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  • Ania Schwartzman

the quarantine brought back my sweet kvetch

"Why do I have to go?!” “It will be terrible! horrible! the worst thing ever!” my son yelled. You’d think I just told him we have to go to the mall to get him fancy clothes instead of sharing the news that we would soon be going on a family trip to Mexico.

My son, 12 years old, is a true renaissance being in that he is good at everything. An exceptional athlete, an accomplished student, a fantastic drum player, a creative who can try something for the first time and nail it within a few hours. I’m not boasting, it’s true.

That said, he is also a sensitive soul, just like his mama. And my once super affectionate, thoughtful, sweet boy has been pulling away from me since last summer. I’d ask how his day went or what he ate for lunch and he’d blow me off and mumble something incoherent. I would attribute his response to being tired or hungry. I really didn’t think much about it at first. Yet slowly, it was becoming more evident that he was not interested in connecting with me at all. I know this because he told me so. He actually said “I have outgrown you. I don’t need you anymore.” Remember I said that he gets his sensitivity from me? You can imagine how hard I took it. Daggers straight to my heart. This went on for some time. I realized that any time I directed questions or comments to him, he’d barely answer. He absolutely had no interest in taking a walk with me or kicking a ball around. I wouldn’t dare ask him to go shopping, that would be the kiss of death. I worried if he was depressed or if something happened at school. Soon enough, I set out to do some research on teenage boys and discovered that his behavior is “normal.” In fact, research shows that adolescents actually wish their parents were around more often, even if they ignore us when we are. I learned that as he develops more independence, he justifies his deep wish to separate from me by getting angry at me. Of course I know deep down he loves me and his struggle is subconscious but it was still very difficult not to take his pronouncements personally. I was fortunate to stumble upon a NY Times article written by Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author or “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Though the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.” She described a parenting method that made sense to me: the potted plant parent. The idea is to just be there. Don’t ask questions, don’t make comments, don’t speak. So I started to sit on his bed in the evenings to read emails while he worked at his desk. A few times he thought it was strange and insisted I get out of his room. I told him I would do nothing to interrupt him, I just wanted to be nearby.

After some time being the potted plant parent, he gave up on kicking me out. Though it was nice to be “with” him, I have to admit that just being with him without engagement made me quite sad. Then the pandemic hit and everything changed.

At first, my son adjusted to quarantine like many boys his age. He was irritable, short tempered, rude, and dismissive. Nothing I hadn’t experienced before. In fact, we all were feeling just as helpless and frustrated. However, as the days turned into weeks, something happened. I no longer found myself being the potted plant parent. Instead, I became the lunch lady, activities coordinator, janitor, principal while juggling jobs and being a supportive mom and wife. Slowly, after some time, he started to gravitate towards me. First it was brief conversations at the dinner table. Then it was taking a break outside with me to kick around a ball. He would offer to help bring in the groceries or help me with my technology challenges. We started baking and cooking some dinners together. He recently asked me to tuck him in at bedtime, like I do with his younger sister. Oh joy! It’s been an amazing reversal and one that I am forever grateful for. I know like the pandemic, this time won’t last much longer. And one day soon, he will probably go back to be the teen kvetch he was. It’s okay, he is supposed to. That said, for now I will savor every sweet moment I have with him. This time has truly been a gift and I am hoping I will remember it one day when he tells me to get out of his room!

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