Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Puzzle

When I was getting ready for Evan’s 17th birthday party, he said, “You know, this party is more for you than it is for me, Mom.”

He didn’t say it in that Lifetime Movie way, in a voice full of gratitude, you-are-the-wind-beneath-my-wings way. “Oh, my dear mother! Though this is my birthday, this party should really be a tribute to you, the selfless one who has nurtured me throughout all these years and made all things possible.”

No, it was more in a slit-eyed suspicious teen “You-and-I-both-know-I-don’t-care- anything-about-having-a-party;-you-just-want-to-have-your-friends-over-and-you’re-using-my-birthday-as-an-excuse kind of way.

I had been wheedling the boy for a week or so about what he wanted to do to celebrate and he had no idea. I decided a small dinner party with some friends would be a great idea. I presented the idea to Evan. He was less than thrilled.

“No, Mom. Come on.”

So I decided not to do it. I would be embarrassing him.

Then I decided to go ahead and do it. It would be fun! He’d see.

But shouldn’t I respect his wishes, let him know I had heard him?

I wouldn’t do it.

But no birthday party?

I had to have a party for my boy.

No. He was nearly a man. It was time to let him make the decision.

A few hours later, I changed my mind again.

Oh heck, I thought. I’ll have a party whether he likes it or not.

(My inner alarm: “Warning! Psychological Damage ahead! Therapy Bills Coming!”)

Evan begrudgingly invited three of his friends, choosing ones who already knew how “weird” we were and who could commiserate because they also had uncool parents who were likely to embarrass them by bursting out in song or dancing at the drop of a hat.

I am happy to say we had a great time with about 13 people in attendance. There were two girls just about two years older than Evan and his friends and so the six teens had a good time talking about their high school/alma mater and what was happening around town.

I figured the young people would be outta there right after the presents had been opened, and had organized a craft project for the adults who remained. It was a simple candle/tissue paper/Mod Podge project. I brought out the materials and off-handedly asked the kids if they wanted to participate, fully expecting them to shrink back in horror. To my surprise most of them said yes.

So for about an hour the tissue paper flew, Mod Podge was slathered on, and laughter and talk flowed. The adults finished up and went into the next room to play Wii bowling, but the teens remained, working on candles and talking for another hour or so. I listened and smiled, knowing Ev would never admit the party was a good idea, but also knowing he was having a great time.

As our children grow into these later teen years, it becomes increasingly difficult to use the Mom-o-Meter to know when to move in and when to back off. These offspring of ours push us away, sometimes at the exact moment they want us close.

And we, as parents, are sometimes too quick to back away when pushed, thinking that is what we are supposed to do. We reason they need independence and we want that for them too. However, we then discover they are asking boundaries even as they are proclaiming that we are ruining their lives with all our useless rules.

It’s enough to drive a mama crazy.

So what’s a concerned, dedicated parent to do? Well, quite naturally, as in all weighty matters, I turn to cats for guidance.

Think about it: Bring out a cat carrier and the cats will sense a trap and disappear for hours. Present them with a fancy new cat bed or an expensive cat play structure and they will look at you as though you have lost your mind. However, leave an old box on the table or a suitcase open and before you know it, they’re in there, relaxed, hanging out, and in no hurry to leave.

In the same way if you arrange a specific time to talk to your older teens specifically about their lives, they’ll sense a trap. Arrange an event that even remotely smacks of prepackaged bonding time—especially one reminiscent of their childhoods, say, the zoo or park, and they’ll look at you like you have lost your mind.

However, stand in the kitchen chopping vegetables, or relax on the couch and they might just come around, hang out, maybe even start talking.

Or sit at a table, mindlessly putting together a puzzle. Say nothing, be patient, avoid eye contact and eventually, you might just find them there, standing beside you, then sitting, maybe talking about nothing, maybe talking about everything.

If you are lucky, they might even pick up a few of the odd-shaped pieces and help you solve just a little bit of the confusing, but always colorful, puzzle that stretches out in front of both of you.


Joe Cap said...

I completely relate to this.
The Daughter just turned 13, and I now right in the middle of not knowing what she wants.
Actually, I DO know what she wants...for me to not exist at all unless she wants something.
A teen thing, I know.
I hope she grows out of it.
If I embarassed her with a birthday party at this age, I would be in trouble.
Can't do a Chucky Cheese thing like I did when she was 8...

Old Kitty said...


Cats are a great resource for gaining wisdom!

Glad you had a great and successful birthday party for your son!

