Design flaw

I have been reminded of this lately — all too often.  It’s times like these that I say to myself, “How long until he leaves for college?  Do we have to wait? Can he leave today?” 

I’m convinced this is why teens have hormonal floods: to drive us parents to the edge of insanity; thus to make their flight out of the nest not *quite* so heartbreaking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have a bone to pick with whomever designed human beings:  who believed having a menopausal woman and a teenager living in the same house at the same time was a good idea?

I had my child later than the norm: I was 35 when Z was born.  And that was a good thing because I would have been a terrible parent in my 20s.  I have always known that (although I do wish I had the energy I had back then).  But I’m certainly not the only one having children at 35 or beyond.  So what’s with the design flaw?

IMG_1168I love my child.  I do.  Really.  I’m pretty sure.  Let me check and get back to you on that.

This week has been one that makes me think an ad on Craig’s list to sell the teenager doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.  Hell, I’ll give him away.  For some reason, everything to him is magnified for the worst at least tenfold lately:

He’s going to perish from working “all the time.”  He works 22 hours a week now that school is out.

I asked him to change the sheets on his bed.  It’s been a week since I asked.  You don’t want to know how long the current ones have been in residence.  Clean sheets are still sitting on his dresser.  According to him, I’m too controlling.  Yeah, kid: I also control your access to the Internet in this house.  Remember that.

IMG_1370He has the privilege of having a car at his disposal, but suddenly he wants the sporty car to be available to him at all times.  I did offer a second choice, which was not driving at all.  He did not see the humor.

I reminded him that before he leaves for college in the fall, his bedroom and the “teen cave” in the basement need to be cleaned out.  This has been discussed for over a year now.  He is appalled that I even bring it up.

I don’t recognize this spoiled brat at all.  This is not how I raised him.

What happens to the teenage brain on hormonal overload?  Why do they think this kind of behavior is acceptable?  More importantly, when does it stop?

I have friends who say “Oh, the nice kid comes back eventually.  Usually around age 20.”  I know they’re trying to be supportive, but holy crap, I don’t know if I’ll last that long.  At least not without dealing with my kid in a manner in which society may decide it’s time for Dana to go away for a while.

IMG_1291Because I don’t look good in Jailhouse Orange or Asylum White, I decided to dig around to see what I could find to help me hold on.  In her article “Are Teenage Brains Really Different From Adult Brains?”, Molly Edmonds states, “In adults, various parts of the brain work together to evaluate choices, make decisions and act accordingly in each situation. The teenage brain doesn’t appear to work like this.”

Duh.

She goes on to say that “The brain’s remote control is the prefrontal cortex, a section of the brain that weighs outcomes, forms judgments, and controls impulses and emotions. This section of the brain also helps people understand one another.”

I also found out it is also the absolute last section of the brain to develop.

That explains a lot.

Add to this the hormonal changes at work, and it’s a wonder any of us lived to see 20: the adolescent brain pours out adrenal stress hormones, sex hormones, and growth hormones, which in turn influence brain development, and not always for the better. Testosterone increases to 10 times the previous amounts in adolescent boys.

In other words, our kids’ brains are a hot mess.

Of course, I can’t say that mine is much better.

Being in menopause is an interesting experience (aside from the hot flashes, night sweats, and the mood swings).  According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, MD, “Before menopause, a woman’s hormones encourage her to avoid conflict. Our estrogenized brain circuits cause us to respond to stress with nurturing activities that are intended to protect our relationships.”  In other words, from puberty to menopause, a woman walks a fine line between making sure relationships are steady, and tries to keep anger or aggression dialed down.  And that urge doesn’t IMG_1383stop until the hormone supply that fuels it is cut off during menopause.  Brizendine continues, “As the ratio of testosterone to estrogen rises, the anger pathways in a woman’s brain become more like a man’s. Now she gets angry, whereas before she may have just bitten her tongue. At the very least, she’ll stand up for herself and say, “I’m not doing that anymore.”

Wow.  That explains why those little old ladies are so feisty!

So, in a nutshell:  here is my teenage son, feeling the surge of hormones flooding his brain and pretty much incapable of understanding adults; and here am I, experiencing the drain of hormones, leaving me less likely to put up with his crappy hormonal attitude.

Great combination.  Like bleach and vinegar.  Or drinking and driving.  Or Bonnie and Clyde.

