A World of Pain
My son was sitting on the couch texting while The Big Lebowski, a Cohen brothers’ movie, played in the background. Now, for die-hard fans of “the Big,” don’t judge my son for not giving this cult film his undivided attention. My husband and sons could probably have a “quote off” from this quirky comedy. It is in fact, a quote from the scene that was playing the very second that I looked at my son that made me write this column. “A world of pain,” stated Walter Sobach, a character played by John Goodman. “A world of pain.”
Since he began his Freshman year, I have watched my son change in a way that was too off course to be filed in the, “He’s a teenager. What are you going to do?” folder. My son attends Austin High School in Austin, Texas a school with a population of 3,200 students. Having been raised for the first 14 years of my life in a town with a smaller population than my son’s school has not lost its impact on me. I knew that his transition from top of the “cool pool” in middle school to a little “fish” in a vast ocean would not be an easy one.
But, this wasn’t an adjustment problem. It was something different. Something bigger. But, what the problem was I did not know. I remember growing up hearing parents constantly say, “Enjoy yourself now because these are the best years of your life.” You know, I just don’t hear parents say that anymore. I think as parents we look at the new pressures that kids face today and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
When problems hit that I don’t know how to fix, I go to “the Google.” Having learned long ago how to filter out the junk, I now know how to find incredible and credible resources that I can count on like a good friend to give me the advice I need on the spot.
I found through my research that teen boys are at their greatest risk around 15 years of age. No longer boys and not yet men, imagine how frustrating it can then be to be expected to answer for both depending upon the authority figure and the situation. In fact, another famous movie quote, “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore” sums up my son’s current state. I am sure thousands of other 15-year-old boys across the world feel the same way.
As a parent, I struggle to find the words that will be the perfect elixir to calm the storm I see brewing inside him. But, instead my words seem to hit him like a Molotov cocktail creating a massive explosion that can take down everyone in his sight. The weeks, days, hours of putting myself in his shoes through a steady stream of positive reinforcements has become old. My, “this too shall pass” assurance has crossed over to the other side of, “Suck it up kid!”
The mature me filled with the wisdom of my years and experience can, at a moment’s notice, wilt away. In its place, I find myself regressing to a teenager’s level as the two of us go at it “mano-a-mano”. After a recent lengthy battle to get in the last word, I actually reduced myself to a 5-year old child with fingers in ears saying, “I’m not listening. I’m not listening.” Now, that’s a life lesson my mom never taught me.
Where and when do I draw the line between being a sympathetic listener to a mom who is allowing her child to be self-indulgent? To be fair to teens, sympathizing more with ourselves than with others is not owned alone by this generation. Because we can so clearly see our own difficulties, it is natural to sometimes become preoccupied with our own problems. Hopefully though, as adults we have learned to tame the monster that during personal rough spots finds relief in lashing out at others most often in the home at his or her family.
So, instead of focusing solely on the current state of my son’s unease, I decided to share with him the philosophy of Ian Larson which is, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is facing their own battles.” I told him I learned during my own struggles to, as often as possible, push through the pain and spread a little kindness to another. I told him I know that it makes me feel better and that I hope it makes the other person feel a little better, too. And it is true. I will never quit being amazed at how much happier I am when I have made a person smile or when a person has done the same for me.
I will spare you the word for word talk I had twice with my son explaining this “be kind” philosophy. But, the gist of it was that I rapidly listed off a dozen people he loves and respects who are known as individuals who make others feel special. Then, just as quickly I gave him difficult issues – even life-threatening ones – that these people dealt with daily while still exuding a positive personality.
The first time I attempted to explain this way of life it only brought another round of, “Mom, I know that. That is not the problem. I try telling you what is wrong, but you never listen.” Finally, after 12 weeks of hearing this same mantra, I heard and understood him. HE WAS telling me what was wrong but in the way boys do – through his actions -- not in the girl’s way – through words. His sudden, surprising and out of character actions were his way of saying, “Help me, please!”
The second time I tried this approach, I think he too might have heard and understood. He gave me this hope when we actually had a real conversation about the root of his unhappiness. We even began to come up with possible solutions. The morning after the talk, I heard my son singing loudly and with abandon in the shower. This was the first sign of happiness I had heard from him in quite some time. I stood right outside the door until his singing stopped almost three minutes later. I have to say that I will mark this moment as one of the sweetest ones of my life.