Our oldest son, always known here as TGG, got married on Friday. Because of a disagreement we had over the weekend, we only got notice of his intention to do so via text. Confirmation came over iMessage on Friday night…from someone who saw it on Facebook.
I gave Facebook up months ago, and actually went back on to see if there were pictures. I’ve been blocked. Oh, well… I deactivated the account again. I will not be sucked into the drama because, well, I’ve come to realize it’s really not worth it.
So we’ve spent the whole weekend wondering how we became the villains straight from central casting. We’ve reached the conclusion that we suck so badly our entire experience raising children has been part of a delusional alternate universe we live in…
Something in the posting our son and his wife put on Facebook caught our attention. Stay wild, stay true, stay you. Not being up on all the youthful lingo of the hipster generation (which they claim not to belong to,) we assume that this is some sort of call to arms. We are baffled: our son has never been wild (tattoos notwithstanding…he is possibly one of the more timid people we know,) and as for being true and “you,” well…this is the kid who used to be tremendously unique until he realized that the other kids made fun of him, and he relinquished his uniqueness so he could embrace the “generational uniqueness” that all his friends professed.
My dad used to say that what we all have in common is that we want to be unique. More often than not it is the people who sustain the barrage of abuse from their peers who fly the flag for uniqueness. If you sublimate, you are saying “thank you, I will blend in until such a time when I am comfortable with not sublimating.” Our son became one more of the long line of kids who got tattoos, earrings, listened to rap or heavy metal, and acted like the world was an unjust place without ever really understanding that he was doing all this from the comfort of his middle-class existence. He was “edgy!” He was “rebellious!” He was “wild.”
The results of this are two children by two different women in less than three years; a wasted semester in Nursing school; living from meager paycheck to meager paycheck, and complaining about how hard he has to work for said meager paychecks. And, of course, the attitude that WE are the ones who have NEVER understood him. How dare we???!!! He just wants to be…wait for it…HAPPY!
In a nutshell, we are bad parents who don’t understand, and we bring him down. We are lame, and that’s why we don’t understand. I believe Busby Berkeley had a sequence in the movie set to this tune; I’m sure Cecil B. DeMille had a cast of thousands performing a scene where this was the gist of it. Francis Ford Coppola, Lasse Halstrom, Steven Spielberg, Wim Wenders…they’ve made movies about this, I’m sure. The entire musical history of the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and so on and so forth has documented this feeling…
Parents of young adults who think they are entitled to whatever it is we do for them: we had it coming. We suck. We had best sit here and accept that we failed. As they raise their iPhones in the air, shake their fists on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to protest our lack of understanding, let’s take a moment to look deep inside and see the swamp in which our lack of parenting skills is steeped.
We wanted him to get an education. We never demanded straight As; when he wanted to be an actor, we encouraged him. He liked to draw…I have lost count of how many sketchbooks, pencils, materials we’ve bought over the years. He had a guitar, a keyboard. He was interested in them for about twelve minutes in total. He wanted to learn swimming, be a Cub Scout, play soccer…we acquiesced.
He wanted an earring. He wanted tattoos. He liked to dress like James Bond. He wanted girlfriends. He wanted to not be subdued by parental demands for academic excellence; he almost didn’t graduate high school because of his grade in Baking.
His first car, granted, was a Saturn, but then he had other cars. Against our better judgment we allowed the Playstation, the Xbox, the GameBoy, and the countless hours that were necessary to become well-versed in all sorts of games. When he wanted to get a job, we signed the paperwork so he could work. When he graduated from high school (I think his Baking teacher simply didn’t want to deal with him over the summer,) he traveled to NYC with his friends, and went to see plays on Broadway. When he was sixteen we bought him a suit, shirts, ties, shoes at Men’s Wearhouse. They weren’t cheap. He also had a video camera; he was going to be…wait for it…a filmmaker.
When he knocked up the first girl we were supportive. Disappointed at his lack of precaution, but supportive. We made an overture, and his child would come visit. Then he hooked up with another girl, and away went every illusion that school was a priority. And then came the second kid. And now he’s married.
In the interim we’ve bought tires for the car, a bumper, paid handsomely for chores that I could have done myself for free, filled his freezer, and so on and so forth. When I called him out for saying something callous about my mother, that was the end of it for him. How dare I misinterpret something that he, and I SHOULD KNOW THIS, didn’t mean that way!!!!
Yeah, you know…I probably overreacted. My mother is old and frail, and -at my relentlessly advancing age- I am struggling with the understanding that being parentless is not too far in the future. That I will lose whatever link there is to my childhood, to understanding why my mother never quite “took to me” is not easy.
On top of that, my friends, my body’s aging is causing mild-to-moderate health issues. And I have to, in the midst of this, prepare for the next stage in our lives, and deal with being J’s primary caregiver 24/7. I could have been a little less angry, but non-apologies and arrogance are something I have very little patience for these days, especially when they come from someone who flatly refuses to meet us halfway.
In light of that, we have decided to embrace our status as bad parents, and we are baffled, but we are accepting. We know there will be whispers, and gossip. The world thrives on that, and we could address them directly and call out our son in all the public forums he has made his own, but we don’t have the energy for that. We have places to go, and things to do. We won’t drag J into it…J doesn’t deserve that sort of shit.
“Stay wild. Stay true. Stay you” he posted. We hope they are happy. Life can be long, or short, but it will always -inevitably, mercilessly, relentlessly- be full of surprises, and wicked turns. We have done all we can, and we will take this stinging sensation elsewhere, and there we will recover. And we will find a new way of being proper selves because WE have always been wild, true and very much us. Unrecognizable to our son, who has led a life of privilege without even realizing it, but wild, true and very much us nonetheless.
When I married the absolutely inappropriate man the first time around, my parents were present. They were not thrilled, but they were there. They looked mildly horrified and resigned, but they were there. So were our friends and family. I made my declaration of independence, my grabbing-life-by-the-balls very public. Every choice was bold and misguided, but I was proud of the fact that I was fucking up in my own terms. When Dada chose to marry me, he did so boldly, proudly, even in the face of people thinking “what is he doing? He’s marrying a woman with a child who has Autism??? What a moron!!!” We had witnesses; we were thrilled at the community spirit of our declaration of boldly going into the great unknown together.
We managed, somehow, to raise someone who declares his independence through Facebook and text message. Ah…this generation. Selfies, but no self-assuredness. Go figure! “I take thee, and we become we…we must change our Facebook relationship status. Take THAT, bourgeois parents!!!! We are wild, free, true…” Whatever… Sigh….
Wild middle-aged parents of the world, UNITE! We did our best. It’s time to move on. 🙂