I parked in front of the oral surgeon’s office. I gathered my things and got out of the car. I walked all the way to the office door before realizing that my son wasn’t trailing behind me. He was still sitting in the car. I could see him taking off his sweatshirt and gathering up his own things, but he was in slow motion, which I very much understood.
I gave him a few more moments before I went to check him in. When he joined me, he was upset and angry with me; he’d forgotten his earbuds. Music had been his plan to transport himself away – to wherever rappers hung out – while the surgeon did his thing. But recently I’ve realized that when he is at his worst, he is also at his most anxious.
Earbuds or no earbuds, he was going in. The doctor assured both of us he would be fine and well looked after. I put in my own imaginary earbuds and opened the book I’d brought. How I hated handing my children over for things they surely would find painful or uncomfortable. The first day of a new daycare, a shot at the pediatrician’s office – all of these made little pieces of my heart break off. I know these things are for the kids’ own good but it’s still hard.
The first time I handed over my newborn to the nurse, it was because his umbilical cord was still stubbornly attached and they felt they needed to remove it. I seriously felt faint. “Cauterize.” The word even sounded horrible. I handed him over and stepped into the hall. I listened to his “white cry” (I’d named his cries: white was for pain) and I cried too. Eighteen years later and here we are – another doctor’s office.
The intervening eighteen years have been so fast. Lightning fast. It’s hard to believe he’s standing on the cusp of adulthood. Two more weeks between me and tattoo parlors, joining the military, signing contracts, and getting married legally. (I would just drop dead if he came home married. Get all the tattoos you want, Buddy, save marriage for another decade.)
When his surgery was all done, I was invited back to join him. Now, for anyone who has ever raised a child, you know how a teen can look at you. Eyes hooded, barely looking you in the eye. Body language guarded. We have been living this dream for a few years in this house. I missed my son in his younger years. Climbing into bed for a snuggle, this perfect little face looking up at me, trusting what I had to say. And smiling. Where did all the smiles go?
Having a teenager is like driving down the street and finding out it’s now one-way. Yesterday it was a perfectly normal street. Traffic went in both directions. You panic, pull over and turn around hoping you don’t get killed or kill anyone else before you can get out. Everything about a teenager screams one way.
“Where are you going?”
“What are you doing?”
“Who are you meeting?”
Sam was given a combination of laughing gas and novocaine. We’d decided against full-on anesthesia and rejected novocaine-only as unnecessarily barbaric.
Laughing gas is bad, evil, addictive, neuron-killing, brain damaging, and to be avoided unless you are getting your wisdom teeth out. Because when he had laughing gas, his smile was as wide as when he was six years old, and he has a beautiful smile (orthodontist-approved). His gorgeous green eyes were wide open and trusting when he was looking at me. (Me!) It was a two-way street again. He was funny. I was even funny. I asked questions and he answered. Louis Armstrong even showed up singing “What a Wonderful World”; birds were chirping, and the sun was out.
And I thought, “Oh, thank God; he is still in there.” He’s just a teenager after all. I think he might have gotten a little lost on all those one-way streets, too. It happens. Being a teenager is hard. Being a mother of a teenager might be even harder. But I’ll be here. Waiting for those streets to open up again.
By Jennifer Dziekan
Jennifer lived in Switzerland for three years with her husband and three children. In July 2015 she found herself making the transition back to the U.S. Nothing was easy except for possibly the grocery shopping. Back “home,” back to work, and back to feeling like a fish out of water.
This story originally appeared on Jen’s blog.
Illustration by Lemady Rochard
Lemady is an Artist and Illustrator who also runs Storycraft classes and parties for children at the mal_Raum art studio in Ruschlikon, ZH. She has a background in theatre arts and children’s literature. Lemady lives near Einsiedeln SZ with her family. Contact her: Storycraft.firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook: www.facebook.com/lemadyart