This morning, my oldest son and I got into an argument. Today is game day for him and he was looking for a particular shirt to wear to school. Helping him find it meant that I had to dig through mountains of clothes in his closet. The closet that I told him to clean over the holidays. I had to step around video games and empty wrappers and a million other things that littered the floor in his room. The room that I told him to clean over the holidays.
After my surgery, I told the boys that I needed them to “help me out more.” I tossed out a couple of examples like laundry and dishes and cited the fact that I wasn’t allowed to bend over. There was one morning when I insisted that they clean up the dog’s landmines in the laundry room and I was proud of them as I listened to the sound of them working together to clean up the mess. I also might have giggled at the sound of their gagging. Welcome to my world.
I didn’t really hold them to the laundry and dishes. That one act of cleaning up dog excrement was enough for me. Until the day before the Cotton Bowl when I realized that people were coming over and they would have to step over all of the untied Nike’s in the front entry way. That’s when I looked around and saw the stacks of clean laundry that they had not put away, the spills on the kitchen floor that they did not wipe up, and the Christmas gifts that they had not bothered to take to their rooms. I noticed much more, but I’m trying to hold onto some dignity and pretend that my house didn’t look like tornado wreckage. Even though it did.
I sat down and composed a…booklet? I titled it “What I Mean When I Say…” Each page had a different topic like “Clean Your Room” or “Clean the Bathroom.” The final page was titled “Help Me More.” This was the catch-all page.
The boys were less than thrilled with my composition. There was much eye-rolling and complaining about my OCD. The oldest one sarcastically stated that he would have been cleaning that way all along if I had just been more specific. (Sarcasm is a second language in our house. Well, perhaps it’s our first language.)
So this morning when I was wading through a room and closet that were nowhere CLOSE to clean in my opinion, I was a bit miffed. said in my sarcastic tone that I should have written the booklet in braille or some other language that he could understand.
He argued that the condition of his room and closet weren’t the problem. The laundry was the problem. “If you had taught us how to do the laundry, then we could do it when you fall behind like right now.”
Listen, I joke around with my kids a LOT. We make jabs at each other. They tease me about my driving and cooking and a million other insignificant things. It’s all in jest. They are never malicious, so I don’t think anything about it.
But his comment this morning was not said in fun. He was tired and nervous and agitated and I was his target. He meant to be disrespectful. I won’t tolerate disrespect. I lived with it for 13 or so years. I corrected him. He argued back. He was angry and mean and intent on putting me in my place. It was a power struggle. I slapped him on his cheek. Not hard, but enough to get his attention. He raised his fist to hit me.
Rage. I felt rage. Rage from fear. Rage from years of abuse. Although I have never seen that from him, I have certainly seen it enough times from his father. I yelled at him that if he even dared to use that fist, I would call the police and he would be displaced from my home immediately. I would never be abused by another man again, and if he thought he had the right to raise his hand to me, he’d better be ready for the consequences. If you think you are old enough to be a man then get ready to live like one.
He started to cry and I turned and left the room. I went into the laundry room and closed the door. I screamed and then I cried. I hated myself for putting a hand on him. I hated myself for tolerating abuse from his father. I hated myself for feeling fear and rage and hiding in a laundry room unable to keep it together. I hated myself for potentially sending him to school with this on his mind.
I pulled myself together and left the laundry room. I approached him and told him that I was sorry for losing my temper. I explained to him that it is NEVER acceptable to attempt to dominate and incite fear in a woman. And I told him that I meant what I said about the violence. I will not allow him to live with me if he EVER raises his hand to me again. I love him unconditionally and nothing he will ever do can change that, BUT I will not accept abuse of any kind. So if I have to love him from afar to protect myself, then I will do that. Those are my rules. Those are my boundaries. I don’t ever want to lose him, but I have higher expectations of him.
He was sullen. He was remorseful. He was apologetic. Honestly, I think his movement was instinctive. Let’s not forget that although his father didn’t do to him what he did to me, he has lived in some fear of it. An instinctive move by a pubescent teen raised by an abusive father. It seemed to scare even him. He kept saying, “I’m so sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean it.”
Before he left for school, we had worked things out and were back to joking around. I’m not attending his scrimmage tonight because it is almost two hours away. I would have to arrange rides, food, and homework help for my other son and drive four hours to watch a shortened 40 minutes of soccer. And flooding rains are predicted. (See how I’m justifying here?) In exchange, I am taking off work on Friday to see his tournament. It’s all very logical, especially for the single mom of two kids, but as both mother and father, I feel guilty about it.
Therefore, he teases me. Last night he told me that he was going to score a goal and then he would hold it over my head forever that I missed the first goal of his high school career. He smiled. He winked. He was adorable. And before he left for school, we had put things back to normal enough that he smiled and winked and teased me about his upcoming goal. He promised to text me the score as soon as he boarded the bus.
I felt better that I sent him to school focused on his game and his future, not on the past. Not on pain and fear. Not with any worry that I didn’t love him.
I, however, am still stunned. I am seeing visions of the past. I am praying that those are not visions of his future. I want more for him. I just have to figure out how to provide it.
[I'm going to state openly that I am very fearful of publishing this post. I'm a Mama Bear fearful of ridicule of her Cub. I'm fearful of ridicule for my reactions. I am posting this with honesty. We are not perfect. I know that I am codependent. I know that my reactions stem from jaded interpretations of events based on my past. Trust that I am working on it. Trust that we will both be talking to our counselors. Trust that my house is usually full of love and light. Today, though, there was some darkness. And I am trusting it with you.]