Having babies is rather like bringing home a carton of eggs. You find a safe, temperature-controlled environment for them and you handle them carefully for the first couple of weeks, but after that they lose their freshness, begin to smell and you just wish you’d gone to the Waffle House and let somebody else worry with the details. At the very least you should have invested in Egg Beaters instead, and you have that sinking feeling that neither of you will age gracefully.
My niece and I both have children who are given to food fights, who exist on a diet of cold cereal and Oreos, who run screaming through the house naked at bathtime, and who wear their favorite shirt until the animal logo withers and dies of old age. Her son is three years old. Mine is thirteen. Here is a child who went to bed with Ozzy Nelson’s personality on the last day he was twelve and woke up the next morning as Ozzy Ozborne. Our lives went straight from Happy Days to Survivor: Hormone Breakout. Whoever first said that thirteen is an unlucky number must have had a new teenager in the hut.
It’s not that I’m unaccustomed to teenagers. I’m perilously close to exhausting all reasonable excuses why my oldest child shouldn’t be allowed to operate a moving vehicle. Before long the state will license him to drive a car, which will terminate my rights as a citizen by turning my pursuit of happiness into the impossible dream.
I’ve grown accustomed to walking alone like an escapee from Happy Valley Farms when we go to the mall. I know not to wear clothing designed to draw attention to myself, such as jeans that come all the way to my waist or blouses that are large enough to camouflage my behind. I’ve been trained not throw my hand up in a friendly greeting or act like I’m a blood relative if I happen to see my child at a football game, and I know not to say the word potty in public.
At least with my older son, I was given fair warning. With Mutant Human 2, the transition was like Dr. Jekyll and Martha Stewart, the jailhouse years. At school he took it personally if asked to participate in undesirable group activities, such as lunch. Teachers who expected him to complete homework assignments EVERY day, and who indulged in summer reading lists that didn’t involve Japanese animation were trolls. When subjected to standardized testing, he hyperventilated, experienced Suddenly Sullen disease, and threatened to move to Montana and indulge in steer wrestling.
I don’t know if it’s his perpetual smirk or the 360-degree eye roll when I speak that barbecues my potato chips. Perhaps it’s the nagging idea that he managed to restructure my nervous system into an alternate design made from rolls of bubble wrap. And he’s popping all the bubbles.
I’m comforted by the rumors that there are parents, alive in captivity, who survived the teenage years. Sure, a great many of them now have facial tics and are given to muttering to themselves and staring blankly into space for long periods of time, but they’re alive, hold responsible jobs, and can open their own mail. I am personally acquainted with parents who know not to wear spandex at the beach or brown socks with Birkenstocks, who can successfully record the message for the answering machine, and who can figure out by themselves how to pay at the pump when they get gas for the car, providing they have chosen the gas option instead of saving their pension for retirement.
They say if I make it through the next ten years, I’m home free. They also say that the worst part of having a teenager is the bizarre Hulk-like mood swings. Of course, I’ve heard that with hormone therapy and proper rest, I’ll get over it.
But I have to wonder if there’s money to be made in steer wrestling.