Motherhood is definitely not for the weak. Usually around the changing seasons I become a bit melancholy, thinking of the obvious passage of time and kids getting older and – always – my mom who passed a number of years ago. Parenting without a trusted beacon is a challenge sometimes. It makes me ponder how I’m doing as a mom.
If I’m a bit subdued to begin with, this year in particular finds the universal mood not helping. Still absorbing the almost daily dreadful news of multiple mass shootings at the hands of young adults, I recently scrolled across other appallingly awful headlines:
“17-Year-Old Kills Cat with Bow and Arrow”
“2 Teens Throw 6-Year-Old Off Museum Roof”
“Teen Expelled, Arrested for Racist Gun Video, Says He ‘Hates Blacks’”
My God. How could any parent ever imagine that phone call?
I’m a pretty avid fan of true-crime (not a podcast band-wagoner but a legit 1980s Ann Rule aficionado) and I know horrific, unspeakable acts of violence have been going on for decades. Decades. The only difference is now we hear about them daily (thank you, Internet & frenzied mosh-pit of media). Seems these stories are appearing more and more frequently and the sheer amount of young perpetrators is more than a little unnerving.
As a mother, my thoughts inevitably turn to the parents of the accused. How did they – how could they – not know something was seriously, horrifyingly amiss with their kids?
I think I’d know.
I think I’d know if my kid was hurting animals.
I think I’d know if my kid was using (stockpiling, fantasizing over, obsessing about) guns.
I think I’d know if my kid was hateful. Or racist. Or intolerant. Or more than just a typical, idiotic, sowing-his-oats-with-stupidity adolescent.
I would know. I’m sure of it.
I’d know because at the risk of being incredibly disliked by my kids, I’ve always set boundaries. Boundaries that distinctly indicated right and wrong behavior. Boundaries that let them know when a line was crossed. Boundaries that specified exactly what was not going to be tolerated and why.
I even utilized rudimentary (okay sure, judgmental) boundaries that also offered acceptable and unacceptable suggestions about societal presentation. Take tattoos. I don’t dislike tattoos and most of my loved ones sport them. Some are even 100% mandatory (crushing your 1st NYC marathon at age 50? Ink up, my rock star husband!). But I’ve never allowed my kids to have them – unless they wanted to relinquish rent-free living in my home.
Because along with the obvious (if a kid has money to burn on body art shouldn’t a kid have money to contribute to my groceries or Game of Thrones bill?), I also believe kids are super dumb and shouldn’t have to pay penance forever for all the super dumb decisions they make in youth. I remember exactly what I said to my daughter’s emotional appeal while in high school: You don’t even wear the same clothes you did four months ago that you (*shriek) loved and had to have. What makes you think you’re going to (*shriek) love a tattoo at 25 that you picked out at 18? Please.
But here was my real reason: Teens and young adults have enough going against them without the side-eye of a judgmental society. It was my mantra: Life is hard enough, don’t do anything to limit your options.
Wait on it, I urged all my kids (so far, they have.) And good grief, unless you’re outdoors braving the elements, lose that ridiculous hoodie.
I had a recent conversation about boundaries with my son (you know, a conversation about why I was being the buzzkill parent saying NO for the umpteenth time). I told him about the father and teenage son I watched walking into a store ahead of me. The waistband of the kid’s pants hung just underneath his buttocks. I admitted to my son that my second thought (the first being, hmmph, I didn’t know that was still a thing) was, that poor kid. That poor kid doesn’t have one worthy adult in his life to look at him and say, “Pull your pants up, you look like an idiot” and that was incredibly sad to me. It made me wonder what else he was allowed to do unchallenged in his home.
I then told him about a cashier I recently encountered. It was at an icky thrift store (which – disclaimer and stone cold admission — I do NOT care for. I went in with a friend who absolutely loves them. Blecchh. Sorry, I yam what I yam. I don’t like those and I don’t go to yard sales. I’m a Walmart gal through and through: I’d rather buy it cheap and new than cheap and used. Meh. We all have our thing. Leave me to my draft beer in a plastic cup thankyouverymuch). Anyway, here was this young man: facial tattoos, spiked hair a foot high, earlobe plugs the size of teacup saucers chained to his nostril hoops … you get the picture. It was truly the stuff of parental nightmares. The thing is, I felt really bad for him, too. Was there not one voice of reason in his life to ever say, Kid, what say you pump the brakes on that idea? Or, How about waiting until you’re older to permanently scar your body. Or even, No, you will not visit your grandmother looking like that, go upstairs and change.
I wondered, did any adult ever forewarn these kids about limiting their options in life?
Please, oh please, see my big picture here. I am in no way connecting dots to declare that kids with ass-draggy pants and tattoos are all growing up to be gun-toting, hate-spewing mass murderers. My kids are far from pillars of society and I am actively in the trenches of vaping and weed and booze … Really — a soapbox I have none.
I just think maybe we can start someplace small with giving kids the boundaries they need, even crave.
If I can sustain countless arguments holding firm on the small stuff – the piercings, the rainbow-brite hair, the endless sleepovers, the curfews and – my favorite — the relentless “you’re the ONLY parent who does this” nonsense … you can bet your sweet ass I’d have a thing or two to say about my kid walking around in a trench coat. Or brooding around longer than what Dr. Phil would deem typical. Or talking back to a teacher. Or bus driver. Or any adult.
Killing children. Killing pets. Spewing hate. Hiding guns. Using guns.
I’m really struggling with it. Where does it start? How do parents not know?
How could you not know?
I would know. And if she was still here, my mom would know, too.
# # # #
Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and has been featured in Huff Post. She appeared in the Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone” presenting her popular essay The Thinking Girl’s Thong and her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series. That said, she still places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements (next would be as the $100,000 winner on that home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore). A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook & @Eyerollingmom on Instagram. Her collection of essays, A Momoir, can be found here (agent interest ALWAYS WELCOME!)