Anyone who knows what I look like would not recognize me these days. My hair is standing on end—driven directly skyward by horrible teenage behavior. Yes, I said horrible. And while my hair is standing on end the rest of me is sagging. All my enthusiam and energy has been drained away by endless, useless battles. I always lose too. My once cute, little, multi-lingual Italian-American darlings have grown up to be teenage beasties. I am drowning in teenage misbehavior – slammed doors, sulkiness, insults, disrespect and disobedience and I am starting to wonder – WILL I SURVIVE?
These days I am dealing with one 17-year-old boy, Nico, one 14-year-old girl, Caterina, and one pre-teen 11-year-old girl, Chiara. I spend all the time I am not at the office driving them around to scouts, water-polo, chorus and dishing out money for things that they absolutely, urgently need to have. “Pleases and Thank yous seem to have gone extinct in their vocabularies, althouh my son specializes in a super-puppyish “I love you Mamma, you’re the best” followed by a overly enthusiastic bear hug when he succeeds in negotiating out of me what he wants.
This blog has commented on different parenting styles – the bend-over backwards, over-protective Italian Mozzarella Mamma, the superior French Maman, the ferocious Chinese Tiger mother, and the independent, “you’re just fine” American Mom. Well, there is one bit of life they all have in common. They all have to face these teenage years when hormones surge through the veins and brains of our growing adolescents making them irritable, unreasonable and demanding.
I am afraid I have combined the worst of the Italian Mamma – willing to do it all for her kids—and the American Mom – granting her children trust and independence—to create unmanageable teems who think they can do whatever they want, but it is my duty to make it happen.
Let me explain. A few days ago my 17-year-old son made the following statement: “Ah, Mom, I think I am going to Paris for Spring break. Don’t worry, I have a friend who I can stay with and I will take the train of course since it is cheaper – so, ah, can you give me the money for the train?”
Now, let’s rewind a few weeks. Two weeks ago my son spent five days on a class trip to Amsterdam for a Model UN. He had a marvelous time. We (my husband and I) obviously paid for the flight and hotel but it was a school trip and a great learning experience. The day of the departure, I took the day off work to take him to the airport. We left home an hour before the group meeting time at the airport. As usual Rome was blocked up with chaotic traffic and I weaved my way in and out as I headed for the highway in my trusty Fiat. Nico became increasingly tense, criticizing my driving—“Mom, you’re going too slow, we’re going to be late. Cut in front of that guy! What are you doing? Just go through this red light!” I tried to resist but it did not take long for me to blow my top and announce to him that he could forget the trip to Amsterdam and I was going to leave him sitting by the side of the road, and how dare he criticize my driving when I had taken a day off to work just to drive him to the damn airport!!
It is not uncommon in Rome to see two people yelling at each other in a cars—mostly husband and wives, but let’s just say a mother-teenager shouting match is not that unusual, so Nico and I did not attract any attention.
A little aside her, I did not used to be a big yeller. Before marrying an Italian, I was very waspish when I got angry. I might write up an angry letter to someone if I was steaming mad, but I did not yell. Now, I do.
A quick word on yelling. My first summer after I moved to Rome, I was flabbergasted by all the night-time noise in the city. Romans do not use air-conditioning in their homes, so on hot summer nights, all windows are left open. It can be downright entertaining listening to the massive blowouts – screaming and shouting matches. I was also often spooked by the noises cats would make at night. The city of Rome is over-flowing with cats and boy can they make some spine-curdling yeowls at night. I am told it is mating noises. And speaking of mating noises, it wasn’t only the cats going at it, some humans really could entertain themselves and the entire neighborhood with their wild sexual aural antics. Sometimes I would lie in bed wondering if they were truly in such sheer ecstasy or actully faking it.
But I am getting off topic, back to my teens.
So—Nico and I yelled at each other more or less until we got to the highway at which point Nico realized we probably were not going to be late so we fell into an angry silence. I pulled up to the airport 5 minutes early. While I parked Nico had a huddle with his classmates and announced to me that I had given him less money than the other kids. Instead of having a huddle with the other mothers, to find out what they really did give their kids, I did the real Mozzarella Mamma thing and went straight to the bank machine and got him more. He grabbed it and headed for the gate. I headed for the coffee bar in relief with another mother. One teen away for 5 days whoo-hoo, party time, one cappuccino straight up!
When I got back to the parking lot, I decided to send my son a quick text message before his departure to make peace. “Have a wonderful trip sweetie, love Mamma.” I wrote. I was hoping he might write back apologizing for his bad behavior, but he didn’t, so I headed home, assuming he would at least text me on his arrival.
Indeed, several hours later, when he arrived in Amsterdam, he did send me a text message, it said, “Mom, I am out of money on my cell phone, can you put some more money on it?” . That was it. Ok, I am a big Mamma-wimp, but I have my limits. There was no way I was going to charge an Italian cell phone for a 17-year-old on a class trip to Amsterdam. Who was he going to call anyway? I did not charge it, and I did not hear from him for five peaceful days. On the fifth day I got a text message from an unrecognizable number, “Mom, you are going to be at the airport to get me at 7pm, right?”
Then there is my 14-year-old. She wakes up in the morning on the warpath. Everything is always my fault. I am the cause of everything that is bad in her life. For that reason she feels the need to speak to me rudely most of the time. I have tried every possible tactic to change this pattern and have failed miserably. Given that these teenagers always want money, I decided on a new strategy. When she was hunched over her breakfast cereal one morning, I cheerfully announced, “Caterina, I am going to make you an offer. I will give you one euro for every nice thing you say to me. It doesn’t have to be a compliment, it can just be a friendly, polite statement. BUT, after you start getting those euros, anytime you say a nasty, rude comment to Mommy, you have to give me one back.”
