Thursday, 08 April 2010
It was a text from The Kid.
“nd 2 tlk 2 u l8er, K?”
A message like that just drives a mother crazy, and not just because of the bastardized English or the fact that he sent it at 2:13 p.m., when he should be in his math class. With all the numbers he used, could he accidentally have confused his calculator with the cell phone?
No, it drives a mother crazy because when a teenager “needs to talk,” it’s rarely a good thing. Often, it’s a really bad thing, like I should be expecting a call from the principal or the truancy officer or a “friendly” home visit from the Mill Valley police.
So as I made my way home from a less-than-productive workday because I was worried, I began preparing for the worst — like a sit-down with him, a girlfriend, her parents and me for a discussion of what it means when a condom breaks.
He doesn’t even have a girlfriend that I know of but mothers of teenage boys have to intuit just about everything because from the moment puberty hits until they’re an adult, they stop talking; they just grunt, mumble and nod.
When I got home, he was doing his homework. I could tell because he had the iPod earphones in, MySpace booted up and the TV on.
All the parenting books I’ve ever read would advise me to do the exact opposite of what I did; dig in right away.
“So, what’s up?”
“What's for dinner?”
“That’s not what you needed to talk to me about!”
“You texted me, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Right. I forgot.”
There are two types of people who can navigate communicating with a teenager — other teenagers and those of us with forgetful middle-aged brains.
“Mom, I need a car.”
“I need a car.”
“Just last week, you said you needed an iPhone. Your needs are getting pricier by the day.”
“Everyone is getting a car when they get their license. Everyone!”
I fell for the trap. “Like?”
“Emily’s getting the old Volvo, Spencer’s getting his mom’s Beemer cause she’s getting a new one, Cody and Tyler are both getting SUVs and Lucas’ parents are getting him a new Mini.”
“Since when do 15- and 16-year-olds need a car? I didn’t have a car until I was in college.”
“You mean the Model-T? Ugh, Mom, you just don’t understand!” he said in disgust as he started fidgeting with his iPod screen, a sign that I may now be excused.
And he’s right, I don’t understand.
But in a way I do.
For a boy who's in high school, a car means a lot — much more than just transportation. It’s a way to secure his place in the high school pecking order. If you don't have a car, you're always having to bum rides from those who do; friends get tired of that after a while. And, just as it was in my high school days, girls tend to gravitate toward the boys with cars. You're not very good boyfriend material if you don't have wheels. Plus, it’s freedom. It’s freedom for the parents, too, who supply their kids with cars to relieve themselves of the tutoring-soccer practice-weekend party driving duty. And if there are younger siblings involved, they get placed in the hands of the teenage driver, too, for their various activities, even though there are laws against that.
I get that, but I still don’t think a teenager needs a car.
I have often felt that I was a one-woman army against the “everyone has one” and “everyone else can do it” war. Then I read about that Iowa mother who sold her 19-year-old son's car in an ad — describing herself as the "meanest mom on the planet" — because she found a bottle of booze in it. I sure hope she saved that bottle, because I'd love to kick back with her and share a glass or two. She's my kind of mom.
It’s not that I’ve been a bad parent. In fact, I’ve been a good parent; I have rules, limits and boundaries — not to mention severe financial problems. I just wish everyone else got on board!
It's not that I fear what might happen to him once he slips in behind the wheel of a 3,000-pound potential death machine, despite the statistics that put the teenage fatality rate at four times that for older drivers. I actually think The Kid would be a careful driver, despite the fact that he can't quite get the aim-in-the-toilet thing or remember to brush his teeth on a daily basis.
It's the message I'd be sending that concerns me, that others are responsible for giving him what he wants. Right now, that would be me and his dad, but later on in life, it would spill over into (pick one or all): his boss, his girlfriend, his teachers, his friends, his wife, his children, the world.
I brought him into the world, and since then I have feed him, clothed him, housed him and loved him; I think I've done my share.
True, when I was a teen, some of my friends had cars, junkers they bought themselves, and almost all of us had access to the family car — there was just one of those back then — when we really needed it. Of course, I remember went on in those cars! That's why my mantra is, "You don't need a car," and I use all sorts of studies, facts, figures and experts to back me up — it's a mother's version of "But everyone else is."
It hasn't stopped him from badgering me.
Whoever coined the phrase "driven crazy" surely had a teenage son.
Will you buy your teen a car, or pass down the family beater?
Or will you make him or her buy her own?
Why?Guest post from Kat Wilder