Caution: Adult parenting teenager

Today I had to address a school behavior issue with my soon-to-be 18 year old son. For the past two weeks I could sense the restlessness in him, blown in with the warmer weather and brought to life with the long aimless days of Spring Break. Julian’s band instructor had emailed me to complain about his chronic semester-long tardiness and yesterday’s unexcused absence, topping it all off with a threat to drop him down to the dreaded Concert Band (where, by the way, I happily spent my high school band career, forever a mediocre clarinetist) if his behavior didn’t improve.

Being rather thin-skinned and easily hurt when criticized, I felt horrible the entire day; dreading the inevitable conversation with this creature who lives in my house and believes himself to be an adult male and therefore invincible. “Be gentle” advised my father who raised three teenagers successfully. “Be gentle” advised Ken, the boyfriend who also raised 3 teenagers successfully. “Be calm, you’re the one in charge,” I told myself, all the while knowing that my ability to be in charge of anything regarding this young man is based solely on my very shaky control over a few of his beloved objects: the cell phone, the car, the computer. He has no idea of his real power yet, still believing the myth that we parents know what we’re doing.

We had the conversation and I was calm and gentle and firm, just like the instructions I was given. I felt some sense of relief as he rattled off all the standard excuses given by teenagers since time began: I didn’t do it, the teacher hates me, the teacher’s crazy, all the kids do it. I thought to myself, “Aha. This is familiar territory. This I can deal with” and I encouraged him to do what he’s supposed to do, and gently edged him back over to my side. I believe with all my heart that I convinced him to suck it up and do what he’s supposed to do – at least for awhile, or until the programming wears off and we have to do it all over again. In the meantime, I’m counting the months until he graduates…

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