“Henry is pretty close to the perfect child. Sorry, I think I wrote that last year, but he is. I will lend him out to anyone, at any time, to prove it – but you have to give him back. His teachers love him and he’s doing awesome in school.”
The above is a direct quote from my 2008 Christmas letter, about my sweet son. Sadly, the teacher love is the only part of that quote that would make the cut for this year’s letter. Apparently he’s still sweet and kind to his teachers. Henry is not his real name, because he’s now a teenager – I’m quite certain he’d be upset if he knew I wrote about him. The chances of him seeing this are slim. I know that he would never read the blog, nor would any of his friends, but I’m covering my bases.
Once upon a time I thought Henry would be the child who took care of me when I got old. Now I’m not so sure. We’re not getting along so well and I’m really struggling with it. He’s the one I’ve helicopter- parented (I honestly don’t do it for all of them), because he needed it. And he knew he needed it. He always needed a little more from me, but he never took it for granted. He was kind and loving and respectful. He made his bed every day and of my four children, had the best chore completion record. He was a happy kid, always ready with a smile.
I worried a little when he started middle school, but not for the typical reasons. I didn’t see him falling in with the wrong crowd. Although he’s kind of a loner, he has a few good friends he’s known for a long time (and whose parents I know). I really didn’t worry about bullying, either. Although he’s always been small for his age and a bit awkward, which could have made him a target, he’s had a knack for flying under the radar. We had a few issues, but nothing major. What I worried about was the school work. That was the hardest part of middle school, but we got through it. His middle school tenure ended on a high note – a very successful eighth grade trip to Savannah that seemed to mature him overnight. And he had the biggest smile on his face when he got home from the eighth grade dance, declaring multiple times, “Mom, I REALLY had great time!”
I first noticed a shift this summer on the road trip. He didn’t show the enthusiasm he’d shown on past trips. He actually seemed quite irritated by all of us, but I shrugged it off as a “teenage thing.” I believed, “this too shall pass.” When we got back, he jumped right into cross country practice, which was every day at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning. It is important to note that I’m NOT a morning person. Nevertheless, I (okay, sometimes Dad) was up and driving him. I often waited in the parking lot, when the practices were far from our home, fighting the fatigue and boredom with my Starbucks. I rarely got a thank you. In fact, he rarely bothered to say goodbye – just got out of the car and slammed the door as I was saying, “I love you. Have a good run.”
We’re in high school now. Henry has never been an enthusiastic student. It’s not that he’s incapable, he’s just not that motivated most of the time. He’s a bit lazy and very easily distracted. I have to ride him quite a bit. I decided to back off at the beginning, to see how he handled it – and I should note that he does have a heavy load. Things didn’t go well. I’ve had to get involved. The teachers in high school don’t really care for parental over-involvement, but that’s where we are. As a result, I’m not too popular. Henry rewards me with horrible grades. I blow my top, he ignores me. I make sure he has everything he needs (copies of novels, agenda, etc.), he chooses to forget them at home.
On a better note, cross country is going really well. He excels at the sport and seems to like being part of a team. However, high school sports aren’t cheap. In addition to booster dues, there are running accessories (which I had no clue about) that cost some coin. We’ve provided him with what he needs, but he doesn’t really seem appreciative. It kills me, especially when I think of what I didn’t have when I was playing tennis in high school (graphite tennis racquet and a pleated Adidas tennis skirt!!!). This is our fault. I know it is. And that is another blog…
When I pack his lunch, he informs me that he wants to buy lunch. On the days I think he’ll want to buy, he demands a homemade lunch. I don’t pack enough food for him. I pack too much food for him. I tell him to take a shower, he bites my head off. We gently remind him to do his chores, he growls at us. Literally. I mention that he has confirmation class on Sunday, and he starts a litany about how boring and stupid church is (please don’t tell our priest), and says he doesn’t understand why he has to go. As for his sister – well, they’ve always been combative with one another and it’s only gotten worse. He has no patience for the little brother who idolizes him. And his brother with autism – whom he’d always given a free pass – is often banished him from their room. Only his dad remains relatively unscathed, but even he has noticed the difference.
Who is this person? I don’t know him.
