Wednesday was come-to-Jesus day again this week, and again Jesus wasn’t involved. (Thank you to those Readers who have offered to send me copies of the Bible. However, I already have three copies. Unless you have one of the twenty-one surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible, I’m probably set.) My elder son conveniently forgot (as in, “I was hungry and I wanted to come home and get a snack first”) that he had a homework session after school. (“Dude, that is why I told you to take a snack this morning.”) Good news is that he has been kinder to his brother this week (an ongoing issue) and he got up on his own this morning with the vintage (25-year-old) air-raid-siren alarm clock our neighbor loaned him and without earning additional chore time for his tardiness or baditude.
It is good that the boy has so many kind people pulling for him. Among them is the fatherly psychiatrist he sees weekly, at some considerable expense. For the second time in as many weeks, the session began in tears. My son felt that he had disappointed me by behaving irresponsibly and failing to attend the homework session as promised. (Guilt over things they can’t control is a frequent struggle for those with ADD.) He told the doctor in front of me, “I just don’t want Mom to leave me.”
My jaw dropped.
The boy’s father had been irresponsible and mean and I left him because of it. My son was wondering if he would be next.
“It’s different with mothers,” I said later. “I didn’t give birth to your father,” and “you know, his mother still loves him, too.” (He not so much her; she was responsible enough, but not especially kind.)
The truth is that relationships are not a suicide pact, they just aren’t. You can love someone and still bound the relationship to contain the parts that might hurt you or others you love. Grownups frequently have to do this with their own parents. Sometimes those relationships are not positive or constructive, and we are left to kindly, compassionately, fence ourselves in, or others out. My son’s hypothetical future girlfriend or boyfriend won’t likely stick with someone who is is irresponsible or mean either.
Part of mothering is to suck it up and stick it out through even irresponsible and mean, if for whatever reason irresponsible and mean is what we get. Part of mothering is often being your own brand of mean to help a kid to figure all this stuff out, to keep him from turning into a frustrated, lonely, disconnected, and angry man.
“Don’t feel bad, do better,” I said to him yesterday.
He yelled at me, “You hate me don’t you?!?” While at the time I wanted him to wish he hadn’t said that, I sure am glad he asked. It gave me a chance to answer the question.
“Yes,” I said. “I hate you. I hate you so much that I carried you for forty-three weeks, forty weeks of which were pure hell. I hate you so much that I barely set you down for the first six months of your life while you cried incessantly—and I cried plenty, too, by the way. I hate you so much that I have put a huge hunk of my life into raising you, which is the hardest thing I have ever done. I hate having to harass you to do the right thing, to be responsible, but I do it because I hate you, for no other reason. I hate you so much that I stayed up until two in the morning helping you glue your project together on the day before it was due….” I was just warming up when he interrupted.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I know you love me.”
You’re goddamn right I do, kid, and I’m not going anywhere. Now, straighten up and fly right.
How’s that for mean?