It seems that overnight, my 15 year old twin sons, Sam and Will do not want to spend time with us. Even when I plan a “Pizza and a Movie Night,” go to Redbox and choose a DVD they might like, they turn away. I cajole, entice, try to persuade them to at least “try the movie” to no avail. We end up either watching the movie without them, or missing most of it when they repeatedly get up and leave.
A few weeks ago, the four of us and our dog went to the beach for the weekend. My sister was away and so allowed us the use of her house which is close to the beach. We hadn’t gotten to the beach all summer and this was the weekend after Labor Day, so I was so pleased we could grab this time together. My first 12 years of child rearing were spent living in Southampton, Long Island. The beach was a daily event and a whole group of us met each day and raised “water rats” who we had to wrench out of the bay at the end of the day. I am not a swimmer and yet, I took great pleasure in watching my sons and sometimes my husband, frolic and enjoy the water. I also have some great photos of those days. When we moved to North Carolina, the beach was two hours away, but we still managed to get there several times each summer and create more memories with all of my sons in the water non-stop. So, imagine my dismay when we hit Oak Island Beach and Sam and Will barely dabbled in the ocean, and took to beach chairs. Here, they spent the rest of their day, bored and miserable. “The waves aren’t big enough. We saw some Sting Rays. I don’t feel like swimming. What time are we leaving? How long do we have to stay here?” I was angry and disappointed and not a nice mommy that day.
It was First Friday evening in the town of Southport, so this sort of kept their interest, particularly when we hit a preppie type clothing store that was having a big sale on North Face summer shirts. Everyone seemed to enjoy our sushi dinner, but I felt anxious about keeping the boys happy and entertained. Why I took this on, who knows, but mothers do this a lot! I convinced myself to chalk it up to a bad day at the beach and knew that the next day at Wrightsville Beach would be better.
It was a perfect blue and gold beach day and we hauled all the boogie boards, skim boards, food, etc that one hauls to the beach for a long day of pleasure. As soon as we hit the sand, we noticed the red flag on the lifeguard stand, signaling strong undertow and dangerous swimming conditions. Great. Now, my twins are both strong swimmers, and I knew that in previous years with my oldest sons, this would have proved to be nothing more than an exciting challenge. My anxiety began to climb when they plopped into the beach chairs. Then, we argued about sunscreen, which is of course, a given. And then, I began my “Aren’t you going in the ocean?” “Maybe later,” they replied. I knew I was in trouble. They dabbled a bit in and out, never picked up the boogie boards and it turned into an even longer and more miserable day than the one before! I was frustrated with them and angry with myself as I scolded myself over and over with a mantra that went something like this, “Why do you think all your boys have to be the same and do the same things? Why do they have to enjoy the same things? After all, these boys are strong cross country runners and the older boys weren’t. Oh, it must be because these boys are the electronic sons as opposed to the older ones who I never even allowed to play video games. That’s it! It’s all my fault. I ruined them! No, maybe they’re just spoiled. Is that it? Why, why, why can’t you have a nice day anyway, without everyone enjoying the same thing? Are you codependent? Do you need a 12 step meeting? “ My mental flagellation was periodically broken by another request for an estimated departure time. I seethed. Eventually, we gave up and drove the two hours home with me sulking, but all seemed to settle down when we were back in our home base.
I began thinking of plans for next summer the other day. I have a conference to attend in July in Phoenix, AZ, and I will need to commit to it fairly soon. I started looking at maps and wondering what sort of a great family vacation we might plan around it. When I discussed this with my husband, Shep we both realized that though we have been out West many times and our kids have too, these youngest have not been. So, we began exploring Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and places we knew would appeal to 15 year old boys. When I mentioned this possible trip to the boys, my enthusiasm was met with a lukewarm response of “Maybe Mom. We’d have to see what else is going on next summer.” “Oh,” I said. “Are they kidding?” I asked my husband through my gritted teeth.
So, here’s what I have figured out. Despite having three living older sons, I have not experienced this before. When our youngest son died in 1995, my oldest son was the same age that Sam and Will are now and the two others were younger. Not knowing any better, it seemed normal to us that each of them, continued to want to do stuff with us, go on vacations, day trips, etc. well into their twenties! In fact, they would sometimes comment, “None of my friends want to be with their parents, but I do.” We enjoyed this time together and felt lucky that they did. Again, it seemed normal.
Actually, it probably was not normal. And in thinking this through I think I get it. I would imagine that families who have been through other types of holocausts whether they have lost a family member or lost everything they owned, or had some other trauma, hold onto each other for dear life. We are common survivors together and we share this intimate soul-searing event, that no one else can fathom. So, my sons were not ready to really separate from this bond, until a much older age in life than is typical.
The two youngest sons do not share that trauma. They were born after our family’s holocaust and although they have learned most of the details, with luck and God’s grace, they will never know the feelings and the agony. And so, this in fact, may be our very first go round with actual normal, adolescent behavior and separation. And I, will have to learn to deal with normalcy.