A Stranger Among Us


“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.

BlogHopButton[1]This is a Finish the Sentence Friday link-up. This week’s prompt is, “Each fall…”

Me, Kristi from Finding Ninee
Julie from Carvings on a Desk
and Danielle from Way Off Script


25 thoughts on “A Stranger Among Us”

  1. Oh Allie. This is heartbreaking and amazing and heartbreaking and so full of life and love and EFFIG HEARTBREAK because why why why do these little boys who love us so much have to end up being such little pricks when they need us so much???

    I do know that you’ll find your way back though because I met you and YOU ARE AMAZING and so full of kindness and get-it-ness.

  2. Oh wow, you are a brave woman for blogging about your high school son and a smart one for changing his name. I have my first high-schooler now, and so I can relate to lots of this (and she runs cross-country–so grateful for that–I would be frustrated if they messed up her finish time, too) and always a relief to hear there are others out there dealing with some of the same stuff. I pretty much broke down in tears when I read that your son turned around and gave you a kiss in the hallway. Oh my gosh. One of those moments that’ll stay with you until the end of time. I wish I’d given my Mom more of those. moments when I was a teen.

    1. Julie, thank you for your comment. I too wish I’d given my mom more of those moment when I was a teen. She died when I was 18, and I was away at college. I cannot even begin to describe the regret I felt over all the ugly teen behavior I exhibited. It sucked.

  3. Allie, I am so worried that someday with my girls I will be dealing with two strangers as I am all too aware what the teen years with girls look like from just what I went through as a teen myself. I was miserable and my poor parents what went through with me. I can honestly say though, I did come out the other side thankfully for their sakes and everyone else’s, but still it wasn’t pretty and like I said I more than know what I am in for sadly with my own kids someday, because of this. But still so sorry you are going through this now and sending you some extra love right now from me to you.

    1. Janine, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’d be scared too! Girls are notoriously bad towards their mothers as teenagers – and you have two! I’ve been dreading the time to come with my daughter. Perhaps I’ve built it up to be so bad in my mind, that the reality will be easier to take. Here’s hopping.

  4. Like Kristi said – heartbreaking and amazing. They come and go, don’t they? Phases and moods and life. There is no perfect kid, which of course we all know, but he is loved and he loves.

  5. Allie, your blog brought back so many memories – your son sounds very much like mine! His attitude became very challenging around grade 9 and a friend mentioned then that it could last until he turned 21 (a little overwhelming at that time to say the least!). He turned 20 last January and this summer while home from university we had the best summer yet! He even hugged me a few times (and asked for advice)!!

  6. Thank you for sharing. I know it can be difficult to be vulnerable on such a public forum, but your story certainly pulled at my heartstrings. As moms, we try to be everything our kids need and have a hard time stepping back and letting them be their own person. Kudos to you for finding the strength to step back when he needed it the most. All a kid ever needs is love, and from reading your words, it is obvious that you love them tremendously. Teens are funny people. I swear we were never like that to our parents…right!?!

  7. Oh honey. I get this. I really do. I have a 23 year old I don’t mention much in my writing. At least not with much honesty. She is this kid. She turned into this kid. Now, she has her fleeting moments that she’s not an asshole. It’s like they almost don’t matter because I know they don’t last. I, too, keep hoping she will outgrow this. I think this is her.

    1. Oh Jill, I hope it’s not her. I know that 23 today is still kind of being a kid (which is ridiculous!!!), so there may still be hope – I really hope so. Daughters can break you heart.

  8. “When I was a boy of 14, my [mother] was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have [her] around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much [she] had learned in seven years!” (Not really by Mark Twain, but it sure sounds like his writing. http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/10/10/twain-father/

    “Henry” is growing up and trying to figure out who he will become. He knows and counts on your support, but it apparently trying for him to accept. I guess that all we can do with our teenagers is roll with it, until they get to our limits. I know that with my teenaged ASD son, he is more more standoffish. We give him the space, unless he breaks a rule of the house or otherwise behaves inappropriately.

    Best of luck; I’m sending big hugs in your direction!!!

    1. I’m trying to roll with it, but every so often, I just come our fighting. Other times, I try to see the humor in it, because a lot of what he says is so ridiculous. And by the way – I love that quote!!! I’m using it in my newsletter this week.

  9. Oh, Allie. Our sons are the same age, and I feel you. For some reason, the changes in my son are tougher for me to take than they were with my daughter. I hope you get more moments like that kiss in the hallway; they remind you that your raising him well and that he’s still your baby, no matter how big and grouchy he gets. Hang in there, and if you ever need to commiserate, let me know.

    Btw, I was up way too early this Saturday because I had to drop my son off at school for a cross country meet. No one told me that was part of the gig!

    1. I don’t know how I didn’t realize our sons were the same age. I think it’s tougher for us with the boys, because on some level we expect form the girls? And I don’t know what I’ll do when some other girl replaces me – that’ll really send me over the edge. And yesterday, Saturday – I was up at 5:15. He had to be on the bus for his meet at 5:50 a.m.!!! That is insane. And Dana, thanks for the support – you may be hearing form me!

  10. Thank you for sharing this. I wish more moms had the courage to be honest. Depending on what kind of teenage boy my tween will grow into, it is heartening to know that I may not be alone or have to go down the path alone. Hugs and hang in there! I think all the love you’ve poured into your son will only come back again some day. Maybe in his 20s. Kidding. I think. :)

    1. Katy, I was so nervous to post this, and so overwhelmed and grateful by the responses. It’s really good (but sad, too) to know I’m not the only one. I hope you right about the love coming back – but sooner rather than later. He better be kissing my butt by Christmas or he’ll be sorry. Yup.

  11. Oh Allie I feel your emotions on all levels here. Who are these 14 year olds that live in our house?? Just know that you are not alone in your journey… and thank you for reminding me that I am not alone either. :)

  12. So I couldn’t stop reading this story, because I’m sure it’s something we all experience. Life transitions are hard, but he knows he’s loved. Have you ever thought about requiring him to make his OWN lunch? Him make his practice schedule? We do this with our first grader…sit down every night, look at the calendar, activities, and plan ahead for the next day. It really does make things smoother! Good luck – you are indeed not alone!

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