprints across Teenage Son’s psyche yesterday. Compassion did not begin at home.
On my behalf, it was always going to be a tough day. I had a lot to do, was suffering from hormonal grumpiness and hormonal insomnia which was exacerbating the grumpiness and Teenage Son was having braces put on. I try to look after myself to avoid such situations but hormonal insomnia only lasts a week or so and there’s not much I can do about it. Unfortunately, I’m like a cantankerous toddler when I’m overtired.
Teenage Daughter couldn’t wait to have braces to close a gap between her front teeth. We always told Teenage Son he wouldn’t need them since he had straight teeth. Famous last words. A quirk of nature meant that one of his adult canine teeth ended up sitting crooked in the gum and wouldn’t come down. All because of that, he’s had to have the baby canine removed, his gum opened and a chain attached to the adult tooth. Now braces are holding the other teeth in place and encouraging the adult canine to grow and to do so straight.
Teenage Son is a very good trumpet player; more than that, he’s a passionate trumpet player and it defines who he is. When we arrived home yesterday, Teenage Son was understandably on a downer. His mouth was aching and his tone on the trumpet was not up to its usual standard. As a lay person, I thought it still sounded very good but he’s a perfectionist and was well aware of the difference. He and I were alone in the house together so I was the person he took his anger and frustration out on.
I’ve become fairly adept at shielding myself from teenage angst and not personalising it. Not so yesterday. First, there was the low-level complaining. I tried soothing and placating. That made things worse so I tried just listening but was then told I was ignoring him. My back began to get up. Eventually, I shouted. I can’t even remember what the trigger was or what I said. What I can remember, however, is his face as I did so and the way I felt inside, even as I did it.
Almost as soon as I’d finished I apologised. Of all the times to yell, it had to be when he needed to be strongly nurtured. I think mothers often feel too much guilt but I’m wearing and claiming every ounce of guilt I feel on this one. We were fine later - he even teased me about it in front of his sister – but I think neither of us will forget it in a hurry.
Today was a nurturing day for both of us. Teenage Son stayed home from school, the pain rendering him unable to eat or concentrate, even with analgesics. I only did the red star things on my to-do list, spending time instead with Teenage Daughter who had a late start at uni and Teenage Son when he eventually emerged from the fog of sleep. I tempted him with porridge and milkshakes which he devoured and we just sat and chatted or watched his favourite show together.
I still feel ragged, having not slept well again last night but the low-key day helped a lot. I don’t feel as if I’m going to burst into tears or yell at the slightest provocation anymore. One blogger I follow wrote some time ago that sometimes we need to think of ourselves as toddlers and nurture ourselves accordingly. Ie. “Rachel gets grumpy when she’s overtired.” Maybe I should have made yesterday one of those days when I only do red star things. I didn’t know until I snapped at my son, however, how fragile I was feeling. Maybe I need to be proactive when I’m overtired and assume I need nurturing.
What about teenagers? If my son had been a toddler I would have given him paracetamol immediately, fed him a soft lunch and tucked him in for a nap. The fact that he slept thirteen hours last night speaks volumes about his own tiredness. He’s not a toddler and he’s at an age where he is determined to assert his independence. Furthermore, I don’t have a monopoly on hormonal grumpiness; he’s fourteen years old. All I could see yesterday, however, was one angry kid pushing my buttons.
Today, Teenage Son fluctuated between cheerfulness and anger. The difference was that I was able to deflect and nurture, almost wiping away the grumpy footprints from yesterday. Now I feel like I can campaign on behalf of others again.