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Blame it on the Boogie

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
It was a typical afternoon. Nothing very exciting, nothing too out of the normal course of an afternoon. I have been thinking and thinking, trying to define what particular event might have pushed my youngest son Andy irrevocably into his Adolescent Angst phase. You know that phase, I am sure. You might remember experiencing it, or you might have observed your own children struggling through it.

If your memory is short, or your children are still short, I will briefly describe to you the symptom cluster. Your beautiful, sweet, angel-child suddenly despises you. He finds you to be foolish, unfunny, embarrassing and faintly disgusting. He begins to notice what you are wearing and not in an approving way. He prefers to spend long hours alone in his room, leaving it only for meals he does not like, chores he does haphazardly and under duress, and to visit other surly and not terribly pleasant young people. One day he might wake up and say, "Good morning! I love you! Thanks for making french toast, it's my favorite!" The next morning he will drag himself downstairs wearing something that while it actually smells okay, looks like it ought to smell of mildew and hatred. He will say three things to you. They will be, in no particular order: "Unh." "Glupody." And, my favorite, "Do you even own any lipstick?"

I have been through this stage three other times. You might think that I would have known to expect it this fourth and last time. I guess I did expect it, in theory. But thinking that my youngest child, my last kid would ever really erupt into a Teen Troglodyte was like thinking about death. Intellectually you are able to acknowledge the inevitability of it, but emotionally you know that it will never, ever happen to you. No way.

This afternoon my innocense was crushed like a butterfly under a jack boot. Nothing is left but a little iridescent smudge. I blame Cindy Lauper.

Andy got home at four o'clock. Just like normal. He tossed his book bag in the general direction of the dining room and his jacket kind of toward the closet. Nothing new there. Because of a series of events which I will save for another time and another column (and it will be a doozy) everything was topsy turvy at our house. "Andy, I am going to need some help today. When we are done I'll help you study your spelling."

He sighed. Nothing too new there either. He sighs sometimes. In the past few weeks he'd begun sighing more and more often, but I chose to think that he just had a bunch of extra air he wanted to recycle. Or something. Despite the sigh, he helped me and we got things a little better settled in no time at all. Then, as promised, it was time to study spelling.

Now, Andy has terrible spelling. We study it together religiously and he always flunks his spelling tests. Well, one of his teachers suggested to us that we try studying his spelling while involved in some physical activity. She said that she had found this technique to be very successful. She suggested washing dishes. I had a better idea.

We went across the street to the elementary school. We marched around the track and spelled. We stomped our feet and spelled. We walked backwards and spelled. We walked with our arms out to our sides and spelled. Andy went right along with it. I thought we were having fun. He did draw the line at spelling while walking in step like Dorothy doing the "lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" thing, but I didn't really blame him. Anyway, he seemed to have the spelling words down pretty well, and it was getting late.

Next on our list was a haircut.

We hopped in the car. Andy asked about a CD of his brother's, but it wasn't in the car. What was in the car was "Best Hits of the Eighties." Cool. We headed down the street with the B-52's blaring. Andy began to talk about his hair. "I am not getting it short. No way. I'm gonna tell the barber that if he cuts it short, I won't pay him. And I don't want the front chopped in a line." Now, I have boys and I have girls. So, I knew that what he meant was, "I would like my bangs to be textured and wispy."

It was probably just bad timing that just as he was making this declaration of independence one of my favorite songs started. "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." I can't imagine that there are many people around who can listen to this song without singing along. And sometimes when I am singing in the car I like to do a little car dance. If I drove a truck or an SUV nobody would know that I like to car dance except me. But I don't. I drive a little bitty car that doesn't take much to make bounce. Just a little bit of Lauper and a little bit of enthusiasm and we are rocking and rolling, literally. Is that so wrong?

Yes. It is so, so, so, so wrong. Just ask Andy. If I'd happened to be car dancing on any ordinary day the repercussions might not have been so bad. He might have rolled his eyes. Maybe turned off the CD player. But I happened to pull up at a stop light, with my windows down, in full throated glory at the very apex of my car dance at the precise time that another car in another lane pulled up to the light. And in the car there was a mother and her daughter. A daughter who happened to be in one of Andy's classes. A daughter he liked. Liked, you know.

How was I supposed to know? The mother looked over at us and gave me a little smile. A sad little smile that told me she wished that she was brave enough to go roaring through town singing at the top of her lungs car dancing to beat all. Or, I suppose, it might have been a smile that said, "You go first, cuz I'm getting your licence plate number." I smiled back.

Andy groaned and put his hands over his face. Andy slid bonelessly down in his seat until the lap belt was suddenly an underarm belt. "What are you doing, Mother? Everybody is looking at you!" First off, he had never called me "mother" before. Second off, it wasn't like it was the first time I'd ever car danced. He used to do it with me. I used to have to say, "Okay now, let's not get carried away." What was up with Andy? "Hey buddy, what's up?"

"Nothing is up. Just roll up the windows and look straight ahead." I looked at him with my concerned mother encouraging further explanation look. "That girl is the girl I like. I thought she might like me too. I was thinking about talking to her one of these days. Now I can never talk to her because she's going to say, ' oh, yeah, you're the guy with the mother who dances in the car.' Right? Right? Cuz you do dance in the car. And you have something on the front of your blouse. And your hair is sticking up. Right? Sheesh."

He didn't even say "sheesh" with any energy. He said it in kind of an exhausted way. The way a guy might say it if he was running for President and his mother gave People Magazine a picture of him dressed up as an Evil Halloween Bunny. The way a guy might say it if his mother was arrested for shoplifting comic books at the drugstore. In her underwear. Wearing a big button that said, "I am Andy's mom!" That kind of "sheesh."

That "sheesh" told me everything I needed to know. Andy and I are not buddies anymore. I mean, Andy is my buddy, but I am his worst nightmare and will be for the next four or five years. My day in the sun is finally over. But wait! Someday. . . if I am lucky . . . someday there will be grandchildren! And if they are grandchildren of mine, they are sure to appreciate a nice car dance and a little Cindy Lauper!
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" >
October 15, 2006 Column
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