Parenting teenaged boys is very like parenting toddlers. Or being trapped in a hall of mirrors. Neither adult, nor child, but both at once, they leap between fiery extremes, singeing me and leaving them confused.
Mornings are crammed with distractions and moving at glacial pace, while evenings are a tussle into bed, bathing-optional, clothes, the fallen soldiers strewn on the battleground of their bedroom floor, and emotions flung hither and thither on a hormonal bungee chord. Blue-blinking screens now replace the minutiae obsession of their toddlerhood. The tiny plastic accoutrement of Action Man, the pebble found, the filthy feather clutched possessively in chubby fingers, have given way to the phone or the game controller clenched in a vice-grip.
Tempers fray with head-spinning speed, and a simple excursion to buy school stationery becomes a pantomime of if—you—hit—me—one—more—time—I’ll-punch—you—so—hard—stop—crowding—me—I’m—not—crowding—you—I’m—just—trying—to—walk—here—no—you’re—not—you’re—deliberately—getting—in—my—way. We regularly perform for audiences in a variety of venues. Should you be passing a local supermarket or office supply store, do drop in for the matinee. You’ll know us by the sniggering audience, the stage projection of teenage voices, and the background track of hissed threats from me. There are seconds, moments, breaths as my heart shudders at the vitriol spat from between lips stretched in escalating rage, that I appreciate those animals that abandon their young to their own devices shortly after birth.
The same incensed outrage that consumed them as toddlers, at the injustice of their favourite toy being snatched from their loving grasp, revisits now over whose turn it is on the PlayStation™, or more pathetically, who started watching the flavour of the minute YouTube gamer first. The CEO and I have taken up eye rolling as a full time pursuit. We’re pretty sure we’ll win Olympic gold if there’s ever an event.
As quickly as those tempers burst hotly into flame, searing all who dare to intervene, they are extinguished again, leaving me dizzy and bewildered. The same children that barely tolerated each other’s existence just a few short minutes ago, will curl together on the couch, hunch over the warm glow of a single phone, share one set of headphones, and chuckle over videos by their favourite vloggers. Or they’ll google truly awful pickup lines and read them aloud until we’re all in fits of laughter. Or they’ll divulge some deep-held intensely private thought or feeling, allowing me a brief glimpse into their internal worlds. Or they’ll make my heart glow by continuing to sweetly acquiesce to the bedtime ritual we’ve had since they were born, that they’ve participated in since they could talk. Whether in muttered bursts when they’re staying at a friend’s place, or with gusto when at home, they continue the ritual with me.
In the deepest recesses of my imaginings, I wonder if this is what it feels like to have bipolar disorder, this wrenching from hand-wringing worry to stomach-aching laughter. Do I wish for a more tempered existence? No. This is the testing ground for my boys to figure out who they will be, what kind of temperaments they will have as men. Without those nerve-wracking, will-they-come-to-blows arguments, the moments of heart-wobbling, tear-inducing closeness would be less precious. Those glimmers of unguarded affection are what make life with teenaged boys so very sweet.