Puberty is tough on kids, even tougher on parents

I highly recommend having a friend whose kids are older than yours. It will keep your kids alive. Without Mary’s “that’s age-appropriate” comments, I might have murdered one of mine.

Rory’s voice goes up and down, a la puberty, in every sentence. And last night he grew to my eye level. The word “sucks” comes out now frequently and with vengeance. And, apparently overnight, he lost his memory.

“Rory, this science study guide is incomplete” (day of science test).

“I’ve never seen that.”

“It’s in your binder.”

“Don’t go in my binder, Mom!” Snap. Bang. Binder zipped shut.

“Puberty sucks,” Mary says.

I can’t get used to the word “sucks.” This was a “dirty” word when I was a teen.

I decide I don’t like change. I can’t do puberty parenting. My makeup is non-confrontational/menopausal. And so I glare at the back of Rory’s head, listen to the tinny sound of his earphone volume up too loud, raise my eyebrows and mouth a nasty “na-na-na-na-na” face at him.

“Perfectly normal, perfectly normal,” Mary e-mails. “I’ll remind you that my Chris flunked French two years in a row.”

This I do remember. Mary was a French major in college. I flip when my kids get poor grades on English papers. No one lets me help with writing anymore.

“Mom, it’s fine!” Dillon told me last night.

“Yes but I see you spelled ‘their’ and it should be ‘there.’ Spell check doesn’t pick that up. And this second paragraph needs a little clarifying-I could show you …”

“Mom, it’s my voice.” He does that parent-proof thing with the computer. A click of the mouse and his paper vanishes into a corner off screen.

“Fine, fine. She’s gonna make you do it all over,” I glower. Menopausal mode, I stomp off.

“They do figure it all out,” Mary said, in that calm, no-worry voice. If I am a modern helicopter parent, she is a flimsy, patched, rubber-raft parent.

“When??!!” I ask. “When does that happen??” I type caps and italics and bold into the e-mail. But Mary has gone offline.

Rory is four chapters behind in Agatha Christies’ And Then There Were None. He has 10 sheets of paper. Each paper has a character’s name on it. He needs to fill in six characteristics, the accusation against the character, how the character gets murdered, and Rory has to draw a picture of the character. Not one sheet is filled in.

“Rory, you have to read tonight.”

“Reading sucks,” he says.

I rip off my sweater, hot flashing. Knowing I’m going to say something, knowing this is a really, really bad time for him to tell me reading sucks.

I scream, “Your attitude SUCKS!”

The house goes quiet. Even the Subzero stops its forever hum.

“Whoa, Mom,” Shane breaks the silence from the family room, “‘sucks’ is a bad word.”

I stomp to the bathroom. This being another part of my menopausal stage. Most of my day consumed by looking for a sweater, taking off the sweater, looking for reading glasses and running to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, I take a breather. Wash my hands longer than necessary. Use two or three pumps of the lavender liquid soap. I love this room. Its door locks.

I hope they all fail school and have kids just like them, I think. For a second, I feel bad about this. Then I hear Mary’s voice in my head, “Perfectly normal.” I step out of the bathroom.

Rory has filled in a characteristic for Dr. Wargrave: “Old.” He has drawn a crooked grade-school-style figure with a bushy white mustache. He gives me a goofy grin.

I guess I handled that OK, I think.

I flash him a thumbs up. He flashes one back at me.

Maggie Stewart is a freelance writer and mom of three living in Lake Forest.

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