Negotiating "Cool"

Children of all ages are fascinated with costumes and disguises. "Cool" on a teenager can be a particularly hard one to see through.

My little boy never used to be cool. He used to snuggle up for bedtime stories, wrestle and laugh with me, want me close by. I never really thought about teenage years much. I guess part of me had the idea that my child wouldn't change. His voice dropped and he started to grow like a weed, and still he was my same sweet guy. This was going to be easy, I thought.

Then he got cool. All of a sudden snuggles were out. Hugs and kisses were deflected with bored disinterest. He didn't want my help with little things that I'd always helped him with before. My feelings were definitely hurt. Had I been totally written out of his life, virtually from one month to the next?

Thank goodness for friends who had already struggled through this stage. Left to myself, I would have taken all those messages at their face value, decided that he really didn't want me any more, and quietly retreated, making no more moves in his direction, just hoping that some day he might change his mind and want me again.

But one friend in particular had taken on the mission of helping parents of teenagers. Her voice rang in my ears. "You get to be close forever. They still want you. They want to be close. They won't show it in the same way, but they're counting on you to not give up. You get to be close forever." The signs did not look promising, but I clung to the hope that she was right.

I decided to not give up. I made tentative little advances in his direction. Some were accepted with what looked like bored indifference. Some were deflected with more of the same. My feelings were hurt all over again. I cried with my husband. It would have been so much easier to stop trying--except that the price was losing my precious son even more finally.

And there was something about my friend's voice that rang true. "They're counting on you not to give up." I could imagine someone slipping into a suit of "cool" and seeing if they could fool their loved ones. "Hey, can you still recognize me in this outfit? Bet you can't!" In a way it was like a test. "Will you not get confused even if I try to confuse you?" "Will you remember who I really am underneath, even though I don't let any of that part show?" I don't quite understand the drive to play that game, but I sure know the right answer. (All of a sudden I am reminded of our toddlers' transparently-simple games of hide and seek and peek-a-boo. "Even though I'm hidden, can you still find me!?")

There can be only one right answer. "Yes!" "Yes, I can find you." "Yes, you can count on me!" When I can remember all of that, I can remember to be more bold in showing my love--not putting out a tentative little feeler then dropping back and waiting for a totally positive response before making another move--but acting like someone who is confident of loving and being loved, and not worrying about what the response will be. It doesn't often look "sweet" these days. We're more likely to have laughing, funny-insult-trading, sparring matches than cozy snuggles. But when I boldly assume my welcome, he almost always responds. And to see his face open up in laughter as we play, to see that facade of "cool" drop away, if only for a moment, is all that I need to keep going. I still have my son.