My son probably has more than the average span of interests for an 18-year-old. He’s in the aviation and Latin clubs at his university. He plays tennis and golf and even ping-pong with precision, and he self-reports that he’s made some serious cash playing poker. But he has one main talent that really outshines all others: his primo, unparalleled ability to rant.
He is the rant master – which makes perfect sense, because he’s been practicing his entire life. It was so, so adorable when he said that first word; then, after a couple years’ practice stringing words together, that verbal fluency was not so adorable. And there was no going back. While his pint-sized compatriots were singing monotone Hokey Pokey compilations, he was stomping chicken nuggets and ranting, “UNFAIR UNFAIR UNFAIR!” (Of course, I will never see the connection between crap fast food and inequity, but who knows how a toddler’s brain works?)
By four, he had discovered the open window – and that is when I learned that not every kid should be taught the numbers 9-1-1. There are preschoolers who abuse that powerful S.O.S., and I was unlucky enough to have spawned one. Send him to his room to take a time-out? He would rant that I had locked him in his room “forever”; he would rant that I was mean and ugly and bad. And he would open his window and rant that he needed someone to call 9-1-1. The cops never showed up, but the neighbors must have wondered why I couldn’t control these tirades. I wondered, too.
But maybe my parenting wasn’t at fault. After all, I have raised three children and two of them express their frustration in normal, measured tones and volume. Maybe birth order was to blame. Maybe genetics. Maybe karma. Maybe it had something to do with evolution and velociraptors and pigeons and bi-peds.
No matter. It’s not like the ranting waned as he matured. You’d think a more comprehensive worldview and larger vocabulary would serve to make these rants more fluent. Not in this case. His chicken-nugget-fueled rants mutated into screeds about what time dinner should be served, the hair product someone absconded with, that Snapchat had crashed.
The reality is this: my son was a ranter from the minute he could verbally construct a diatribe, and he will be a ranter until he expires and his vocal cords have turned to dust.
How, just short of a decade, have I survived the tranquility-quashing rant? Well, let me introduce you to a two-pronged approach that has taken nearly two decades to hone:
As soon as I hear my son’s pre-game growl, I retreat to the bathroom and sit in the tub with a book. When he bangs on the door, ranting that the lint roller’s missing or his taco’s been stolen, I tell him to come in and we can talk about it. And then I add, as if an afterthought, “I’m naked.” His retreat is light-speed and panicked, and so much more delightful for me than bath bombs and a good soak could ever be.
Back in the day, I used to try to “talk him down,” to appeal to the non-reptilian part of his brain. Now I just reroute his rants so that they are out of earshot. That taco? Hmmm…I think your dad ate it. That lint roller? Pretty sure your sister had it last. It’s every man for himself and survival of the fittest in this house. And, if I have mastered the wily throw-somebody-else-under-the-bus better than the rest of those artless novices, that’s their problem.
When we dropped my son off at college, we were also dropping off a lifetime of jeremiads. We returned to a peaceful, serene household, a luxury spa for the ears. And, honestly, I liked it. At first.
But, this is what I’ve learned in his absence: our family has grown strangely accustomed to those nonsensical and familiar rants. We may never know when they’re coming, but it’s always predictable that one is coming–and there is a certain comfort in that.
With the holiday break and his month-long return, a certain cacophonous harmony is restored. Maybe we’re dysfunctional, but a semester of quiet has taught me that sometimes a good rant is preferable to silence. Especially if it means my son is home.
But that doesn’t mean that for the next four weeks you won’t find me hiding in the bathtub.