Lately, I find myself chasing a guy who has absolutely zero regard for me. He calls me only when he needs something, and it is pretty clear I am his last choice in terms of hanging out. He disappears and I have no idea where he is. When I call him he never answers, and it usually takes about a dozen texts before he decides to respond. I worry about him. I want to not care about this guy. But I have no choice. This is not just any guy.
This guy is my son.
I know that it is normal for teens to want to spend more time with their friends than their parents, but it feels especially extreme with my 15-year-old. And being a single mom only makes it harder.
Being divorced, the custody is split bi-weekly. This is his dad’s week. It is a good thing, too, because at the beginning of the week I came down with what the doctor said was “walking pneumonia.” But until the antibiotics kicked in, I was hardly walking anywhere. I was immobile and in pain; each cough felt like razor blades slicing into my raw, exposed lungs.
As part of our custody arrangement, the parent who does not have the kids gets them for dinner one night of the week. Tonight was my night. I texted my son early in the day.
– Do you want to go for dinner tonight?
– no thanks
– Why not?
– I don’t know. I think I’m going out tonight.
I was disappointed, but it was pretty much as I expected. However, my parents and sister’s family were all going out and they wanted us to come. So as dinnertime approached, I sent him one last text.
– Bubby is taking everyone for dinner. I’d like to see you, and so would everyone else. I don’t want to force you. But will you come?
– will you pick me up from Ian’s?
– ok then
OK! He agreed. I sent a rushed text to my mom telling her WE were in for dinner. I went to shower. I washed my hair. I even put on a light summer dress. I felt good. Happy. I was finally feeling healthier. It was a gorgeous summer night. And my son was coming out with me, on his own free will.
Showered and with what felt like a spring in my step, I grabbed my purse and picked up my phone. And then I saw my texts.
– Actually, don’t pick me up.
– I already ate.
– And I have plans I forgot about.
Instantaneously, I felt my body deflate. I was caught between wanting to cry and wanting to rage at my son. I called my parents. I told them that we would not be coming for dinner after all. But when my dad asked why not, I couldn’t bring myself to explain. I started to bawl into the phone.
“Let me speak to him,” my mom offered.
“No, I can’t force him to see me,” I sobbed.
“I want to see him. I am calling him. Just hold on.”
I guess with his bubby involved, he finally relented. My throat was sore and my chest felt achy. I no longer felt strong and healthy. It seemed that within minutes, my recovery had regressed exponentially. I thought about getting into bed and calling it a night. But then I realized if I did that, my son would win. He would be with his friends. He would get to be callous and selfish and happy. And so I thought, “screw him.” I was going to go for dinner and he was going to come, whether he wanted to or not.
I would like to say that when he came into the car, he was apologetic. Instead he was scowling and refused to speak to me. And that was fine. Because I could not bring myself to speak to him. We drove in utter silence to the restaurant. Before the car was in park he jumped out and walked angrily ahead of me. He was pissed. And so was I.
At dinner he refused to eat. He said he had already eaten. We made conversation with those around us, but not to each other.
I felt utterly defeated. I thought, seriously, about him living with his dad full-time. Maybe he would be happier. It was clear my son didn’t want anything to do with me. I resented that I was being forced to force myself on him. It was not my nature. I felt pathetic. I wanted to give up, give in, and just go my own way.
As we drove away from the restaurant, I decided to speak my mind.
“I know you think I am mean, that I want to deny you fun. But you hurt me tonight. I was really excited to see you and it hurt me when you backed out at the last minute. I know you’re a teenager and the last thing you want to do is hang out with your parents—with me—but all I ask for is for a couple hours one night a week.”
He was looking down at his phone. Was he even listening to me?
“I force you to come out with me because I love you, and I miss you. I want to see you, and as limited as that time is, I want it.”
We continued to drive in silence for a couple more minutes. Then we drove past his school. Still looking into his lap, he said, “They’re doing renovations in the building over the summer.”
“Oh? What are they doing?”
“Well, they’re making a gym. A work-out room. And they are doing a bunch of other stuff.”’
“Wow, an exercise room! Maybe I will apply to teach there in the fall. I would love to teach in a school with a gym. And then I can see you. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.”
If there is one thing my son and I do share, it is a dry sense of humor. He looked at me. I looked back at him. Then at the same time, we both smiled.
The sun was descending behind a mountain of dark clouds, creating an effervescent silver glow just around the edges.
“Look at the sky,” I said. “It looks like mountains”
“No, it doesn’t,” he said.
And then a moment later, “I think the edge on that first cloud is the prettiest part.”
“Yes” I said. “I think so too.”