Being 15 is hard. Being the mother of a 15-year-old son is harder. Being a sucky parent; much easier. I care too much about his acne or homework and not enough about pairing all his lost, single socks, my entire weekend. I touch his hair once to push back a wayward curl or worry about him succumbing to a global pandemic, both equally annoying he tells me. My mouth moves and antiquated words fall out as he sits in silence staring at his rectangular friend beeping, blinking, and bugging him better than I do.
So, one day in a moment of desperation for connection during our first inaugural infectious disease disaster – Covid-19 lockdown – I tricked him into going to the car wash with me. Our BMW X-5 had to be cleaned pronto or dangerous droplets might settle on the metal refusing to leave unless washed went the tale I spun.
Pushing through the whys, how comes, and c’mons, I corralled him in the vehicle, and we headed down the road.
I was hoping and he was moping. He was beyond reluctant and I was perturbed about how much increased effort this takes. When he was younger, these tactics worked. I would catch him by surprise and off we would go on an adventure leading to laughs and lollipops. Not these days. Surprising my son took plotting, strategizing and forensics.
“Mom, you almost missed it,” he chided as I erratically pulled into the blind drive inconveniently situated too far in front of the oversized sign announcing the CAR WASH. At least I had his attention, even if only briefly.
“Do you have enough change?” he asked. I wondered when I became so inept in his mind. I recall holding him in the air after he diaper-dumped in a public restroom while I was on a conference call and politely telling the Walmart customer on the other side of the door to, “Hold your horses!” Those were the days. Not really, but at least I was accomplished at doing two things at once then.
“Yes, we have plenty of change,” I said, and he sighed. During the pre-wash, I made jokes and they fell flat. Nothing. He was scrubbing without drive or direction and I was drowning in my lack of ideas to connect during the main wash.
Oh, no! I only have four minutes left and then what? Think, think. I can do this, I tell myself.
Sixty seconds left and he is still devoid of emotion and I am panicking. I have got to do this. If I do not get it done in the next 56, 55, 54 seconds, I have failed as a mother. The pressure builds and the quarters dwindle, and my performance anxiety is rising like the prices of everything. No, I will not buy a special towel to dry the car for three bucks or partake in the stinky (or not odiferous at all) air freshener for two dollars. Ding, ding, ding – the wash is over, but I glance and spot a glimmer of hope. A vacuum has become available to suck up the dirt and half-eaten cough drops that my son accuses me of littering the car with and it buys me time. There is still a chance for connection.
I pull the car up to the sucking station and my son says, “You know that these do not really suck anything up but your money,” as he looks at the tube with trepidation. How did he get so wise and cynical at the same time? So, with vim and vigor, I take that extended hose and I suck and I suck as hard as I can. My son is looking at me with that weird, “why are you mental” face. He cannot see that I am dedicated to our relationship. I am going to get a reaction from him one way or another!
Frantic and determined, I move around the driver door to the passenger seat. And then it happens… Unbeknownst to me, my darling wonderful and amazing husband has snuck something into the back of the car that I did not know was there. He is planned and particular without my permission while I am spontaneous without his.
Let me tell you what happens when you are holding a powerful wand of “suckiness,” and you meet plastic garbage bags.
You suck, and then you pluck the plastic desperately out of the mouth of the beast only to have that mouth suck harder and deeper and with such force that there is a flurry of plastic and spastic. Gesticulation does not help. More enthusiasm does not fix it. Especially when I realize it is not just a single plastic bag or two, but an actual roll of hundreds of perfectly-sized bags and the roll is going and going and I am sucking and plucking to no avail.
And when I pluck the bag out, it returns to me in a shape that it never started out at, at the speed that only Lucille Ball could make any funnier. The “bags” are amorphous and wide and hard to hold. Think of approaching a blizzard with a scarf as your only cover. The thin material is no match for the power of the wand. It is only at that moment that I realize how ridiculous and inept and hysterical I look.
And when I glance at my son, he has commenced with sucking and snorting. My desperate and futile antics have gotten him to laugh and we both look at each other and I surrender to giggling and then all-out snorting and sucking myself until the money runs out and the sucking monster stops.
It only took 120 seconds, but everything was lighter and better, and I would have paid so much more to have it happen again. But it won’t and can’t because he is growing up and I continue to suck.