Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How to Trap a Wild Teenager

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

Yesterday I walked into younger son’s bedroom. Well, “walked into” is kind of a euphemism, as he has recently rearranged his furniture in order to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

As soon as you open his door you’re confronted with a giant bookcase blocking further progress; only the most determined can figure out how to squeeze past it and then you risk stepping on all sorts of pointy items on the floor (like pencils and a couple of old Rubik’s cubes) or sliding on discarded clothing, flailing your arms around like a windmill. Once you’ve mastered this, though, the only thing you have to do is turn a sharp right at the guinea pig cage (in front of which is lots of straw and tiny little guinea pig food pellets, again — not so easy to walk on), then step over a giant mound of socks, and then you’re in. You’ve reached Command Central: the corner of the room that holds his computer desk and TV. If you’ve managed to reach this safely, then you might be able to actually talk to the lad, or even — gasp — touch him.

I don’t know. Is it just me, or do you think he's trying to tell me something?

Anyway, yesterday I ventured into his lair a couple of times. Mainly because I had started to forget what he looks like. And the last time I did so — just to pop my head around the corner and say, “Hey, buddy — how’s it going?” — he tugged on his hair (which he does when he’s frustrated) and said, “This is the 7th time in two days you’ve come in here.”

Now, at first I was impressed that he was keeping a running tally. That shows a certain amount of dedication, when you think of it. And obviously, I was making an impression.

But then I was a little PO’d. Excuse me for wanting to pop in and say hello now and then. Excuse me for wanting to make sure he wasn’t growing a beard, or sniffing glue back there, or ordering lots of stuff on Amazon (because he has my password, which allows someone to order stuff with “One Click,” which theoretically means he could be purchasing mass quantities of DVD’s or…or…underwear, and I’d never know it).

So I got a little huffy. I pointed out that if he voluntarily left his lair for a couple of times a day, I wouldn’t have to “pop in” like this.

He pointed out that he didn’t want to see me. So why would he voluntarily leave?

I pointed out that I was the one who was in charge of giving him his allowance.

He pointed out that I couldn’t withhold it because he did do the two or three tasks, weekly, that earned him his ten bucks. Plus he'd just started a part time job.

I pointed out that it was tough beans, I still didn’t have to pay him and job or no job, I knew he needed those ten bucks in order to fund his VitaminWater addiction. (Those things are about $4 a bottle!)

He pointed out that that would amount to child abuse, and he would have no qualms about calling Family and Child Services and reporting me.

I pointed out that he could go ahead and do that — but then I stopped myself, looked around at his room — which does resemble one of those horrible cages that you sometimes read about, where bad parents lock up their children and keep them hidden from the world. And I figured he'd have no problem telling Family and Child Services that I kept him locked in there when, in fact, he was absolutely dying to run free outside.

So I left. I went downstairs, letting him think he had won. I waited a couple of hours. Then I got busy in the kitchen. About half an hour later, the house was filled with the aroma of fresh baked cookies. I heard a door open. A step in the upstairs hall. Another step. Then a tumble down the stairs.

“Cookies?” He asked hopefully, poking his head around the corner of the kitchen.

“Maybe,” I said coyly. Standing there with a plate of cookies in one hand, a glass of milk in another.

“I love you, Mom!” he said, sitting down at the table — not minding that I sat across from him.

He was too busy eating to notice my look of triumph. He actually lingered down there for a full five minutes, and we talked about the Olympics (he thinks Michael Phelps is a god, but thinks that men's gymnastics is the most ridiculous sport in the world, since men can't even point their toes right, like the girls can) and the Cubs (he agrees with me that Geovany Soto is our favorite player this year). Then he put his plate in the sink and went back upstairs — after first giving me a fond pat on the back.

And I smiled, knowing that I had stumbled across the key to raising teenaged boys: Set a trap. (And keep lots of cold milk on hand). I’m going to have to be careful about this, though. I can’t tip my hand; I can’t suddenly start roasting whole pigs in the kitchen every time he shuts himself off from me.

But an occasional batch of cookies or bowl of hot buttered popcorn — yeah, I think I can get away with that.

Don’t you?


Daisy said...

Cookies usually do the trick for me. My daughter kept her room like that for a long time; we think it was intended to keep her blind brother out. He wouldn't like tripping and stepping on all the junk!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Yes, cookies, brownies, and in our house, spaghetti sauce. Whatever works.

And I'm with you about those Vitamin waters--can't they just drink cheap soda?

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

It's an extension of all the fort building they do when they're little, I think - only when they're teenagers, it's for more sinister reasons!

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Judy, we were posting at the exact same time!

All these Vitamin and Energy drinks - my family room is currently littered with every kind of empty bottle or can. That's all these kids drink. They cost a fortune! But I guess it's better than all the other kinds of liquids they could be drinking!

Angie Ledbetter said...

*tsk tsk* on the ridiculously priced flavored designer water manufacturers. This bad mother washes out bottles in the hot-enough-to-sterilize dishwasher and refills them with just plain old tap water or, when feeling festive and generous, maybe some Crystal Lite. ;)

My 3 abused kiddos don't get allowance for doing chores either b/c household jobs are a privilege of family membership. (Oh, they HATE that quote so much.) They get paid for report card grades (A's & B's with bonuses for honors, high honors and Straight A's.)They also quit threatening to call Child Protection when I quoted the phone number from memory and reminded them how desperate I was for a vacation.

The cookie and goodie baking works well...until they get wheels and money from part time jobs to go splurge on fastfood. Way to go, Mom, for daring to enter the lair!

Not Too Old said...

My kids don't get paid for doing chores, they get paid for doing them without prompting from me.

I'll have to try the cookie strategy, that's a great idea!

As for CPS, I remind mine that all I'm required to do is feed them, clothe them, give them a safe place to live, and make sure they go to school - the rest is gravy, and I can easily take away the gravy.

With our FiOS connection, I have a far greater weapon-I lock their computer out of the Internet. Works every time.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I admit, the allowance thing really does lose its effect once they have part time jobs. We had that leverage most of the summer, as younger son quit his part time job early in June, and just this week found another. So he certainly needed to keep our favor during that time!

Now, though...oh, well. Fortunately he's a good kid; his greatest offence is usually related to just general messiness. Like his room, MY car - that kind of thing.

Barb McKone said...

I need training in trap-setting. Today is the room-cleaning day. I'm frightened- going to get toll house supplies after dropping my son off at sports. Thank you for the advice!!

mommeeof9 said...

Kids have selective hearing. Mine can't here me yelling from the next room, but they can hear me open the ice cream I just bought from accross the house...

just me said...

You are one courageous mom. I'm afraid to go into my 15 year old son's room. The stench alone would knock me out for days.