There’s no winning here.
It all fell apart again tonight, with my teenage son and me. With Emmett and me. We had a conflict. It escalated. I asked him to leave my apartment. He did, with both of us screaming on his way out. Twenty minutes later, I called him to apologize. But he wouldn’t let me complete a sentence. I tried to jump over his words, to wedge myself in somehow. He dug in, belligerent. My conciliatory sensibility turned to frustration. Anger barely retracted came roaring out again. We clawed some more. He hung up on me. The fight spilled over into texting. He finally told me, via text, that he’d "heard enough" of me.
He’s gone again. It will be weeks now, maybe months. He’s off. We're done.
I’m furious and I’m heartbroken. I could say that the particulars don’t matter, but it’s always the particulars that launch the missiles, isn’t it? So, the particulars: I have a new part-time teaching gig. I am an assistant teacher in a pre-K class at a wonderful new school. I have a folder with “all about me” forms that the parents have filled out about the children in my class. Along with the forms is a bunch of photos. While dinner is cooking on the stove, I show the photos to Emmett. We discover that one of the children has the same name….same spelling and everything……as one of Emmett’s friends. Emmett whips out his cell phone to take a picture of the picture of the kid with the same name as his friend: Sam.* Emmett tells me he’s going to show it to his friend Sam. I’m not exactly comfortable with this. I tell him so. Emmett is dismissive.
Here is where I could have done differently. I should have engaged in more dialogue as to exactly how Emmett was going to show this photo to his friend Sam. I wasn't comfortable that he’d taken the photo at all, but I should have delved a little deeper in and clarified his intentions.
But instead, I was under the impression that Emmett is sending this picture of the kid from my class to his friend from his cell phone. The rise in me starts. Emmett again waves me off. “There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about,” he declares. I express that it is inappropriate for a photo of a child in my class to be floating around among his friends. I do not trust Emmett’s friend not to post this photo on Facebook. I am mortified at the mere possibility. Emmett tells me to calm down. I bristle at his condescension and dismissive tone. I’m the mom. If I think there is legitimate reason for concern, then there’s a legitimate reason concern. Period. I don’t like the way this feels. I don’t want to risk losing my new job over something so stupid. Emmett is certain that his friend Sam will not post the photo of my student Sam on Facebook or anywhere else. I am not as convinced. I know his friend Sam and don’t trust that he will make good choices.
Herein lies my second mistake; I probably shouldn’t have assumed the worst about big Sam. But I did. The kid is boorish and loud and has done some really boneheaded things like, for example, throwing a keg party at his mother’s house. At this keg party, one of big Sam's inebriated buddies threw a planter at police officers who had come to the house to investigate a complaint about the party. Perhaps it is not Sam's fault that his drunken guest acted like a moron. But he shouldn't have had said drunken moron over in the first place. I maintain my position that Sam is not a Rhodes scholar.
But I shouldn’t have assumed the worst about big Sam in that moment this evening. And tracking back, I should have gotten clearer as to just exactly what Emmett was doing with the photo he’d taken. That said, with any questioning from me, Emmett became angrier. He said there was not a chance the photo would end up on Facebook. I told Emmett I trusted him not to post the photo but that I didn’t trust Sam. He informed me that I didn’t know anything about Sam. This is true. I don’t. I knew him as a kid at Emmett’s elementary school. I knew his parents before their divorce. But it’s true; I really don’t know big Sam anymore. I only know stories about some of his less than brilliant shenanigans. I hear about him through other parents. If Emmett brought friends around, maybe I would know Sam better. But Emmett doesn’t bring friends around. He hardly comes around himself. Sometimes I think I hate his little pot- smoking band of cretin friends. This jealousy does not reflect well on me. I know this. I am not proud of it. I never thought I would see the day when I would feel anything but adoration for my son’s friends. It is because they get from him what I don’t: proximity.
I responded to Emmett's last text simply letting him know I “got” the message loud and clear. And I wished him luck. I was fed up.
I sit here now with a sense of utter futility. I fumble every time with this kid. For every fleeting moment of connection and calm, there are a thousand more of head-on collisions, long silences and unhappy estrangements. Parenting this child brings out the worst in me. I hate who I become sometimes. I keep telling myself that I can do better. I keep thinking I'll arrive at a more enlightened place, that I’m not going to react this time, that I can let go. But I fall. Again and again, I fall. I lose my shit. I drop the F-bomb. I am ill equipped to parent this boy, despite my arrogant delusions in the beginning that I would do it better than my mother had. I am not a drunk or a narcissist. I am not like her. But I am still too flawed for this job. Lest I forget what a bad mother looks like, one glance in the mirror refreshes my memory. I am in over my head and I am crying “uncle.”
Three years ago, my then 14-year-old son chose to live apart from me. It is a pain I simply cannot reconcile. I feel like a wounded beast that has been left in the desert to die. There is a long, dark pull inside of me, and it never goes away. It festers just beneath the surface of every disagreement between us. On nights like tonight, I can’t get up. I can’t breathe. And I am quite sure that I deserve every bit of this pain.
After Emmett left tonight and after the texting stopped….after I put Enzo to bed (Poor Enzo, forever caught in the crossfire during these eruptions)…..I talked to a friend. I told him there was no point anymore. I said there was no winning here. I showed up in earnest 17 years ago and I gave to Emmett and to motherhood everything I had. Now, I watch from the sidelines. Any input from me is ignored. My sway is anemic at best. I am, by and large, invisible. I am also a fuck-up of unequaled magnitude and as a consequence of that, my feelings and concerns are rendered invalid. They are waved off. He simply thinks I’m crazy. Tonight, I told my friend that three years ago, my teenage son decided he didn’t need a mother anymore. I asked my friend what reason there is for me to continue to show up. All Emmett and I have is hurt and futility. Love does not seem to be enough.
So this is the shit of motherhood. You open yourself as wide as possible. You hand yourself over entirely to another human being, the most precious of human beings, the most wonderful and amazing of human beings. You give him all that you know to give. What you don’t know, you try to learn. By the mere act of being a mother, you render yourself fragile, hopelessly vulnerable and completely at the mercy of this other human being that you would, without question, give your own life for. You love wider and deeper and bigger than you’ve ever loved before. And he spits on you.
I know that I am bleeding here. I know that this is the raw, undisciplined writing of a woman out of her mind with anguish and regret. These are naked, trembling words- the crumpling defeat of a mother who has no clue what to do, who wanted so badly for things to be different.
*Named changed for obvious reasons.