I doff my cap to you wonderful parents who face the everyday challenges with good humour and plenty of patience!

Take care

Lidian said...

Cats are very wise (well, mine maybe not so much, they sleep a lot and look cranky when awakened, which I only get to do sometimes)-

And that sounds like a fantastic party! You really are a wonderful mom :)

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Okay - I do not have kids but being one not all *winks/grins/blushes/triestohidethefactthatthirtyiscomingfast* that long ago I see you point. It was those moments when I was more apt to spend real time with my parents. Now when I see my nieces and nephews I see the same thing.

Love the comparison & the story.

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Alexandra said...

You know what? That should be PSA!

Fan flippin tastic.

I am going out this minute to Tarjay and get me some puzzles.

You continue to rock my world, girlfriend. You are so right on about this....

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

What a fabulous post! I totally agree with your approach and think it is really smart. Since my oldest is now 11, I will need to be a smarter Mommy now. Already everything I do or say is scrutinized suspiciously. So sad. Why do they grow up so fast?

Cheeseboy said...

It sounds like your kid is a great kid to play along without complaining and I am glad he ended up having a good time.

My parents never once threw a dinner party for me. However, I wish they would have. Adults give so much better gifts.

Talli Roland said...

Great advice. If I ever have kids, I'll need to talk to you! I love that you've turned to cats for wisdom...

My Mind's Eye said...

Good for you having the party....this will probably be one of your last opportunities to honor your 2nd son. A good time was had by all and that is what matters.
Thanks for the very thought provoking post,
Madi and Mom

Ren- Lady Of The Arts said...

Love this post! I guess this is what I have to look forward to.

essbesee said...

well done! the post and the party. the party sounded just perfect, what a thoughtful mama you are. and, the candles looked really cool.

tori said...

Wow! We look at parenting the same way. I blog on these subjects a lot and often find myself using what I like to call "run-on adjectives" when descibing my kids "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me-rolling-their-eyes" reactions (just like you use) :)
This is a great post!

cake said...

great post! i need to remember this in 10 years!

found your blog through "not to brag."

Pat Tillett said...

What a great mom you are! And smart enough to know what's going on also. Raising a child is not something for the faint of heart.

"Just do the best you can, because by the time they're 30, they'll be talking about you in therapy anyway."

Anonymous said...

Thanks Betty for this lovely post and the great advice. I need all the help I can get. I am one of those quick to back off types but I am going to remember this and not do that anymore. I'm also going to set up an old refrigerator box in my dining room and put an iphone in there. Then I'm just going to hang out, real cool like, reading a book, drinking tea. See what happens. Maybe my fridge box can become the 21rst century equivalent of the Skinner box. Just more humane and user friendly. Thanks Betty. And I love that you had a project planned.

Beth Zimmerman said...

THAT was a beautiful post! Almost made me cry! My baby just turned 20 and the moments when he will sit and share his heart with me don't always come at the most convenient time but they are always worth stopping and paying attention to! They grow up so dad gummed fast!

prerna said...

This is a gem.. One that am gonna save and keep for when my toddler turns into a teen! Right now, she can't stop talking (babytalk!) but then I'm sure I'll have to make her start and your priceless post will surely be a blessing!

liz said...

Betty - the more I read you, the more I understand your kids' fears! CATS FOR GUIDANCE?!?! Craft projects for parties?!?! That one would have weirded me out.

But as always, you make me laugh. :)

Erin Janda Rawlings said...

Aww, that is so bittersweet!

You are a great mom to know that parenting changes as kids develop into new stages.

I am going to reread this in approximatley 14 years!

And I think he really did mean the first one!

Joann Mannix said...

For me, it is the car.

No one in my house gets a car when they're legally allowed to drive and so far, no one in my house has gotten their license at 16 because I didn't think they were ready. It leaves a lot of opportunities for mom to be the chauffeur. I love that time. It has brought out some of the best conversations and sweetest moments in my girls' life.

Great advice.

Ann said...

I can proudly say that I am a survivor. My two kids are both adults now. The next big hurdle is to survive this part :) I love your comparison to cats, excellent.

Marlene said...

Ha ha. I can so relate. Love it when my 19 year old comes into my room, plops herself down, and either sighs dramatically or stares at me until she's got my attention. It's like she's just HOPING I'll ask her what's up before she actually has to bring it up on her own. (Ok, so sometimes I let her squirm.)

I wanna see the candle pics!!!

TS Hendrik said...

