Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Neglecting Near, Nurturing Far

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.



  1. Golly, where to start? It is difficult to accept a defense when you have convicted yourself before the trial starts, but I shall attempt to be Solomon here, because it's what friends do for one another.

    First, in your defense, I shall offer my own experience. I was raised by my southern (US) great grandparents essentially to be a racist. There wasn't a lynch-mob quality to it, just a matter-of-fact conveyance that black people were not quite human, and would desperately like to be white. Growing up in a segregated white-bread community, I never knew any black people, so easily the most valuable single lesson I learned from my hitch as a young-adult in our navy was my common humanity with black people (and all the other races), and the rich cultural heritage they carry with them simply because of what was done to their ancestors. Ever since, I can't call myself a crusader, but if you want trouble with this laid back California beach kid, just make some ignorant, blanket, racist remark about "those people," and it's on. Does that mean no black person has ever pissed me off? Stupid question. Support of a group doesn't negate the fact that the members of that group are individuals, and some of them are going to rub you the wrong way; no one who had seen me going at it with [name redacted] would have me pegged for a freedom rider. But I don't throw the N-word at them, and my anger with them is no different than my anger with a white person. Bottom line, it's okay to take a moment away from your crusade to be human.

    In defense of your son, I offer another anecdote. I am a huge fan of the blues, have been for many years. Over the last couple of years, I took the time to learn blues harp (harmonica, whatever the term is Down Under). Learned from DVDs, CDs, YouTube instruction. Never reached show quality, but I getting pretty good at it (at least I could no longer clear a room by taking it out of my pocket). Then, in a long overdue operation, I had my upper teeth replaced with a denture plate. Due to the mechanics of how it is played, I can no longer play the harp. It hardly defined who I am, but a year later, it still saddens me to hear one being played well, and knowing that I can never emulate it again; of course the blues is full of wicked-awesome harp licks, so I deeply get your son's misery. The trumpet, too, is very lips and teeth oriented, and only hope he will be able to get back to it while his braces are on.

    Conclusion: You aren't a saint. I know very little about Judaism, but I'd be willing to bet that a great deal of it concerns itself with forgiveness of yourself and others. All religions do, because a large part of the human condition consists of making amends for the distasteful things we do to each other before we think; the mouth, it seems, is several orders of magnitude quicker than the brain. You've apologized. Good start. Now put it behind you and act like you wish you had acted from the beginning. And don't bring it up again. If you slice your palm open with your Vege-Matic, you don't keep picking at the wound and reopening it. This is a wound, too. Cover it, forget it, let it heal. Forgive and forget, as our Christian friends say. You'll be fine.

    Now, in the immortal words of Monty Python, "Get on with it!"

    1. Thanks, Jack! I'm fine now and appreciate your "pep talk". Writing the post helped. I'm more than ready to take Monty Python's advice. I'll also opt for freedom over crucification.
      I think he'll be okay with the trumpet. He and I are alike in that we always see the negative first before stopping ourselves and realising that things aren't quite as dramatic as we think they are. Once he comes to terms with the adjustments he has to make and sees his trumpet teacher again, he'll feel better.
      I'm sorry you had to stop playing harmonica.

  2. I can understand how son felt - my trumpet playing opportunities disappeared when I ended up with bands on my teeth for three long years! They didn't have fancy covers then to prevent the sharp metal from cutting up your lips from the inside. Fortunately now there are aids for protecting the dental work and the soft tissues from the rigors of trumpet playing with bands and braces. My father played trumpet and I tried to carry that on but didn't get very far because of events beyond my control so now you know why I am so thrilled that my daughter has also heeded the call to pick up the trumpet. She is the only one of us blessed with straight teeth and I am so thankful every time I hear her play.
    We've been thinking of your son and it's hard right now but it will get easier. Sending our healing wishes and sympathies.

    1. Thanks, Jodie. We're eagerly awaiting the arrival of his brace guard in the mail.
      My godfather played the trumpet; he was quite accomplished. He had a day job but played in jazz bands every night for most of his adult life. He married late in life and never had any kids of his own so it's kind of cool that his goddaughter's son is continuing the tradition. L has pictures of my godfather playing and they mean something to him, even though they never met.