Sam Holding His Hand Up to the Camera

My friend, Logan, posted something on Facebook this past week that caught my eye. It was a newspaper article highlighting a quote from a judge who regularly deals with teens — namely, apathetic teens. This was his advice to them (as reported by Northland College Principal, John Tapene)…

“Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons, and after you’ve finished, read a book. Your town does not owe you recreational facilities, and your parents do not owe you fun. The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy, and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness, or lonely again. In other words, grow up, stop being a crybaby, get out of your dream world, and develop a backbone — not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important, and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now, and that somebody is you!”

Perhaps this particular sentiment caught my eye because I was still thawing out from my early morning Sam Freeze. It goes something like this… My fifteen-year-old begrudgingly awakens for school (usually not before some yelling from one or both of his parents, but long after his alarm has been beeping incessantly with no response), he grunts his way through breakfast, shoves his little siblings around, rolls his eyes at least 476 times in the ten minutes he graces us with his presence, shoves his ear buds into his ears, and slumps his chilly, disinterested self into the front seat as we drop George off at elementary school and then venture on to the middle school with Gus and Mary Claire.

“Make it a great day!” I yell as he slides out of the car in front of the high school. He grunts a response and slams the door in my face. As he joins his group of friends, however, his entire demeanor changes. The ear buds come out, his smile appears, and his lips are actually able to produce human sounds — sometimes even laughter. I see this all in my rear view mirror as I turn the heat up to melt the icicles he left behind.

This morning ritual does not thrill me.

In fact, it makes me quite crazy. I steam and fume and curse under my breath — and sometimes on the phone to Chris — as I head back home. I cannot tolerate his rudeness, his disrespect, his sullen, angry, teenager act. And yet I do tolerate it. That’s the crux of the problem. I helped create this monster by giving it life and letting it breathe.

“Don’t poke the bear,” has been our morning mantra. It should have been, “Get your ass out of bed, give us fifty, and make sure my coffee is hot when you serve it up.”

A dear friend of ours (who also happens to be a teenager) commented on Facebook that my borrowed post was full of “broad generalizations.” And she was right. But my posting that particular quote was not a statement about teenagers in general — it was a call to action for the teenagers and tweens and soon-t0-be-tweens in my own house. My commenter, Sarah, is a fantastic girl — highly ambitious, incredibly driven, outspoken, smart, athletic, artistic, kind, talented, warm, funny.

And so is Sam.

Just not in the mornings.

But as parents, we have let him be a dick in the AM. And so, he continually opts to be a dick. It’s his default position. I’m okay with him being quiet and even a bit moody. But he crosses that line and careens straight into rude and resentful, and that’s what I can’t stand.

Sam has a lot. Sam gives a lot. And Sam expects a lot. It’s the third statement that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I don’t want him to expect. But I’ve let him.

Whatever shortcomings he has as a teenager stem directly from our shortcomings as parents. (And, simultaneously, he is old enough to own them, as well.) We have given him much and at times, expected little in return. That’s not fair — to us or to him. We should always expect more from him because he is able to give it. So is Gus. So is Mary Claire. So is George. We sell them short when we we make their beds for too long, when we don’t teach them how to do their own laundry, when they can’t fix themselves a meal. (Okay, I can’t fix myself a meal, either, but that’s beside the point…)

Our kids — like everyone else’s — are smart and resourceful and able to contribute. We need to let them contribute. We need to expect them to contribute.

If we don’t let them make their way, we stifle their gifts. What a disservice that is to them, to us, to the universe.

I’m far guiltier of it than Chris. He’d have them hunting their own food, cleaning out the gutters, and changing the oil in the car at age 4 if he had his way. I’m the coddler, the control freak, the I’ll-just-do-it-myself guilt monger who huffs and slams and yells when the dishes are left in the sink and the counters are left with enough crumbs to sustain a mouse kingdom. (No, I don’t know where Sam gets that tantrum-throwing tendency…)

Mary Claire does her own laundry now, but it still gives me pause every time I hear the motor start. Did she separate properly? Did she remember the fabric softener? Did she put something in the dryer that should have been air-dried?

And the irony of the situation is that I’d much rather replace a ruined t-shirt than send her off to college never having cleaned out a lint filter. Parenting is hard. From the moment you choose to breast or bottle-feed, your life is filled with decision after decision that will determine the trajectory of another life. That’s a big responsibility.

And an even bigger blessing.

So, yes, I expect them to scrub their toilets and wash their dishes and fold their laundry and dust the furniture. I expect them to get jobs when they’re old enough, to pay for the frivolities they feel they must have so they can learn the value of a dollar. I expect them to be grateful, to be respectful, to be pleasant. I expect them to work hard and to be good human beings. Not perfect. Just good. Kind.

And I also expect them to laugh and love and enjoy life with their parents, their siblings, and their friends. They are still kids. They are still learning.

We’ll continue to teach as best as we know how. And they’ll continue to journey, running, falling, stretching, even backtracking at times. But it’s important for us to let them fall, to watch them lose their way now and then. Oh, you can bet I’ll be there to clean their wounds and dust the dirt from their knees, but their falls are their own. Their victories are, too.

I expect them to make big, giant dents in this world. To expect less is unfair… to them and to every other human being.

And to allow them to become early morning dicks? It’s just a disservice to us all.

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4 Responses

  1. As the mother of four kids now in college, I know what you are going through! When my kids were young and they came into the kitchen in the morning, if they couldn’t greet us with a “good morning,” I sent them back to their rooms to start over again. It seemed to have worked pretty well. I had enough trouble starting my own day without them adding their attitudes to mine…Isn’t life fun?

  2. I think it’s all about applying the right pressure. This morning I implemented a new rule… I dock them fifty cents from their allowance for every article of clothing, trash, etc. that I find on the floor outside of their rooms. Since, over the years, very few of my other rules have worked, you should probably wait for me to report back before you try this one at home. I hope it helps to know you’re not alone… XO

  3. “From the moment you choose to breast or bottle-feed, your life is filled with decision after decision that will determine the trajectory of another life. That’s a big responsibility.”

    Perfectly said. And I’m in trouble – I feel this way and mine can barely say their own name. But at least, by virtue, they can’t be a dick yet. YET magic word.

    You are a great mama. Your four are very lucky.

  4. Sam is a first-born. They’re all dicks. I am pretty much sticking to stereotypes these days in order to save time.

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