January 31, 2020
By Ekta R. Garg
Parents of teens, congratulate me: I’ve officially become one of you.
When our older child added the dreaded “teen” to the end of her age, I was kind of curious what would happen. We’ve all read about those mood swings, those irrational outbursts. The shrugging off of love and affection one day and the hugs that won’t stop the next.
Up until now, Thirteen was handling teendom pretty well. We noticed her getting a little edgy, but we knew we could also chalk that up to a change in hormones. Plus the stress of middle school.
Then came the day of The Rubberbands on the Braces.
Just before school started this year, Thirteen got braces. At the beginning of this month, at a regular orthodontic checkup, the doctor told us it was time to add rubberbands to the routine. Thirteen had to wear them at all times, except for when she was eating or brushing her teeth. The hygienist gave her a handy little tool to put the rubberbands on her wires, and she made sure Thirteen practiced a few times before we left the office.
Then came The Next Morning.
(Sound melodramatic yet? What can I say, I’m the mother of a teen now. Melodrama is clearly an option.)
Thirteen, in her usual dreamy-eyed sort of way, sauntered downstairs for breakfast. She ate her cereal without batting an eye at the clock. Meanwhile, I was pretending that it didn’t bother me that we were getting late. I was doing that whole nonchalant, “It’s your school day, not mine” routine.
(Can we be honest? It always bothers us more than it bothers the kids. Can’t wait until they become parents so I can laugh at them for this one.)
I reminded Thirteen that she needed to brush her teeth after breakfast (another bone of contention between us, but, whatever) and replace her rubberbands. She resisted at first. Said she had a system. Had it all worked out. She was totally chill about the way she’d handle this newest addition to her morning routine.
I told her that the rubberbands weren’t an option. No, she couldn’t wait until after lunch to put them on. Yes, she needed to do it now. No, she couldn’t skip brushing her teeth.
She stomped (quite impressively, I have to say) up the stairs and brushed her teeth. Then she stomped back downstairs and headed to the powder room. For reasons known only to herself, she’s decided to store her rubberbands and the handy tool in there.
(Could I have argued that point? Sure, but why add more drama to the morning? We were already approaching the “melo” line.)
Thirteen started to take her sweet time to put on the rubberband, and I…kind of…lost it.
(Remember that whole thing with the clock? Yes, we were definitely running late by this point.)
To be fair (mostly to me,) I kept my tone pretty even at first.
“[Thirteen], you need to hustle,” I called across the house. “We’re going to be late.”
“I am,” she said.
Another minute or two rolled by. I know this, because I was obsessing over the clock. Eleven was peeping at me from the mudroom, her eyes getting fractionally bigger as the minutes ticked past.
“[Thirteen], what’s taking you so long?”
“This is hard,” she said, a whining edge encroaching her tone.
“Well, maybe if you hadn’t spent all your time listening to the radio this morning, you would have moved faster and you would have been down here in time to do this,” I said. “Get moving!”
(This is where my voice got a little louder and Eleven’s eyes a little wider.)
“I’m giving you sixty seconds,” I yelled—yes, at this point we could definitely call it a full-blown yell—“otherwise you’re going to be punished for wasting time.”
“I’m doing it!” she screamed back.
Yes, she screamed. Not in that small child “why-is-my-mom-bothering-me” kind of scream but in that “you’re-such-a-pain-and-you-don’t-understand-anything-about-my-life” kind of scream. Her tone challenged me and leveled the communication playing field. You know what I’m talking about: that moment when you’ve gone from towering over your child in your mode of instruction to looking at them eye-to-eye because all of a sudden they have opinions too.
(Or, in my case, looking slightly up. Thirteen is now taller than me by a few inches. It’s a little disconcerting, to say the least.)
“I don’t appreciate your tone,” I yelled back. “Now get moving!”
Which she did, eventually. And, of course, I did what every veteran parent of a teen does: I lectured her in the car during the 1.1-mile drive to school. Eleven’s shock had abated just a touch, but she still looked like she wanted to let her jaw drop open.
There are lots of drawbacks to yelling at your teen first thing in the morning. I’ll admit, I felt terrible. I don’t like starting my day with so much tension, and I certainly don’t like sending the kids to school with that kind of conflict weighing on them.
There are also some perks, though, to getting this out of the way in the morning. By the time the girls got home from school, they were both their normal sunny selves. They’d had the space of an entire day to distract them and, probably, make them even forget the harsh words from that morning.
Later that evening, when we were trading stories over dinner about our day, Eleven’s eyes got wide again.
“You need to tell Daddy what happened,” she said with a smirk but also an air of disbelief. Sort of like a, “I still can’t believe we did that this morning.”
Well, Daddy, here you go. Now you know what happened. And now you also know that we’re officially parents of a teenager.
Someone please tell me the screaming matches get a little quieter from here on out…?