Fantastic post. I love the candles. I've seen something similar done before and I'd like to try it.

I busted out laughing when you mentioned turning to cats for guidance. That's just fantastic.

One Photo said...

What a wonderful post, yet again. I am glad your son enjoyed the party and you are a wonderful Mom for patiently persisting with the idea without pushing too hard on him.

I love your analogy to building puzzles, it is just brilliant.

I had never thought about this before, only having a 3 year old to contemplate, but what you are experiencing with your teenage son is exactly what we Moms of toddlers experience. That is, understanding that the pushing away/rebellion of a teenager and the tantrums/pushing boundaries of toddlers are one and the same thing, a request from our children to continually establish rules and create security for them, which they so need but pretend they do not. How interesting - although a little daunting to think I have another 15 years of this back and forth play at least to go!!!

Ms. A said...

What a fantastically insightful post. I never did get it right and surprisingly enough, they grew up anyway. Now, if I could just find out where they went.

Alissa Grosso said...

I've heard that kids are about as difficult to heard as cats.

Alex@LateEnough said...

I think that his willingness to invite ANYONE was probably a good sign that your mama instincts were right on. Had he REALLY hated the idea, he would've just refused to participate.
And I love the craft idea! So cool!

Shan said...

Way to go, Mama Betty!

Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoy listening to your stories & the way that you talk through things! And HE will definitely appreciate & thank you for all your party planning that you do!

Holly Renee said...

Beautiful. I love how you talk about boundaries and how to know when to respect them and when to do your thing as a mom. It's such a hard balance I am sure. What a cool candle/tissue paper project too. Love this post.

LittleSilkDress said...

No one makes it out of childhood unscathed. So in reference to the therapist, you might as well help him get his money's worth!

Just looked at Monday's flowers. Thank you! They brightened my dreary San Francisco day and made my turbulent flight to Seattle a little less...well, turbulent. :)

Gigi Thibodeau said...

Brilliant. That cat analogy is just brilliant. You are a cool mom, Betty.

Ally said...

Your son seems like such a good kid. I like him :) I think it's nice that you had a party for him. The way he said the party was more for you than him, reminds me of what he'll say when he has a wedding. Eek, hope that didn't scare you :)

Life Is A Road Trip said...

Oh, yes. Kids always think they are smarter than their parents. Bwah-ha-ha.

Julie said...

Ah, such wise words. I love that you planned and "adult" craft. What a great idea! I don't think I would have ever thought of that. I'm learning from you Betty! :)

Bonnie said...

Such a unique perspective. I really enjoy reading your posts. They are always full of humor and great advice. Thanks so much for sharing!

You made me want to give my Miss Kitty a box of her own to play with. :)


Sara said...

I loved your post, so much! It osudned like a wodnerful day and you are so right. My brothers are 20 and 22. They not only came to my son's birtdhay party, but they also ended up playing play dough with my neice and newphew and stayed a long time. I just wanted to hit pause on that moment:)

Have a great day,

Betty Manousos said...

I loved this post, so beautiful!; and what a great advice!
I'm so glad that you had such a perfect party for your son!
Betty xx

Peggy K said...

Lovely metaphor (intentional or not) with the puzzle and veggie chopping!!
I totally relate to this. My son is 30 now, with an 11 year old of his own. So it won't be long before he's in for the same thing he gave me!!
Sometimes, they drive us nuts...but they are the best thing that's every happened to us!!! said...

This is such a rich post, Betty. You've clearly done well to impart solid values in your boy - as has your cat.

Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

Oh, Betty, I just loved this post!! Your cats are so wise! And so, then, are you for having turned to them for guidance!

The party sounds just awesome, your son is a lucky boy, indeed! Thanks for once again sharing your stories in such a delightful, fun way. I have so much to learn from you!

Theresa Milstein said...

I loved this post. You show the angst we go through trying to figure out what's right. Even if you don't always get it right, the fact that you care builds relationships in the long term.

My son will be 12 this summer. The times, they are a changing, but I know I still have about a year before the saga begins.

Powdered Toast Man said...

What's funny is that my mother has been working on some puzzles for the past 2 months. I wonder if she is trying to get me to talk?

I like bonding with my mom, it's fun. You should of embarrassed him at the party, it's the right thing to

Did you vote on the Battle of the Game Show Hosts: 1st round yet? (Tuesdays post)

Just The Cheese

Anonymous said...

Ahhh-that fridge post. Now I remember:-)

VKT said...


You are a hoot. I am so glad I found your blog!

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