Back in the days of my existence as a particularly unpleasant species of teenager (shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth), I found that I had the extraordinary superpower of button pushing. And this was well before the days of Nintendo and Xbox and whatever other gaming systems exist out there with their controllers that require two hands and several tentacles to find the sequence of down-down-left-right-up to unlock a secret ninja move (FINISH HIM!!!). I can assure you that buttons exist within every person on the planet, and I had all the cheat codes.
Granted that teenagers are generally a misery to themselves and everyone else, I was just a prodigy at the skill of pissing everyone off. Misery loves company, and there is no doubt in my mind that I was as miserable a teenager as they come. The unwilling and pitiable recipient of my mad skills of manipulation was my mother. It wasn’t that she was worthy of such ill treatment, but as is common in the parent-child relationship; she presented a ready target for my adolescent angst. It is not a chapter of my life that I look upon with pride or pleasure.
My mum is pretty awesome generally. She has a touch of the Mary Poppins thing going on, but she is loving and supportive, if somewhat overprotective. I still am not quite certain what she did in a former life to be saddled with me as a daughter, but there it is. Some have “greatness” thrust upon them, and so I was my mother’s particular burden to bear. On the down side, my mother has a hair-trigger emotional response system. This isn’t entirely negative. She never was one to scream and yell, though the sound of my full given name is still a bit of an issue for me. However, she would cry for almost any emotional extreme. I am talking about happy, angry, sad, touched, proud… you name it. If there was an emotion involved, mum’s tear ducts got a workout. This was the particular facet of her personality that prompted my sadistic teenage prowess. I found that if I pushed all the right buttons, the tears would flow. Right-up-up-down-left… and cue tears. I win! Evil, right? I was a horrible child. I am well aware of it. I suppose that somewhere in the cockles of my consciousness I was aware of it even then, but as is the way of the self-centered adult in forming, I never let that awareness get in the way of me trying my superpower on my most convenient victim.
Karma, as they say, is a bitch. That being said, my years of torturing my mother’s tear production led apparently to a career path rife with the angst of teens and their conflicts with parental units. No one likes being reminded of their less than stellar moments, and I had chosen a field that put the mirror of my flagrantly ungrateful and malicious emotional manipulation front and foremost during the majority of my waking hours.
I recall one particularly dreary evening in the emergency room. I was not entirely certain if the reason for the parents bringing the child to the ER was due to her behavior or due to something else and the behavioral issues were just a bonus. Whatever the scenario, I was called in due to the excessive emotional conflict that ensued. I should have been warned by the looks on the faces of doctors and nurses alike in the ambulatory ward. This would have immediately prepared me for the onslaught of vexatious personality that was to greet me, but as usual, in the rush of my normal working life, I was primarily focused on task and failed to see the rolled eyes and looks of consternation on the faces of my colleagues.
I entered the room to witness a full blown stand-off worthy of a spaghetti western. Adult female on one side of the room; smaller and younger version of same on the other side sporting the makeup and clothing that appeared for all the world that a gang of Marilyn Manson groupies had attacked her with charcoal and chalk. The glares were palpable, the silence deafening and deadly. I immediately reassessed and took stock of my surroundings, noting every potential weapon (or shield) available in the room. Now was my cue. I broke the tableau by announcing my name and role. The mother had a momentary response of relaxing shoulders and look of relief. Here was someone to fix her problem child and relieve her of the parenting burden! The response from her antagonist was a narrowing of black-rimmed eyes and a visual assessment of my person, tinged with a soupçon of curiosity.
Much of what I did back in the day was a form of diplomatic negotiation. I assessed the situation, heard both sides, and attempted to reach détente between the warring parties. Occasionally, this was not possible and other arrangements had to be made. Primarily, though, my job was to keep the battle off the hospital grounds and avoid collateral damage. In this particular case, it appeared that the issues at hand were that the mother was completely ignorant of the latest trends without which life was not worth living in the social circles of middle school. Mother’s issue was that her child looked like she was playing as an extra on a new sequel of The Crow. There was much maneuvering by each party to get me to take their respective sides. I valiantly parried their advances to remain in neutral. However, it was a vain attempt. I really should have known better. As an adult, with no apparent fashion sense, I had been clearly relegated to the tribe of “THEM” in this pitched battle of wills. I witnessed the mother take a few shots of vituperative spleen and her eyes filled. As I attempted redirection, I received “What do you know?!? You’re just taking her side, and you obviously don’t care what you look like!” It really got no better after that. I did manage to gain some concessions on both sides. I convinced the young diva that perhaps she might try using less than half the cosmetics aisle at the Walgreen’s during the daylight hours of school, and I attempted to sooth the mother’s feelings with some tried and true wisdom about this being a developmental phase and was her daughter’s attempt to define herself as an individual. This too would pass… or else she would be authorizing us to lock her up in a tower until she reached her majority. Thus is the plight of the parent. I’m not sure any of my efforts actually resulted in relational improvement, but it kept down shrapnel and both parties were escorted from the unit sniffing and huffing with reddened eyes to make their way home.
I sat in an emotionally exhausted heap behind the nurses’ station to complete my charting. Beside me was the obligatory 17 billion line phone that is the norm in hospital settings. I stared at it for a few moments before picking up the receiver. Without thinking, I dialed the number to my parents’ home. It was not so late in the evening that it would register alarm, and my mother answered on the second ring.
“Hi, mum. I am sorry I was ever 13.” Click. I would have given some excessive sums of money to have seen the look on her face. It was likely a mixture of bafflement and awe. That was the first of my apologies throughout the years. Over the course of many long hours in emergency services and working with children and adolescents, I have now apologized for every year of my life from age 10 to age 21. I’m pretty certain that there are a few questionable choices and actions that I made outside that general span of years, but I figure I have caught the majority of the glaring errors of my ways. Perhaps with the years have come a little wisdom, and perhaps, if I show true remorse, my mother will never regret not drowning me at birth.
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” ~ quote attributed to Mark Twain but never verified