Big, Fat Parental Fail
Kevin has been going through something lately. He’s been distant, mopey, moody and snappish. In short, a teenager. While I know on a rational level that this is classic teen angst (and well remember it from my own youth), it’s been disconcerting for me. I’ve always considered Kevin and I to be close, as far as mothers and sons go. He and I have been together longer than anyone else in our nuclear little family, and I’ve always felt that the bond we share is unique and special because of that – because of what we went through together years and years ago in our “former life” (not that he remembers any of it – he doesn’t), and, well, just because a mother’s firstborn always holds a special place in her heart.
While we’ve always been close, Kevin has also always been rather reticent. He plays his cards close to the vest and doesn’t easily open up about emotions and such. He’s private. That reticence seems to have gone into overdrive lately, though, to the point of Kevin suddenly seeming like one big mystery to me.
A few weeks ago I tried to encourage him to talk, to open up to me about whatever is going on with him. It was like a torture session. He seemed to want to talk, but couldn’t find the words, or something. Like he wanted to not feel alone, but didn’t actually want to reveal anything. So he willingly sat out on the porch with me one night, and like pulling teeth without anesthetic, I dragged from him that he likes someone at school, but she doesn’t know it, and he’s not at all sure how to proceed. This was all a conversation in code, with me guessing, and when I landed on the correct answer, he would indicate so with a grunt or momentary direct eye contact. Torture.
I was honored, actually, that he trusted me enough to confide, with however much difficulty, this sensitive information.
However, about a week later, when I broached the subject again, just to check in with him, he suddenly claimed that “I don’t like her anymore.” What? Okay, fickleness – another classic teenage attribute. Still, I thought it was a little strange that only a week earlier he had seemed so heartsick, and now suddenly everything had changed. I suspected that what was really going on was that he regretted confiding in me (his mom! Blech! Horrors!), and this was his way of just taking it all back. Okay, I guess that’s his prerogative. Sigh.
Meanwhile, the mopiness and moodiness has continued, and he remains almost – but not quite – a stranger.
Also, he came home from school a couple weeks ago (after our original heart-to-heart) with this shirt . . .
. . . and an announcement, in an eerily (at least in my imagination) calm voice, that he had joined the Gay/Straight Alliance at school.
What the . . . ???
Kevin embraces and is an outspoken advocate for tolerance. This is certainly thanks, in large part, to having Finn for a brother. Having a child with Down syndrome in our midst has, I believe, influenced my kids to be broad-minded, and compassionate towards and about those with differences. I have long been extremely proud of Kevin for standing up and speaking out, even when it has meant being shot down by those who aren’t open to his advocacy.
But this? This? What did it mean? Was this just another layer to his strong feelings about tolerance? Or was it some other kind of statement?
I’m sure you can guess what started going through my head.
And it started to eat at me. It started to keep me awake at night. What if . . . ???
The thing is, I’ve said for a long time – half-jokingly – that with sheer number of kids we have, chances are at least one of them will turn out to be gay. And I’ve always adamantly believed, and prided myself on believing, that I would be totally, 100 % okay with it.
Now that I was actually faced with this real possibility (at least in my imagination), I was filled with anxiety about it. And, I confess, a certain sadness. Very much like the sadness I experienced in the months after Finn’s birth when I was coming to terms with his having Down syndrome, here I was suddenly pondering a life for Kevin that was going to be very different from what I had always envisioned. Here I was pondering the bullying and meanness and prejudice it would subject him to. And I felt ashamed for not just being 100 % okay with it.
Then it all came to a head last night. I got a call from Kevin’s school – a recorded message informing me that my son had been reported absent from a class yesterday. What?!? Now he’s ditching classes?!? I stormed into his room, where he was, as usual, shut in, and demanded to know “What is going on with you?!?” He was taken aback. “I just got a call from the school informing me that you missed a class today! What is going on?!” I demanded. He was bewildered. Very calmly, he said, “Mom, I didn’t miss a class. I’ve never ditched a class in my life.” Of course he’s going to say that, I thought. “Mom, why are you so upset?” He asked me (again calmly, but bewildered). And to my horror, I started crying. Tears just sprang to my eyes and spilled over before I could stop them. God. Just what a teenage boy needs, his mom blubbering in his room. And blubber I did. Everything came pouring out, how I was worried about him because he’s been so moody, how I feel like I don’t know what’s going on with him because he won’t share anything, blah blah blah. “And this club you’ve joined!” I said. “What’s that about? I worry that you’re going to get bullied for being in a club like that! I worry that people are going to make assumptions about you!”
It dawned on him just what exactly I was getting at. He was horrified. “Mom, are you worried that I’m gay?” He asked me.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. Here we go, I thought.
“I’m worried that you’re gay and that you’re afraid to tell me!” I said.
“Mom, I’m not gay!” he said. “I like girls. You don’t have to be gay to be in that club. I just want to support tolerance, that’s all. And I’ve met some really cool people there.”
Oh my god, did I ever fuck up. I wanted to hit rewind and unsay it.
More conversation passed between us after that, and I think we managed to clear the air. But I still feel horrible, awful, about so spectacularly misreading the situation and for putting him on the spot like that. He will no doubt remember that moment for the rest of his life. One day, years and years from now, he will be telling his wife – or his therapist! – “Yeah, when I was fifteen, my mom thought I was gay, and she confronted me about it.”
Big, fat parental fail.
I’ve been thinking a lot about it since last night, and now that (I think) I’m in a more rational frame of mind about it, I think what’s going on with him is very likely extremely normal, and also probably exactly what is supposed to be happening. He’s growing up. He’s by degrees leaving the nest, breaking away. He has to. It’s part of life.
And it’s painful. For me and for him.
As for the absence, I’m trying to get to the bottom of it, but at this point it looks like it was a clerical error.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Oh honey don’t beat yourself up. We all miss our mark at times. You should talk to him that even if he were gay you would love him no matter. That you want to have a relationship with him no matter his life choices because of your love. You will be disappointed in big changes because you’re human and you don’t always know how to respond but that reflects more on you than him. You’re proud of him for standing up for what he feels strongly about. Etc. It sounds like you’re a great mom who is invested in loving your kids. We all have hiccups but love outshines all.
Just want to note – If your son is gay, he’s not going to be able to admit it to you until he comes to terms with it himself and feels ‘safe’ (so to speak) admitting it to others. Lots of gay kids are “straight” in highschool, and even date + have sex with members of the opposite sex. Sometimes it’s a denial thing and sometimes it’s a self preservation thing. It could also be that he just doesn’t want to add more stress to the pile right now.
Do you include homosexuality when teaching about love and sex? I like the approach of removing the closet from the equation altogether by making sure your kids know that you love them unconditionally regardless of sexual orientation + communicating that any partners they bring home will be welcome regardless of their gender.
Make sure they know that being gay isn’t something they should be ashamed of or worry about being a burden on the family. Make sure the conversations you have with them about self-love + self-acceptance are ongoing ones. etc
Oh, honey. Been there. Done that. Luckily, my kid loves me in spite of myself. 🙂