Friday, April 16, 2010

Essay: The Sweet Smell of Teenhood

I gotta say, I love being the mom of a teenage boy. There is no doubt that I will suffer my fair share of teen angst run-off at some point, whether from my son or my daughter, whose teen years are speeding down the pike chronologically and arrived emotionally a couple months ago (yikes.) Yeah, the girl teen years scare the crap out of me, but I find the early boy teen year to be a barrel of laughs. And that was said without a trace of sarcasm.

Unintentionally, my 14-year-old son Jake cracks me up daily.  He dutifully wears his snide-talking, irreverent responsibilities like a jean jacket. (He might be the first to sigh in exasperation that nobody wears jean jackets anymore, a conscious dig to make me feel old.)  Perhaps his Aspergers protects him from owning his teenhood in any deep way because to me it seems like Jake is acting out a role of a teenager that he read about in Zits or Baby Blues comics. Of course, that’s what I thought about his exaggerated interest in fantasy swordplay, man-eating monsters and Dungeons & Dragon-type violence, and that act is still going strong. I roll my eyes when he responds to a story about a decapitating cyclopean ogre with a guttural, “Aaaaawesome.” It’s been a couple years of his adoration of mythical shoot-em-up’s, and I still have money on the passing phase theory.  Please do not dissuade me from this stubborn insistence.

Maybe it’s the Aspergers or maybe we’re still in the honeymoon period of his teen years, but it still feels like make-believe. Every day is another performance of the comedy hit “My Life as a Teenager” on the Disney channel starring Jake. I swear, this kid should come with a laugh track (although it might take a warped viewer like me to truly appreciates the comedy.) For instance, the other day, I was talking to a friend while picking up my daughter from her house. I was complimenting a quilted bag her daughter has made, saying how nifty I thought it was.

As we’re pulling out of the driveway, Jake reprimanded me, “Mom. Nobody says ‘nifty’ anymore. That’s so ‘80s.” (Note: He said “80’s,” but he was thinking “Dark Ages.” As he would say, “Same diff.”) I almost busted a gut laughing. That was not a typical Jake comment, and I must admit that the worried mom that constantly resides in my heart was psyched that he exhibited the ability to put himself in the place of the general public rather than just seeing things from his point of view. (A trait that can be difficult for Aspies.)

Plus, the kid is gifting me with all this ammunition, right? If I can embarrass him with the mere word ‘nifty,’ how will he react if I say ‘flibbertigibbet’ in casual conversation with one of his friends?! As Jake would say, “Bwahahaha!” The power is in my hands! (More evil laughter.) Jake drew me a map to find his kryptonite and it starts at the word “nifty.” Huzzah!

Another great episode: When he was frustrating me one day last week, I half-jokingly told him to kiss my butt. I have never said anything like that to him before, but it was much milder and slightly more humorous than the alternative phrase on the tip of my tongue.

Jake mutters with a straight face in his most professorial tone, “I wouldn’t think that would be hygienic.”

Again, I’m sent into wild peals of laughter. Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you have to know Jake and hear his ever so slightly robotic vocal signature. Maybe you have to be his mom and love the crap out of him without condition.

Here’s another one. One day while we’re driving in the car, I tell Jake about something exciting that happened to me at a rehearsal. He knows this news is something that is an exceptionally big deal to me, but of course he responds in a monotonous, “Oh.” No enthusiasm. No support. (No surprise.)

After a brief bit of silent driving, he deadpans, “I bet you wish you had a son who was more impressed with your achievements.” Again, I’m reduced to fits of laughter. Again, I’m secretly delighted that though his Aspergers prevents him from feigning enthusiasm for my achievements, he still is able to step outside himself enough to recognize it and joke about it. I can see a hole has been poked in his tendency toward mind blindness (the ability to put himself in the minds of other,) and though the joke is at my expense I am still delighted. Maybe only another mom of a so-called “special needs” kid can appreciate this dark humor… but this kid really tickles me.

I think I’m amused by it because I don’t feel like he really means it in his heart. He even admitted a short time later, “I am specializing in biting comebacks.” Hey, it worked for Don Rickles!

I can just hear Jake grumbling now, “Jeez, Mom. You’d have to be a caveman to know who Don Rickles is.” 


  1. PAM! This is great stuff! Plus, I have an exceptionally groovy Autistic student (I know they are all groovy... but I like this kid. Not in a creepy way). More- more- I need more information! Thanks
    Amy Voigt

  2. All I can say is WOW. Your son is funny and he is so lucky to have you as his mom. I found you totally by accident and interestingly enough, I also attended your same school and have a one-of-a-kind son of my own. Great to read you!