When a son drifts away, Mom must be clever

February 23, 1997|By SUSAN REIMER

MY SON HAS just turned 13, but I feel as if I am the teen-ager, trying -- again -- to earn the affection of the cutest boy in the school.

I watch what I say to him, especially around his friends, trying to be clever and hip without calling undue attention to myself.

I laugh appreciatively at his sarcasm, and I never flinch, outwardly at least, at his slams. I find that I can talk for hours about whether the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line could put together 1,000 yards for any dime-store running back.

I watch what I wear, taking his disapproval to heart, but I never say anything but the nicest things about what he looks like in public -- his hair, his shoes, his jeans, the nondescript stuff he wears like protective coloring.

I send out signals of my affection, but I know I can't pressure him with my love or he will throw me off like a coat in a hothouse. But I am patient. Because if I wait long enough, he may notice me and then he may find that he likes me.

My son is growing up. His hands and feet are huge, like those of a St. Bernard puppy, and I can't imagine how big my baby boy will be when he finally grows into them.

But he is also growing out. Away. Away from family in general and away from me in particular. His ragtag collection of friends mean more to him than I do. Me, the woman who carried him for nine months, as I remind him during my occasional, and ill-advised, outbursts.

If I believe one child- development expert, he is alienating me in order to separate from me less painfully.

If I believe another expert, he is firing me as his manager, but if I play my cards right, he might rehire me as a consultant.

And if I believe still another, he is not separating from me, he is reorganizing the important relationships of his life.

Whatever. All I know is that I am on my way out. The only choice I have is the means of departure -- on my own two feet, with dignity, or on a rail, tarred and feathered.

He doesn't need me to feed him. He can microwave anything in the fridge or dial the phone for pizza. He doesn't need me to clothe him. Just hand him the cash and he will make his own choices.

He doesn't want my help with homework, parroting back to me that it is his responsibility. He doesn't need me to read to him, to tuck him in or to hold him while he throws up. My relationship with my son hinges on the fact that I am the one with the driver's license, and soon enough he will want that to change.

So I woo him. Day and night, I plot against this disaffection. I find excuses to be alone with him. I ferry him anywhere he wants to go, because he will talk to me when he is trapped in a moving vehicle with me -- alone, without witnesses.

I buy tickets to things he might like to see. Aquariums, IMAX movies, concerts or musicals when I am feeling brave. He whines that I am ruining his weekend, but is rarely displeased with the spectacle I have paid dearly for. We eat together at Chinese restaurants, because that is the food he likes. I am worried that a person can overdose on General Tsao's chicken.

When I lapse into nagging, barking at him about the state of his room or the fact that he wears a baseball cap in the house, he silences me with, "Pick your fights, Mom." I take his admonition to heart, and when he gets detention for being rude to a poor substitute teacher, I say, "Thanks for it not being a felony."

He laughs at me, and the moment passes without confrontation. hope the message has not been too subtle.

At night, I lie sleepless and worry that I have made too many compromises. I feel like Chamberlain, and I have done it for the same reason. Containment. If I keep him close, if I do not drive him away any faster than he is leaving, he may notice me. If I can find the good in him, maybe he will see it in me.

And if he is still talking to me, perhaps he will also be listening.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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