What I Learned When My Teenage Son Started Dating

“Who is this temptress, and what does she want with my boy?” Reflections on a mother’s mature, reasoned reaction when her teenage son starts going out with girls.

By Mel Miskimen
Photograph: Illustrated by Zohar Lazar

“Are you two going out this Friday? Do you need the car? Or maybe [her name] could come over here, and I could make homemade pizzas?”

Two grunts punctuated with a roll of his two puffy red eyes. Wait . . . had he been crying?

“Are you OK?”

His chin quivered. “She . . . broke up. . . with me.” He blew his nose into a kitchen towel and launched into the whole Days of His Lives saga. I found it hard to keep up with the plot twists, the players (who was Trevor? And what did Brittany have to do with anything?).

Basically, what I could figure out was it had all come down to him being more invested in the relationship than she had been. He had fallen for her hard, but she was more intent on skimming the surface. She took what she could get and—Oh, no! What exactly did she get from him?—then she crumpled him up and threw him onto the dressing room floor of life, like a rejected outfit, his tags still attached.

I listened to him obsess about how she had slowly ripped out his beating heart and then stomped on it with her bejeweled flip-flops. Well, I half-listened, because my inner voice, the one that usually belittles me, had in this case taken on the lilt and tone of a very tightly wound Jerry Springer Show guest—You want Mommy to go and cut her? I swear! Nobody messes with my baby! Little bitch!—as I mentally hit her over the head with a folding chair.

I tried to be consoling, giving him the best hug I could (since he was a head and a half taller than I was, it didn’t resemble a hug as much as a backwards Heimlich maneuver). Did he want some cookies? A hot-fudge sundae? I would have thrown together marinated beef tenderloin with stuffed mushrooms if he’d had a hankering. But he just wanted to be alone.

Once at college, he took his time getting back in the saddle. Fine. He needed to adjust to a new school, and I needed to adjust to his being farther away from home, which, I have to say, wasn’t all that hard. (Who knew I had so many towels?) But then summer came, and he was back for the break.

He spent the first few weeks horizontal. If he wasn’t sleeping, he was busy languishing on the sofa, clicking through channels. Then he got a job in a clothing store, and one sunny afternoon I met his more-than-a-friend work friend, who chided him in our kitchen when he left the milk out on the counter and didn’t put his cake-crumby plate in the dishwasher. A keeper! I liked the way she looked at him and laughed at his jokes. How she said that he and I were cut from the same cloth (the one woven with a dry-witted weft and a warped sense of humor). As they walked out the front gate, to go wherever they were off to, I smiled and thought, Good for him!

And good for me. I know now that I’ll never be replaced, not really. If I’m lucky, the women who come into his life will be less like my enemies and more like reinforcements. If all it took to help him mature was a little good-natured ribbing from someone who wore a size 2 and had eyelashes to die for, I could live with that.

Mel Miskimen is the author of Cop’s Kid: A Milwaukee Memoir.

First Published April 26, 2011

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