It’s finally happened. My kids are no longer interested in my oh-so-interesting stories. They cover their ears, quip “boring” or, worst of all, just tell me to “Shut up, please!” Nice.
I am mortified because I thought I was that cool parent who knows all the new slang words. I listened along with them to two hours of blaring electronic dance music on a drive from Phoenix to Tucson, gyrating coolly like a much younger person, ignoring the strange looks from my fellow drivers as we sped by. I’m generally around a lot, bake cookies and have afterschool parties where I make popcorn and hot chocolate for a melee of boys. And I do all these things to ensure the kids wouldn’t become distant. So how did I become a secondary character in my own house?
“You’re the only one without a penis in this family,” I am told often by my boys.
Of course that is true. But does not having a penis mean I can’t find common ground with my 8- and 11-year-old boys? Does not liking the bathroom humor of Futurama mean I am just going to become some shadowy silent figure who serves up meals with a smile?
I think that maybe I should change what I discuss with them. Maybe the Holocaust doesn’t need to be brought into every conversation. I could complain less about Naked Gun II and put off pushing them to watch subtitled foreign films, like My Life as a Dog.
But even if I could stand to shift my topic choices slightly, shouldn’t my kids gloss over their disinterest and discomfort with my conversation topics, like most other people do, and not tell me directly that they’re not at all interested? Shouldn’t I teach them the social graces of dealing with an incessant chatterbox like their mother? Wouldn’t that be good for them.
I decided that I can’t let them get away with it, for their own sake.
“Sweetie,” I say, to whichever one has decided to tune me out. “You can just nod and let me go on a bit, then subtly change the subject. That’s what people do.”
But even if I use these incidents as teachable moments, it doesn’t take away the pain. I am hurt by their disinterest. If the very people I gave — those I should have easy companionship with — find me boring, well then where does that leave me?
It buoys me only slightly to know I am not alone. Big G, even with a penis and an interest in sophomoric humor that appeals to the boys, acknowledged that he also gets shut down. But he deals with it as only guys can.
“I just ignore it when they tell me to shut up,” he told me with a shrug when I shared with him my troubles.
Aaaah, yes. Men steel themselves better against direct criticism and ribbing, it seems, or at least they pretend to.
And a neighbor shared with me her story of a teenage daughter who told her to keep some distance when she showed up at school.
“She didn’t want me around at all,” the woman said with a sad smile.
Then she told me in a whisper how she knows she is still high on the charts of her daughter’s favorite people.
“She still likes to snuggle at night.”
I was enlightened.
No matter how many times they might cut me off or roll their eyes, how BORING they might find my commentary, my boys are always desperate for my attention during that important time before they rest their tired bodies. There, quietly in their bunks, they fight over who I will cuddle with second — and likely fall asleep next to — that they acknowledge that maybe I’m okay. That actually they love me — a lot.
In those yawning, vulnerable, pre-slumber moments I try not to speak, except to repeat over and over again, “I love you, too.”