Underneath His Teenage Scowl

by Alisa Schindler
Originally Published: 
teenage son relationship motherhood
Paolo Cipriani / iStock

He used to love me.

For years, he lived life as my shadow, my accomplice, my companion. I carried him, held him, toted him from here to there.

He attached to me like a lost sock from the laundry clinging to my shirt. At times, I’d have to peel him off as well.

Back then we were so attached. Each birthday he mourned the passing year, maturely understanding that those were times to be cherished, that you can’t go backward. He’d make me promise that he would never have to go away to college and that when he got older he could live with his wife in the basement. Of course, I nodded and nose-kissed his sweet earnest face, agreeing to all his demands while telling him that things would change, that someday he would grow and not want to be with me all the time, that he might want to hang out with friends and go away to school and that it would be perfectly OK if he lived around the corner instead of in the basement.

He wouldn’t hear of it. Nope, he assured me. He would never ever ever leave me. I was his most favoritest person in the whole wide world. I sighed, my mommy heart doing happy leaps. My baby loved me so much.

Only now he doesn’t. That little asshole lied. At 13, he’s totally ditched me, and I am surrounded by a Pigpen mass of manic, desperate energy generated by my cast-off devotion.

“Good morning, baby!” I chirp as I rub his sleeping form to rouse him, “Did you sleep well? Can I make you pancakes?”

He is an unmovable lump.

“You’re up, right?” I ask, still Snow White on crack and give him another gentle shake.

“Okay! Jeez! I’m up!” He grunts.

I pull back a little from his teenage bite but do my best to ignore it.

“Okay, great. See you downstairs.” I pat his rump, the one I used to diaper.

I’m making his lunch and that of his brother when he shuffles into the kitchen. “Hey there,” I bubble happily. I am like a school girl with a crush standing by his locker hoping to be noticed. “Almost ready to go?”

He ignores me of course, grabs a granola bar from the pantry, and walks out without a word. I sigh and repeat myself to his newly broadened back. “Hey, you’ve got your backpack packed? I saw some books in the living room.”

I hear what might be words spoken in the time of Neanderthals and assume he’s got it covered.

In the car on the way to school, his head dips toward his phone and his too-long greasy hair hangs over his eyes blocking me out. I want to push the strands away from his beautiful face, but I have five minutes to connect and can’t risk the fallout.

“So, anything going on in school today?”


“How was that science test?”

He shrugs.

“So was that a good shrug or a bad shrug?” I tease.

Another shrug. “I think I did fine.”

He used to talk to me, but in the last year or so, things have changed. Now I scrounge for every scrap of info he throws me.

“So how’s middle school going?” I ask tentatively. “Do you like anyone?”

He doesn’t look at me but shakes his head. “Nah.”

Oh! An actual response. Riding the high of our way intimate conversation, I decide to go for broke. “So I was thinking. Do you want to, maybe, hang out with me after school today? Your brothers both have playdates. We could get some ice cream or something?” I’m eager, hopeful.

“Uh, I’ll text you. I may go with friends.”

“Okay sure, of course. No problem. Have a good day at school.” I’m crestfallen, but happy for him.

He gets out of the car and my eyes follow him like a puppy. Once upon a time, he was a baby who lived in my arms. Once upon a time, he was a child who wanted nothing more than to hang out by my side. Once upon a time, he was little and loved me with his whole heart, but now he is bigger and life is more complicated and more people have claimed pieces of him.

“Oh man,” he says as he’s about to close the door. “I forgot my English book.”

My eyes widen. I reminded him about his books. He should be more responsible. Taking a short breath, I nod, keeping my expression serious but my tone light. “Do you want me to drop it off for you?” I offer, both annoyed and grateful for this unnecessary and unexpected opportunity to help him.

“Yeah, that would be great. Thanks, Mom.” He smiles bright and sweet and lights up my life.

Our bond is different now. I need to work harder to find these little moments of connection, to be there even when he doesn’t want me there, to make sure he always knows that I love him and understand that underneath his teenage scowl is a little boy who still loves me too.

Alisa Schindler

See he really does. Okay, so I gave him five bucks to take a picture. Whatever.

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