By the time our youngest son Jared reached the dreaded adolescent stage, I was an old pro. I’d already weathered his older brother and sister, Jason and Jennifer, going through it, and social services had only knocked on our door half-a-dozen times. I was all set.
There was only one problem. Jared’s the third child, and everyone knows that the farther down a child is on the totem pole, the more neglected he gets.
I’d kept everything from Jason’s childhood: the bandage off his umbilical cord, the socks he wore the day he graduated from kindergarten, and the spitball he threw at his first grade teacher. We kept building on to the house to make more room for Jason’s memorabilia. After we ran out of lumber, we rented four storage spaces.
When Jennifer entered the world, the attention dwindled. I crammed all her personal effects into a shoebox and shoved it under the bed (Hey. It was a large shoebox. Her dad wears size fourteen shoes).
Then along came Jared. All he has to show from his childhood is a business-sized envelope containing his birth certificate, shot records, and one report card. I also keep my Christmas recipes in that envelope. Jared could never be convicted of a crime. There’s so little proof he exists.
But don’t feel sorry for him. Jared had a Mom and Dad who were so relaxed, he had to shoot us with a stun gun to sign his report card. He taught himself to tie his shoes, learned his numbers by reading the backs of his baseball cards, and his second grade teacher taught him how to color-coordinate his clothes.
Jared never suffered the angst of two parents tailing him like a lovesick pup. And not once did we embarrass him in front of his friends by holding his hand in public. Jeff and I even let him eat cold pizza for breakfast, Twinkies for lunch, and a soda and a bag of chips for supper. We rarely raised our voices at him. We were too busy trying to figure out the new stages his older brother and sister were going through.
But Jared, being Jared, was not about to let his adolescence go by unnoticed.
“Hey Mom. Check out this zit.”
“I hate to disappoint you, Jared, but that’s a piece of dried-up corn from supper.”
Jared smiled and went looking for his father.
“Hey, Dad,” he said, flexing his arm so hard, the veins popped out on his forehead. “Check out this muscle.”
“Sorry, Son, but that little bump is only left over baby fat.”
Jeff received the same smile before Jared went searching for his brother.
“Hey, Jason,” he said, flapping his arms like a chicken. “Look. I’m starting to get underarm hair.”
With a proud look, Jason displayed underarm hair that Rapunzel could have used to escape her ivory tower.
“When you have this much, Jared, we’ll talk.”
Unfazed and still grinning, Jared headed toward the back of the house to find Jennifer.
But that’s as far as he got. Jennifer dashed into her room, slammed and bolt locked the door, and then barricaded it with a dresser, desk, and nightstand.
The next thing I heard was Jared calling, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”
Determined not to repeat the same mistakes made during Jason and Jennifer’s adolescence, I downplayed Jared’s march through it. Like the time he came into my bedroom to show off the new-found hair on his legs.
“Hey, Mom. Look how long and dark the hair on my legs is getting.”
My motherly duty urged me to rein in my son’s pride. I hiked up my nightgown and said, “Jared, look at these nubs. Even they are longer and darker than what you’ve got. And I’m a woman.”
Jared studied my legs for a minute and then said, “Yeah, but I don’t have all that cellulite.”
I know. I deserved that.
Because I insisted on downplaying Jared’s glorious adolescent moments, I missed out on much of that all-important phase of his young life. But even without my ever-present interference, Jared happily sailed through his adolescent seas. Though on his thirteenth birthday, I booked reservations for a six-year, Round-the-World cruise. The thought of rearing three teenagers at one time held more terror than watching a play-by-play of Joan River’s plastic surgeries.
But then again… that’s just the way kids are. Or maybe… that’s the way we mothers are.