I live with what basically amounts to the human version of Oscar the Grouch. He’s a creature of habit, and heaven help anyone who messes with his routine — or anyone who happens to be around for the aftermath.
Wake him up by turning on the light, and prepare for a rain cloud of grump to descend on the household. He vastly prefers solitude, because generally, people “bother” him. And if you ask how his day went, you’re likely to get an answer along the lines of “terrible” or “worst day ever.”
But this crotchety Eeyore of a person isn’t a cane-waving, get-off-my-lawn grandpa: I’m referring to my son, and for the entirety of his 14 years, he’s been exactly this way. I like to tease him that he’s an old man in training, but he’s unoffended by it, as though that’s exactly his goal.
For a long time, as mothers do, I worried about him. I tried to pinpoint what we were doing, what could be causing him to be in this perpetual state of thumbs-down. I couldn’t chalk it up to hormones, because he’s been like this since he was little, far before his voice started to crack and his pits started to stink.
When I couldn’t pinpoint anything, I came to the realization that I may have simply given birth to an innately cranky person.
He isn’t depressed. He isn’t suffering. He isn’t surrounded by a family full of negative people; in fact, we try our best to be positive role models — always attempting to shine light into his gloomy outlook. But despite our best efforts to elevate his mood, he naturally defaults to his prickly, unenthusiastic state.
We’re born with certain predispositions, inherent temperaments, just the same as we’re destined to have dark skin or blonde hair or be left- or right-handed. And just like my son got blue eyes and a knack for computer programming, he was dealt a disposition that’s, well, not exactly on the sunny side. Even as an infant, he was fairly somber, a rosy-cheeked cherub whose gummy grins were all the more precious because they were few and far between.
I can’t imagine being as perpetually crabby as he seems to be, but he owns it, equipped with an unflappable sense of self and an enviable level of satisfaction with who he is; when I say he couldn’t care less what anybody thinks of him, I mean it wholeheartedly.
Still, I try to infuse each day with an upbeat attitude at every opportunity because that’s how I am, like maybe today is the day he’ll realize how nice it is to be positive. “Look at this beautiful morning!” I trill, opening his shades.
“I like it better when it’s raining,” he says flatly. He truly does, hunkering down in his bedroom with a blanket around his shoulders and watching the rainfall — if not with a smile, then at least with a slightly lessened frown. And if he’s in a “good” mood (for him, anyway) and feeling especially talkative, he’ll go on about how when he’s older he’s going to move to the Pacific Northwest, where it rains all the time, into a tiny apartment with no room for anyone but cats.
And that’s how it goes.
But trying to change him is impossible. He’s a morning person, a computer whiz, a total cat guy, and a lover of spicy foods, and he’s also a grump. It’s in his bones, and he is completely okay with being that way — and if anyone has a problem with it, he’d rather be alone. He is unapologetically, authentically himself, no matter how different he may be than his cheerier peers.
He’s at home in his own (thick, curmudgeonly) skin. And like Oscar the Grouch in his beloved trash can, he can’t be encouraged or pep-rallied out of who he is. No one on Sesame Street ever looked at Oscar and worried that he was despondent and in need of psychological rescue. They looked at him and realized that he was happy to be unhappy. He was great when he could gripe. He loved the trash and grime that everyone else turned up their noses at. And though they couldn’t fully understand why, they just let him be … and loved him anyway.
As long as my son isn’t being mean to others or hurting himself (no and no), he can revel in his crabbiness all he wants. Who am I to try and change his nature just because it’s so different from mine?
I’m his mother, and it’s my job to accept and love him for who he is — even if, for the life of me, I can’t understand or identify with why he’d want to be that way.
Would our daily routine be easier if my son were chipper and optimistic and met it with unbridled enthusiasm? I’m almost sure it would be. But if he had a bright, cheerful disposition, he would be a totally different version of the son I love. And I’d never, ever want that, because I’ve learned to appreciate his frown just as much as his smile.
After all, there’s beauty in rainy days, too. And no one knows that better than he does.
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