Managed Expectations

I just returned from a four-day tour of colleges with my son and aside from my scratched cornea and a cough that has forced me to sleep upright on my living room couch, we got nothing out of it.

I had grand plans for our trip. We were going to talk and laugh and bond over our weekend experience.  We would discuss the high and low points of the colleges we visited and laugh about the ridiculous questions that other parents asked (questions like, “How many volumes does the library have?”). We would return home with private jokes and be closer than ever.

Instead we bickered and fought and I threatened over and over again to fly home without him. Our discussions about the schools we visited were reduced to single sentences like:

“This tour guide is TOO happy. I don’t want to go to school here.”

or

“I really don’t want to go to school in the South or East.” (Which would have been fine except that we were in South Carolina… heading northeast).

Mostly I drove and he napped. There were no heart-warming chats, no easy laughter, no communication of any kind other than his occasional requests for bathroom breaks and, of course, food.

Naturally, this is my fault (what isn’t, right?). I just expect too much. A good friend of mine has suggested—on more than one occasion—that I simply need to “manage my expectations.” Apparently, I expected to be traveling with my oldest son as he was when he was younger: chatty, enthusiastic and willing to share every detail of his life with me. I should have realized that I was traveling with a 17-year-old who wanted to be home with his girlfriend and had no intention of telling me anything beyond when and what he needed to eat.

Why should I expect it to be different?

Because I want it to be – damn it!

It’s really not fair that you are handed one kind of kid when they are born and they turn into something unrecognizable in a little over a decade. I haven’t changed – I’m still the anxious, over-protective, demanding parent I’ve always been. My boys, on the other hand, have morphed into cats.

That is the best explanation for this transformation. According to the writer, Adair Lara, in her essay, When Children Turn Into Cats, my once adorable children, who I often referred to as puppies – enthusiastic, sweet and undemanding – are now distant and uncommunicative felines.

Lara’s descriptions were spot on. I remember the way my kids would look at me when they were little – they were amazed at how brilliant and capable I was – it was almost overwhelming. Now, as Lara explains, your kids are still amazed, “[a]mazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor.”

And now, “Instead of dogging your footsteps, [your cat/teenager] disappears.”

If you are the parent of a teen you know that one day your kid can’t get enough of you and the next he can’t get far enough away.

Lara’s solution seems simple enough: learn how to act like a cat owner and put your “dog owner” hat on the back-burner until your kids come back around.

It’s great advice if you are willing or able to change, but I’m not (you know, old dog/new trick kinda thing). I’m also managing my expectations – I would expect­ this to take too long and not work very well. By the time I figure it out they will be out of the house.

Besides, I’m allergic to cats…

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4 responses to this post.

  1. This is a great post. You should really submit this to some publications.

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    Reply

  2. So THIS is what I have to look forward to in the future. We’re just approaching ‘terrible 2s’. I’m already frightened about what she will be like as a teenager. I’ll enjoy being on that Mum pedestal for now.

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