Cate paused for about 10 seconds, cereal spoon halfway between bowl and mouth, and then blurted out for the whole household to hear: “BE QUIET MOM, that is a STUPID idea!”
And then from the bedroom we had to hear from my skinny, pre-teen, mega-mouth Chiara in the middle of her daily emptying out of her entire wardrobe on the floor while deciding what to wear to school and declaring repeatedly “I have nothing to wear Mom!”. Chiara immediately piped up, “HEY, THAT’S NO FAIR, WHY DON’T I GET ONE EURO FOR EVERY NICE THING I SAY??”
I did manage to make Caterina happy with me one recent weekend when her father was half-way around the world at a conference in Mexico. I agreed to let her go with a friend who lives upstairs to an afternoon disco for teenagers. Apparently that is what the “cool” kids at school do, and by allowing her to go, I was giving her a chance to multiply her cool quotient in the eyes of the ever-judgmental junior high crowd. I had to take my son to a water-polo game that afternoon so I delivered her to the hands of my neighbor who promised to drop them off, pick them up and check in with them to make sure they weren’t doing drugs or getting picked up by pimps.
Of course we had to spend the entire morning going over outfits with Nico regularly declaring, “Cate, you look like a sleaze-ball in that, go change.”
The afternoon was a smashing success. Caterina mostly danced with her girlfriends but felt terribly grown up and cool after that experience. It wasn’t until a few nights ago when she began demonstrating some of her sexy dance moves that I just about had a heart attack. Am I such a puritan prude or were those moves a little over the top?
Nico’s friend visiting from Milan did nothing to reassure me, announcing, “Oh yeah, for a couple months I was paid to do public relations for one of those teen discos in Milan. It’s a bad scene, the owners try to get the pretty girls to be the Cubiste”—the sexy dancers on the cube blocks they put out in the middle of the dance floor. “Oh horrors,” I thought, “my sweet (and sour) Caterina, the cubista, no no no no!! She’s never going back there.”
On Easter Sunday, my son went out to play soccer with his friends and broke his arm. Ok, that is normal enough for kids, but it is a hassle. Not a hassle because I have to take more days off work to take him for x-rays and doctors appointments, but because he can’t play water-polo for at least a month. Without his daily two hour water-polo practices, he’s a nightmare. He’s been banging around the house between slouching on the couch in front of the TV and flopping down his bed with his computer. If anyone gets in his way, he lets loose, especially with his sisters and mother.
It only took me two days before I got fed up and had a knock-down, verbal blowout with him that probably did leave our Italian neighbors thinking this American Mom has really lost it. He stormed out of the house, flailing around his bulky, cast-covered arm. A few hours later I got worried that he was not going to come back and I began feeling like the world’s worst Mom. I called him and he was cheerful as can be and said he was coming home. We made our peace and that was that. At least I thought it was. That evening around 11pm as I lay reading in bed he popped in my room, “Oh, ah, hey Mom, what do you think if I have 28 kids over Saturday night for the class dinner, Papa’ said it is up to you.”
I am not sure if it was guilt about the vicious fight earlier or if it was just to avoid a long, drawn out argument, I looked up and said, “That’s fine, we can just do a big pasta or something,” and then stuck my nose back in my book.
He was back about ten minutes later. “By the way, Mom, what’s your drinking rule?”
Another aside here, Americans might be shocked, but I have adopted an Italian attitude toward alcohol – a beer with a pizza and a glass of wine with a plate of pasta is ok by me. I told him that, adding, “but I am not going to buy the alcohol.”
“Nah, don’t worry about that, we’ll get it,” he said, and then as he headed out of the room added, “but you and Papa’ should clear out the liquor cabinet before you go out.”
“WHAT?” I demanded, “C’mon Nico, you cannot have a dinner party in our home if you and your friends are incapable of staying out of our liquor cabinet. If you can’t do that, no dinner party.”
“Ok, ok Mom, CHILL, I was just suggesting.”
Ten minutes later he was back again, “Ah and Mom, can Cate and Chiara go sleep at the Nonni’s house and you and Papa’ can go out to a dinner and movie and come home at 2am – calling me first to let me know you’re on your way back, OK?”
Dear Blog Readers, I will not bore you with the rest of this conversation. Sadly, I will tell you that it is not over yet and I still do not know what is going to happen on Saturday. Since my son was a little child I have been telling him that when he grows up they should give him the job of Chief Negotiator for Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians—he is capable of wearing down any other human being with his endless negotiating tactics. One gets to the point where you just want to say, “I will do whatever you want, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE.”
As Nico walked out my bedroom door, I was tempted to jump up on the bed, grab my hairbrush and blurt out my own Mozzarella Mamma’s version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”
Go on now go walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause I won’t negotiate anymore
Weren’t you the one who I diapered, fed, burped and held you when you cried?
Now you think I’ll crumble
That I’ll give in and buy
Oh is this I?
Will I survive?
Oh as long as I don’t ring their necks
I know they’ll stay alive
I’ve still got all their teen years to live
I’ve got all my income to give
Can I get by?
Will I survive???? (oh, oh, oh)
Oh, oh oh, PLONK — I don’t even have the energy anymore to stand on my bed and sing and dance. Here’s the link to Gloria Gaynor’s Version if anyone is interested LINK
So, blog readers, I leave the question with all of you, will I survive?
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.