Tuesday evening I was in the kitchen as Noah sat in the family room on his lap top.  He was already a little peeved at me for some reason, which I can’t remember anymore.  Suffice it to say that “peeved” is his default attitude towards me these days, which is actually better than “hostile” which would be the other choice.  I’ve got me a teenager… six months early.  

In my obviously lame attempt to engage with him, I posed an innocent question about a friend of his.  His response to me?

It’s none of your f*@%ing business.

Only he didn’t bleep the word.  He didn’t substitute “effing” or “freakin”. He dropped the f—bomb.  On his mother.  An unprovoked atomic f-bomb. 

He muttered it rather softly and I might have missed it except he got that look on his face that you get when you realize that you screwed up big time.  I made this face often when I was a teenager.  And while I was certain he didn’t mean it to come out quite that way, a sadness set up camp in my heart and has refused to leave.

Enter the next phase of parenting.  I have officially crossed the threshold into the tunnel of darkness.

Dave and I used to joke about “the tunnel of darkness”.  It was those first 3 months home from the hospital with the new baby.  No sleep.  Incredible monotony.  No time to shower.  Well folks, that tunnel of darkness was a cake walk.  A tunnel of love.   A physical challenge, indeed. But I can tell that THIS next tunnel – the teenager tunnel —  will require much more stamina.  It will be a true test of my mettle as it has been for generations of parents before me.

For all you parents of small children out there, please know that you have it really, really good.  I know – I was there.  And I didn’t know how good it was.  I didn’t appreciate the fact that when your children are little ,you have the luxury of black and white.

No you can’t have candy before dinner. 
Hitting is wrong. 
You need to share.
It’s time for bed.

When your children are small, you can run your dictatorship with the confidence that THIS is how it is done.  You might even chuckle at the tiny angry faces that stare back at you because you know that you are right.  And that they will love you again in 30 seconds.   Then gradually these judgment calls become trickier and you wake up one morning and realize that everything has gone gray.  And being right doesn’t feel nearly as good.  You walk the line between providing the structure your teenager needs and granting the independence for which they rightfully yearn. 

Are you sure you want to wait until the last minute to do this project? 
Do you really want to spend waste your money on that (insert big mistake here)? 
Could you find it in your heart to include your little brother?
Did you really skateboard down that busy street during rush hour?

I have watched myself – almost in an out-of-body experience – transform in Noah’s eyes from the consummate hero and protector to the guaranteed nemesis and source of contention.  Nothing I do feels right and nobody around me can say for sure that I am doing it wrong.  Except Noah.  As for the conventional wisdom that was so prevalent when the kids were little – it has all but dissipated.  Advice is fragmented and consistently inconsistent, with the exception of the universal guidance you get from parents who have gone through this tunnel before:

Hold on.

When Noah dropped the f-bomb on Tuesday, I didn’t yell.  Seemingly this was indeed and black and white issue.  But somehow, that gray creeped in as I wrestled with why he reacted to my question the way he did.  Was I prying too much?  Does he need more space?  Still, the f-bomb hurled at the woman who loves him more than anyone on the planet was unacceptable.  I quietly confirmed his words, directed him to shut the computer and go to his room.  When he came back down to the kitchen ten minutes later with a heartfelt apology, I accepted it.  And told him to go back upstairs for a little while longer.  He was not happy.  I was not happy.  But we got through it.  Now I wonder if I should have taken away some privileges. 

And so it goes. 

We move awkwardly through this tunnel of darkness, hesitant, frightened and tripping along they way.  They tell us there is light at the other end and I have no other choice but to believe them.  The alternative is too defeating.  In the meantime, I miss the old tunnel of darkness where  the icky stuff that came out of their mouths could be wiped clean with burp cloth.   But there is no turning back now.


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