It Wasn't Supposed To Be Like This


Welcome back for another installment in the series we’ll call, “Shit I Never Saw Coming As A Mom.”

When my oldest son was in kindergarten, there was this kid who would constantly lick my kid.

That’s right, you heard me: he licked him.  Not once, not twice.  He licked him daily for months.

My son would be sitting at his desk, minding his own business, and this yay-hoo would toodle on past, then swing around really fast, bend down, and lick my son’s hand.

He’d lick his face if he got close enough.

He’d lick my son’s desk if he couldn’t reach him for whatever reason.

You know how some things happen in our lives and they’ll sort-of define that era for you, in your memories?  

Like you might say, “Oh that was in my saving-money-by-cutting-my-own-hair phase,” or, “That was during my vegetarian* period.”

In our family we refer to my son’s early elementary school years as, “when that kid would lick you.”

It was a period of time that went on way longer than it should have.  

I remember thinking - as annoyed as I was and completely grossed out, “What a weird effing duck that kid is, to go around licking people. Thank God my kid isn’t weird.”

I always felt bad for the mom of that boy, having such a f*cking weirdo for a kid.

We have this group of friends whose kids all started kindergarten together, and they all graduated high school last May together.  We vacation together, we celebrate holidays together. We are family.

Our kids really are such good kids: athletic (except for my son, who isn’t into sports), friendly, kind to others, excellent grades - the whole package, all of them.

We’ve never really had to worry about our kids.  

I mean, we worry, sure. But not really worry. Our kids aren’t going around licking people, mkay?

They’re ordinary kids.  

No, they’re extraordinary.  

They all share a history of overachieving in one aspect or another, and they each have their role.

Mine has always been The One Most Likely To Attend An Ivy League College and Study Neuroscience (granted, it’s possible that I’m the only one in our circle who thought this).

Nevertheless, he’s the one we all fight over to be on our team at The Mellow Mushroom’s Trivia Night.

He’s the smart one.

Why, then, oh why did he withdraw from college during the middle of the semester and move home last weekend?

Just… dropped right the eff out.

Turns out, he may be smart, but also a little weird (gets it from me) with more than a touch of anxiety issues, and apparently - while I thought I was raising an intelligent, responsible young man - I wasn’t paying attention and he wasn’t learning responsibility at all.

We’ve gone through the range of emotions from belligerence and shame about his sheer immaturity, to sadness over the flippant tossing out of an incredible opportunity, to worry over whether he will ever fully separate from the teat.

As Mark said the other day: it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Which is such a simple statement, but it immediately brought me to tears because those few words so succinctly wrap up the truth of this situation: it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Reconciling the future we envisioned for him (going to college, getting his degree, curing all that ails the world through his brilliance as a neuroscientist) with the reality that’s playing out (maybe working in fast food truly is his life’s passion?), is probably the hardest part.

We had the predictable sit-down with him when he finished unpacking and settling back in here at home.

He’s got a list of strict rules that he’s never had before: curfew. Wake-up time. Night-night time.

Our attempt to insert structure and discipline into his life in hopes of preventing a burden to society.

His response to our come-to-Jesus?  

Acceptance and gratitude.

Not that he has a choice. But it’s not what you’d expect from most kids his age.  

He owns up to his mistakes and the bad choices he made during the semester that would have led to failing grades, had he not withdrawn.

Which just pisses us off to no end.

I think Mark and I were almost hoping for a knock-down-drag-out with him, so we could make ourselves feel better by yelling at him.

Look, we acknowledge there is as much an anxiety component to this as there is immaturity and irresponsibility, but he still has to accept the consequences.

Because that’s life.

Ten, 20, 25 years from now, when he’s completely on his own and has a knee-buckling bout of anxiety that keeps him home from work for a month, two months, whatever - his employer isn’t going to give him a pass.

I know there are medical leave laws, blahblahblah.

But I also know that employers and peers and colleagues can only put up with so much flaking out before they start judging and pulling up the slack around a weak link that eventually eliminates the need for that person altogether.  

Doesn’t even matter if it’s medical or otherwise.

People just want you to have your shit together.

The man child is working through the consequences of his anxiety-, irresponsibility-, and immaturity-induced behaviors, and I’m pleased to say that his being back home has been a much better experience than I’d expected.

Yes, his path looks different than the one we pictured, but I have to trust that we’ve raised him to make something of himself, whatever that may be, and that he’s going to be alright in the end.

*I should clarify that my vegetarian period wasn’t really a “period” so much as it was a 36-hour stretch where I decided to become a vegetarian, except that I didn’t want to follow all the rules. My vegetarian period ended when I was piled into a Volkswagen Beetle with seven or eight of my friends - all of us drunker than Cooter Brown - trying to decide where we’d go for our middle-of-the-night munchies, and they all wanted to go to Whataburger, but I - visibly struggling with my new vegetarianism - whined, “I caaan’t, I’m a vegetarian,” to which my friend said, “You’re not a f*cking vegetarian, you ate chicken nuggets at lunch today.