There is a line uttered by Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest” that resonated in my mind almost daily from the moment my oldest son entered adolescence and until my youngest finally turned 20.
Faye/Joan remarks, after yet another argument with her strong-willed daughter, “Why must everything be an argument?”
While I certainly don’t condone any of Miss Crawford’s parenting techniques, I did find myself wondering the same thing whenever I find myself embroiled in a senseless, heated conversation with one of my sons.
Nothing, it seems, is straightforward when one talking with an adolescent. No instructions, suggestions, or harmless comments were without (to my children) sinister implications.
If I told one son to wear a coat, he asked “Why?” in a suspicious tone that seems to suggest that what I really suggesting he do is wear one of my dresses to school. When I responded that he should wear a coat because it was 20 degrees outside and snowing, the coat went on but not without a loud sigh, as if I was somehow responsible for the weather.
When I asked my other son how he was doing in math or science or orchestra, he immediately became defensive. “Who have you been talking to?” he questioned. “Did you email my teacher again?”
Now, a less trusting mother might have thought her children were hiding something. I didn’t because, having emailed all their teachers, I knew that they had nothing to hide.
They simply didn’t want to share the mundane details of their daily lives with me any longer…their boring, intrusive, incredibly nosy mother. And they certainly weren’t interested in my opinion or thoughts on just about anything, from what color might be nice to paint their rooms to how the political race was shaping up.
This role reversal, from being the center of their universe to becoming a far-flung satellite, was not easy to take and is something that all new mothers should be warned about, preferably before they ever contemplate becoming pregnant.
Separation starts at birth but it’s such a slow process for such a long, long time. It’s amazingly easy to convince yourself that you’ll always be brilliant and beautiful to them when they’re small and gaze up at you adoringly—in spite of the fact that you’re not wearing any makeup and your hair looks like a Halloween fright wig.
When my younger son was learning to write, he used to scribble little notes to me along the lines of: Nell—Sun, Moon, Stars—I love you! Ten years later the same child refused to believe me when I made factual statements such as: Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States (“Are you sure about that, Mom?”). Adolescence arrived in our household with a boom and a shudder after 11 or 12 years of what was basically a mutual admiration society between our children and my husband and me.
While I knew it was perfectly natural for them to doubt that I still knew everything, it hurt when they didn’t bother hiding their impatience with their father and me. In their eyes, we were lost in some middle aged rut, beyond redemption, which might well have been true, but for some reason their stark assessment of us was more painful than all the AARP advertisements we were inundated with since our fortieth birthdays. “You don’t know how it is anymore,” my oldest son told me. He was right; I didn’t know how it was anymore, but I had a vague, middle-aged idea and frankly, it scared the hell out of me.
Which is why I continued to tell my children how it was going to be as long as they were living in our house, in spite of the fact that yes, apparently everything had to be an argument. While I doubt they’ll ever thank me, some day they might understand their father and me a little bit more, probably many years from now, after they’re married and their own bundles of joy are suddenly doubting them from sunrise to sunset.
That is definitely something to look forward to.
Author: Nell Musolf
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Movie Still