At least with my daughter, I know its coming – she’s provided warning signs of the approaching female teenage typhoon since she was three. I was a teenage girl, so I’m somewhat prepared. Not the case with Henry. This I didn’t prepare for. This has caught me off guard. This hurts.
A few weeks ago, Henry had an out of state cross country meet, which I attened. It was a 15 hour round trip drive, plus gas and hotel. I was there for less than 18 hours to watch him run for less than 20 minutes. I’m not trying to be a martyr. I’m just painting the picture of all that I do for this child. Okay, so maybe I am playing the martyr a little bit. But I loved every freaking minute of it! I couldn’t believe my son was doing this (plus I got to listen to two audio books in the car). He clocked a personal record in the race. It was awesome. And he seemed happy that I was there. Unfortunately, something happened and the official record had him finishing almost three minutes after his actual time. I had photographic evidence of his time – I got a picture of him crossing the finish line, with the clock in the background. I was all over it. “Henry, talk to your coach! It was your best time! This counts for your record.” Blah, blah, blah. I was trying to stress how important it was, because often Henry doesn’t get what’s important. He’s more concerned about who’s on the pole at Darlington, if Tom Brady will get to play, and who’s wrestling Roman Raines on Smackdown (don’t ask).
By Monday it was posted on the state site – and his time was still wrong. I asked him about it again. And he told me to stay out of it.
I was shocked. This kid has always wanted me to clean up his messes. And for the most part, I have. I know, I know. I was proud that he was going to take care of it himself – and super relieved. I just wish he’d told me so in a nicer way. And if I’m being honest, I wasn’t all that confident that he’d fix things. Shameful, I know. But his history of following through isn’t great. I’m happy to report that he talked to the coach and it got fixed. We’re all good. And his time helped him qualify for a big meet this weekend.
His team even practices early on Saturdays (which further cramps my style!). Last Saturday I drew the short straw and had to drive him. I left our house and headed to Fowler Park, where I believed the practice to be. At the first light, I took a right. It was at that point he should have asked me where I was going, but he didn’t. At the second light I went straight and he turned on me, demanding, “Where are you going?!”
“To Fowler Park,” I replied.
“Why? Practice is at the Greenway!” His tone was very impatient.
I explained that I thought it was at Fowler, and apologized. I turned around and pointed out that perhaps he should have mentioned it at the first traffic light, where I should have gone straight, rather than turning right. A few lights later, with his eye on the dashboard clock that noted we’d probably be a few minutes late he said, “Next time you should read your text more carefully.”
Oh no he didn’t!!! Oh yes, he did.
It was my turn to growl and breathe like a dragon. I unleashed – and if I’d been my mother and it was 1980 something, I probably would have slapped him across the face. Of course I don’t roll like that, but I did pull another Carol trick out of the bag. I iced him out for a few days. He took notice and was somewhat contrite, walking on eggshells around me.
He’s not feeling too good this week and he’s been coughing. My nurturing instinct has kicked in, so I’ve warmed up a bit. I took him to see the doctor, and even kept my mouth shut when she asked what his symptoms were. I was a bit taken aback by how grown up he sounded discussing his health with the doctor, asking her if it was okay for him to run. I felt an achy mixture of pride and sadness.
He insisted on returning to school after the appointment, which was good (although I’m sure it was so he wouldn’t miss practice and not for his classes). Yet, I remember when he used to want to have a mother-son date after a doctor or dentist appointment. I asked him if he wanted me to email his coach about what the doctor said or if he wanted to handle it. He said he’d talk to him, but wanted me to email him as well. He asked me what I thought he should do about running. I wanted to tell him to come home after school and rest, but I didn’t. I told him to listen to his body and talk with the coach. We rode the rest of the way in silence. I signed him in at school, and was careful not to embarrass him by hugging him or reminding him to cover his mouth when he coughed. We said an awkward goodbye and I turned to leave. Then he said, “Mom.” I stopped. He walked over and gave me a kiss. Right there, in the school hall. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
And then he walked away.
So, this fall I’ll try to get to know the stranger who has moved into my house. I think, I hope, that eventually we’ll get along just fine.
***Local friends, shhhh! Please! Don’t mention this to Henry or share it with your own children.