A week or so ago, a young man that goes to my son’s high school was arrested for graffitiing a terroristic threat on the school’s bathroom wall. I texted a picture of the kid’s mug shot to my son and asked if he knew him, and he said that, yes, he did - that they even worked together, and that he’d given him a ride home from work a time or two, and that he’d told me about him several times.
I’ll tell you what irritates me more than the itch of a growing-out bikini area: it's finding out my son’s been talking to me, and I haven’t been listening.
I immediately searched all the local news media posts about the arrest, not just to fulfill my need for juicy gossip (but that, too), but also because - now that I was paying attention - I realized how close to home it hits: the guy's being my son’s age, going to the same school, working at the same place, and **gulp** riding in my son’s car.
Note to self: Google whether my child's giving the perp a ride a few times makes him an accessory.
I realize it’s a train wreck, but I always have to read the comments of news posts I read. Reading the judgy, self-righteous, always-typo-filled commentary is how I keep track of the Court of Public Opinion’s scorecard.
But here’s what I think about this young man: I’m just sad for him.
When I hear in the news about someone doing something like this, I immediately imagine them as an infant, a fresh, clean slate - and what must have happened to them along the way to damage them in a way that makes them act out?
Does this kind of thing terrify you like it does me?
Because my favorite hobby is rushing into making things all about me, I of course use this news story to fuel my fear of making any wrong move with my own children.
I’m terrified of psychologically scarring them.
If you’ve followed me for longer than a minute, you know that the cornerstone of my family’s dynamic is humor, and all four of us have a dry, dark sense of humor. I sometimes say things that - tucked away safely in my brain - are hilarious.
Then they come out in the open air they’re just rude and hurtful.
I like to think that this is my knack for an advanced-level wit; that I have a gift for self-deprecation (and the harmless deprecation of others), and that all this is is just “having a sense of humor about our shortcomings.”
But in reality it comes out as poking fun at one’s insecurities.
Several years ago, there was a new fashion statement coming about, where boys were wearing Nike Elite socks - the kind that come up past the midpoint of their shins - with soccer slides.
The whole look was ridiculous. I just didn’t understand it.
My son wanted in on the action, so we went and bought the overpriced socks and slides, and he was so excited to have his new duds, he put them on, grinning from ear to ear, as I sat in the passenger seat.
Mark was driving, and when we stopped at a red light, I looked back at my son, and laughed at the sight of this crazy fashion fad, and said to Mark, “Oh my God, look at this!” and I actually pointed my finger back at my child, and watched his smile fade away in embarrassment.
WTF, right? OMG, mom fail. Ugh.
He said, “It looks dumb on me, doesn’t it?” and proceeded to take them off.
I’d rather swallow a handful of thumbtacks than remember that awful moment. I can’t believe I did that, and - even though it was more than five years ago, and my son has no memory of it - I know that it made an imprint in his brain, sending him a message: “My mom laughed at me.”
He never put the socks and slides on again.
I ruined the chance to support my son as he tried on the look of the “cool kids.”
The thing is, that’s just a big lie.
Telling myself I’ve ruined a chance to support my child is nothing but a lie. And it’s just one more in a long string of lies I tell myself nearly every single day.
And you’re lying to yourself, too. We’re all just a bunch of dirty, rotten liars.
A very funny business blogger I follow, Ash Ambirge, wrote this in her last post, and - even though we’re talking parenting here, and not business, it proves my point: “...when you’re out there doing work… that has no manager, no support team, no pat on the back, there are days when you will wake up and feel like you are a total fuck up; that you’re not any good; that you’re in over your head; that you should stick to what’s proven.”
Nobody knows exactly what they’re doing when it comes to being a mom or dad. And once you’ve gone through All The Stages with your first kid, you wipe your forehead with the back of your hand, letting out a sigh of relief that you’ve got it all figured out for that second kid.
Each kid is different, so - along with moms and dads around the world - we reinvent the parenting wheel with the birth of each fresh, new, little baby, and we curse ourselves relentlessly when things get tough (and they always do, at some point), convinced we’re doing it all wrong.
And this thankless, under-appreciated, devoid-of-kudos job as a parent isn’t just judged by us. No, no. Just read through the comments on any news post or social media post, and you’ll see the onslaught of judgments hurled by all types of perfect parents, who hide their own parenting insecurities (and mistakes) behind the safety of their computer screen.
They have them, don’t you worry.
No, I don’t feel judgy about the mom and dad of that kid that painted terroristic threats in the bathroom at my son’s school. I bet they’re mortified by his behavior. I bet they’re wringing their hands wondering what they did wrong, and worrying about what the future holds for their son.
I bet they’re looking for a counselor for him, hoping they can “fix” him before he progresses into doing real harm beyond painting on a wall. I bet they’re losing sleep at night, worrying where they’ll get money to pay for the mental health care he needs.
I bet they think they messed him up when they had to leave him at daycare when he was just a baby, or when they had that one really big fight, and the mom stormed out and left town for a few days. Or maybe they think they disciplined him too harshly when he was young. Or that they didn’t discipline him enough.
You know: all the things thrown into that box labeled, “Mommy Guilt,” that’s handed to us, along with our first newborn baby.
They’re all lies.
Look at the whole picture of yourself as a mom. Most of the time, you’ve been awesome, right? You’ve celebrated the right things. You’ve disciplined the bad things. You’ve eaten the right number of dinners around the family table.
Yes, of course you’ve made mistakes. We all have and we all do.
It’s possible the parents of Terroristic-Graffiti-Boy did do something to “mess him up.” But maybe he’s just got funky wiring. Maybe his parents are lovely people, but he’s an asshole, and he was born that way.
It might be the parents’ fault. I doubt it, though.
And it doesn’t matter.
It’s not for me (or you) to say.
Let’s extend a little freakin' grace to each other, mkay? And for crying out loud, cut yourself some slack. As long as you’re doing the best you can, your kids are going to be just fine.