I’ve noticed lately that a lot of my parenting time is spent, as it has been over the years, thinking about what drives me crazy, and I’ve been working out whether that’s an entirely bad thing.
When my boys were small, their simplest actions made me smile. The way they offered to share a chewed-on teething biscuit or how they’d run to me when I arrived to get them from nursery school. I never minded the poop or the spit-up or the waking up at all hours. Or even the smell of Balmex. They were part of the package of unconditional love.
And yet, as they got older, I developed expectations, and therein lies the source of my troubles.
It was clear early on that my sons were not the fastidious types when it came to household chores, no matter how often I sang the Barney “Clean Up” song. Even in adolescence, they leave a mess in their wake, despite my repeated exhortations to pick up after themselves.
I fear what their future roommates will think of them and what my future daughters-in-law will think of me. I’m forced to cling to the thread of optimism offered by more experienced parents, who assure me that the boys will mature out of this era of sloth and that they are really not unique among their peers.
For now, their towels pile up on the bathroom floor. Their clean laundry gets mixed in with the dirty because that’s easier than putting it away. And my favorite infraction: If a teaspoon of milk remains in the bottle, you have technically not finished it, which means the next guy has to remember (but doesn’t) to tell Mom, who does the food shopping but does not have telepathy.
This litany of complaints ran through my mind last week as I cleaned the house for Shabbos. My eldest was in the shower, blaring the Bluetooth waterproof speaker we got the boys last Chanukah. He had been using some other gadget to play music from his iPhone, positioned precariously on the back of the toilet. We knew it was only a matter of time before that ended badly.
His playlist is an eclectic mix of current music, and he listens to it at a volume that essentially pipes it throughout the house. I get it. I remain a music-loving teenager at heart.
On that particular afternoon, though, the music was slightly louder than usual when my husband came home from work. In a rare moment of forgetfulness about the pop bands of his own youth, he called out to the teenager, asking him to lower that “terrible” song, which wasn’t terrible, just, well, youthful.
Generally, I’m the one who forgets they’re still kids. My husband is the cooler parent who would serve them ice cream for dinner every night. Yet I suddenly turned into the laid-back mama and he turned into a serious father sitcom version of himself.
“Let him be,” I said. “Next year when he’s away in yeshiva in Israel, we will miss every sound he makes.” We shrugged, laughed, and let the music play on.
I had a vision of our empty nest. There’s time yet, years even, until that’s a full reality, but the idea of it made me sweat.
As a result, I’m trying to turn a blind eye to the mess and to our home’s imperfections. It does look fine most of the time. Not ready for a photo shoot, but fine. The boys will tell you that I’m the only one who would notice dirty socks on a bookshelf anyway. This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped cleaning -- I’ve got to stay ahead of the curve – but we’re arguing about dirt a lot less.
These days, when I get in the car, I turn on a station that plays the music I hear night after night from the shower instead of my usual playlist. Because I have through osmosis memorized some of the lyrics, I sing along as I drive to the bus stop to pick up the boys. They are mortified when they pile in and notice that I’m listening to the songs of their generation, more so that I know the words.
They click off the radio.
I turn it back on.
There’s only so much quiet a mother can take.