These are the odds we face everyday as parents.  Good thing kids are so damn cute because it’s the only thing saving them sometimes.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Originally published on August 25, 2015.  As apropo now as ever…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Admit it: you sang the title just now, didn’t you.

I love my son.  Let’s just be clear on that.

But by the time mid-August rolls around, I’ve decided I love the beginning of the school year almost as much.

Dad with cartThose office supply commercials capture the essence perfectly, don’t you think?  From the parent gaily coasting along the aisle on the back of a shopping cart, to the sad, pitiful children, standing by, watching as their Dad effectively loses his mind from pure relief that summer vacation is nearly over.

Dad and kidsIsn’t it great?

Our kids don’t understand.  They won’t — unless and until they become parents themselves.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent or a parent working outside the home: by the time summer is well underway, you find yourself going through the calendar (many, many times) counting the number of days until the bell rings.

I love our family vacations when we’re able to get away.  But they’re FAMILY vacations — we ALL get to relax (more or less) then.  The kid may be “on vacation” from school the rest of the time, but the adults here are back to work.  Trying to keep another person busy and entertained is another whole job unto itself.  Forget about getting anything else actually accomplished.

Even a teen — old enough to dress and feed himself, but apparently not old enough to understand that 12 hours in front of a screen probably isn’t the healthiest way to go — surrenders to the idea that brains are on hiatus over the summer.  I’m tired of taking away gadget privileges for spending every waking hour with them.  When does self-policing kick in?  Age 30?

No matter how many times I tell my son “It’s good to be bored once in a while,” he doesn’t believe me.  In this age of instant access to all sorts of information and entertainment, being bored is akin to the spinny circle of death on a computer screen (cue the screaming and agonizing and gnashing of teeth).

I’ve come to the conclusion that I look forward to the beginning of the new school year because then I have other adults (ie, teachers and coaches) on board with me keeping the kid’s brain from turning to mush.  We get back to a SCHEDULE where EVERYONE (even the teenager) knows what is expected and when (even if he claims the contrary).

mom jumping for joyBut I think it’s mostly this:  even more important than my teen having a schedule is ME having a schedule:  I know exactly how much time I have before the “I’m hungry/there’s nothing in the house to eat/can I watch TV/where’s my iPad charger/why do I have to take the garbage out/my room IS clean/I have too much homework” griping begins.  I know exactly how much I can get done during the school hours, and I know how I need to structure my day and my work schedule to take advantage of the optimum quiet time BTA (Before Teen Arrives).  Even when I worked outside the house in an office miles away, I was besieged by telephone calls and texts once 3:12pm rolled around — the moment he walked in the door from the bus stop.

Even when I leave lists of chores to be finished by dinner time, I still hear “I’m bored” once in a while.  At those times, I’ll “save” my work and put the computer to sleep, and sit down with my teen child.  Sometimes that plaintive tone best suited for a 6-year-old comes through in the 16-year-old.  I’m not sure, but I think that’s more “Mom, I need you.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he seems happier when we’ve sat together and talked about his day, or avoided talking about his day all together.  I can pick up on the cues enough to know when he wants to skip a certain subject.  Sometimes I’ll fix us a light snack as he sits at the kitchen counter, talking; me asking questions along the way, sometimes he asks the questions.  It can be 10 minutes or half an hour.  But somewhere along the line, these breaks have become very important to both of us.  I can see his shoulders relax, he smiles more quickly, and becomes animated while telling me about what happened during chem lab or at the lunch table that day.

Sometimes, when the snack is finished and we’ve talked about everything we want to at that time, a “sigh” will escape.  That’s usually me.  Z will look at me and smile, give me a hug, and go back upstairs or downstairs (depending on mood) to work on the “too much” homework.  I’ll go back to my computer and open the most recent project.  We both work until it’s time for dinner.  At that point, we’ve settled back into our day and managed (usually) to accomplish something, and we feel good.  The laughter comes easy, sharing the rest of our day is fun, and it’s a pleasure for all of us to be back in the same room together.

There is actual research to support the idea that when people spend a portion of their day apart, coming back together is far more pleasurable.  Maybe that’s why summer break doesn’t always feel like a vacation:  maybe there’s too much togetherness.  No apart time.  Everyone knows what everyone else is doing all day.  There’s not much to talk about then.

futileSo come on, First Day of School!  Hurry up and get here!  I really, REALLY want to appreciate the absence of my teenager!

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!