I am a chump. SHIT.
I very much recall not understanding my parents' frustration, their dismay, their sadness at my mediocrity during my larval stage, but i certainly remember it. And i know that the general malaise they seemed to endure throughout my adolescence was more or less entirely my fault. And now here i am paying it forward like i never thought possible. I can feel myself at times repeating with my oldest son the dynamic my father and i had. Oh, the tumult. The attempt to control and shape a human being for whom you are responsible. My temper. His temper.
I always thought the much smaller generation gap between myself and my son (a mere two decades) would make it so much easier to understand him, would impart a closeness more like that of peers. But time has sped up so much in the last 20 years that the gap between us is huge. Computers, cell phones and social media have rendered parents of today's teens the dinosaurs we thought we'd never be.
I can remember my son instructing me, in a very condescending tone, how to exit a program on a Dell in 2003. He was three.
In exactly 5 days, he will be 13. A real live teen. It's already so difficult. We butt heads often, both of our hormones raging. He wants little time with us, as his friends are becoming his whole world. And his hour-long showers are a colorful reminder that as a teen, i used to masturbate in the shower until my clitoris almost fell off and washed down the drain. My father would be completely flustered as to the enormous water bills and my incessant lateness. "WHAT IN THE SAM HILL IS GOING ON IN THERE, RACHEL??" he'd bellow, as i shuddered to my 4th orgasm with the detachable 'water massage' nozzle between my legs. I was a real piece of work, to put it mildly.
Flash forward to present day, as i sit looking at our enormous water bill. Which, sadly, has nothing to do with cleanliness. I haven't showered in days, because i have three toddlers and very little time to myself. I haven't even taken a shit alone since 2008. My oldest son, however, will cheerfully announce that he'd "better take a shower now!" at 2PM on a Saturday.
Recently, i opened an drawer in said tween's bedroom and found a mostly-consumed liter-sized blue Mountain Dew. Dew The DEWWWWWW. In blewwww. Although it wasn't drug or sex related, I was mildly dismayed at my son's sugary deviance: What kind of fatty hoards soda? What is this, Arkansas? More jarring was that the bottle instantly reminded me of the time when i was in high school and my father found my liter-sized homemade soda-bottle water bong. It was a bad day for both my dad and myself. Likely more so for him, as i am now coming to realize in the midst of writing this.
[Screen goes wavy, harpist plucks whole tone scale...]
It was probably 1996, so I was about sixteen. After a night out, I came home in the morning and sitting on the front porch in our big blue recycling bin was EVERY last stinky, sticky-sweet n' nasty bottle of alcohol i'd stashed in my bedroom closet, including those that i'd stuffed in my white patent (wait for it...) Go-Go boots in some sort of drunken, idiotic teen desperation. Years earlier, as an non-jaded, go-getting 6th grader, i'd won our town's art competition for the recycling logo (Sort Today, Save Tomorrow!!!) that was now printed on the bin....This was a sad twist of fate. Here was all my Boone's Farm, all my Mad-Dog 20/20, staring me in my stupid face.
"Uh-oh", i thought. "I am so fucked." My father is a wonderful, good man. However, for those of you who do not know him, has a temper that can reduce strangers and other people's children to tears. And alcohol and drugs are very high up on his Sin List, right below uncaught fish and sexual activity of any kind. He hates the shit out of Sins, you guys.
I solemnly and slowly ascended the stairs to the second floor, knowing i would have to pass my dad's home office before i could safely kill myself in my bedroom....
"Hhheeyyyyy, dad", i whispered. He was sitting at his desk, looking like he had just adopted a kitten, only to have it immediately slain by some sort of large reptile. In front of him was liter of soda--Oh, dear GOD. There it was. My giant, idiotic, plastic homemade bong with the aluminum foil hitter. Even the label was still on. "Sprite!" it proudly declared, completely unaware of it's nefarious alter-ego. And wait....what else did it say?
My father had adhered a piece of paper to the bong that said "#1 CHUMP TROPHY". He was clearly stating, via my mega-retarded bong, that he thought himself a sub-par father because his daughter had smoked pot. (While this wasn't true, perhaps his dismay was warranted because his daughter was a fucking idiot. I am adopted, though. Maybe he found a sliver of solace there?) Either way, this hit home for me. Even if it just happened now, eighteen years later.
|This isn't the original, but it was ghetto as fuck, just like this|
He kept it on his desk for weeks, I'm sure more as a form of self-torture than as a reminder to my dumb ass to clean up my act. I am fairly certain at many points in my adolescence and perhaps even adulthood, my parents thought me a lost cause. This incident paled in comparison to many that would follow.
I am definitely in for some serious karmic bitch-slaps when it comes to my own children. I can only imagine our drug talks:
"One time, mommy was in a hippie's tent with a nitrous tank and visited a parallel universe. Oh, and the hippie was daddy."
Perhaps the sage Chump Trophy is a hideous, smelly, tape-covered reminder for parents to take it easy, on our kids but even more so on ourselves. Maybe even if our kids are disappointing in their adolescence they may still become functioning, happy, adults??? Furthermore, what defines 'functioning'? Or 'happy'? Or shit, 'adult'? And if and when they do, would it have happened whether we beat ourselves and our kids up about all their failings and indiscretions? I think our society puts so much pressure on parents via the concept of a nuclear family. EVERYTHING is up to the two (or fewer) people raising the child, there is rarely a "village" to share responsibility. I know my parents put worlds of pressure on themselves, and my husband and I do the same. The guilt factor is huge.
So, as i embark on the journey of being a parent of a teenager who will be using all the expensive conditioner to not condition his hair and likely taking bong hits before i know it, i realize i will have to constantly remind myself what it was like to not be a grown-up or a parent. That he's not intentionally hurting us, he's just growing up, which is awkward and difficult. That he's not a bad person or destined for failure because he screws up. That the best thing we can do is accept and love him unconditionally and always. My parents were and are exceptional at that, and i hope they know it's the greatest gift they could have given me. And even though i'm a bona fide, minivan-driving, home-owning grownup, i'm still a daughter as well as a mother. I love my dad, and we still have plenty to learn from each other. And the best i can do, the best any of us can do, is learn from the experiences we have with our parents, good or bad, and try to grow with our children. They are, by the laws of evolution, more advanced human beings than ourselves, even if they seem like ill-clad idiots with poor hygiene and worse grades. Maybe i will try and remind myself that i'm interacting with a superior, progressive human being the next time my kid tells me i'm "the WORST!" or he weeps hormonally over a bagel flavor like a menopausal woman. But i'll probably just yell and send him to his room like my parents did. The circle of life.