Saturday, March 6, 2010

Surly Teens and Ostriches

I recently visited Safari West, a wildlife refuge in Santa Rosa where animals can roam free and observe human behavior. At one point, an ostrich named Lena wandered over to our truck and began pecking at the Astroturf on the side step. She was undaunted by the lack of actual grass sliding down her rather long gullet.

“Can’t she figure it out by now?” we wanted to know, but the guide merely sighed.

“She does this every day.”

“Demonstrating her superior brain power,“ said BBFE (Rich, the best boyfriend ever). Our laughter drowned out the sound of her pecking, but it got me to thinking: is this behavior really restricted to massive birds whose eyes are bigger than their brains? How often do we humans futilely peck peck peck at something that will never yield satisfying results? “If I can make the perfect holiday dinner, our family will get along,” “That group treats me like crap, but I know can get them to like me,” “If I could just explain my side of things, he would understand.”

Round and round it goes, with only the hope of resolution but no results.

Peck peck peck.

Case in point: a certain son of mine is in the hideous throes of an adolescent malaise that can best be described as, “My-mom-is-the-cause-of-everything-I-hate-about-my-life-itis,“ hereafter referred to as Surly Teen Syndrome, or STS. The irony of this disease is that doesn’t affect the teen so much as it makes the lives of those around him/her miserable. My initial reaction to STS as a mom is to try to “kiss-the-boo-boo-and-make-it-all-better“: find what’s really bothering him and work things out. Trouble is, he’s got no desire to do anything different; this “Mom-is-evil” mindset frees him from examining how his behavior affects others. And one thing Surly Teens will do anything to avoid (especially boys) is self-reflection. That, and thank-you notes.

After stifling my next impulse, which is to swing him by the hair and throw him out the window, I revert to trying to “win him back” by joking him out of it, showing him that I’m still the nice Mommy he used to love to cuddle with, and not at all the wicked Medusa he now sees me as, all to no avail. But this begs the question: aren’t I essentially the same person I’ve always been? As his mom, I will always, always love him, no matter what, even if I don’t like how he acts sometimes. So why should I have to prove it?

But until recently, that’s exactly what I was trying to do.

Peck peck peck.

No more. I am comfortable enough with myself to recognize that my “please-love-me” response to his behavior is a desperate ploy, not genuine self-expression. Now I can truly relax in the face of the shrugs and grunts, because I know who I am.

One more thing about ostriches: the guide told us that if you’re being attacked by one, curl into a ball on the ground and remain still. The ostrich will forget what it was mad at in about thirty seconds and wander off.

So: the same "superior brainpower" that makes the ostrich peck peck peck in vain also makes it forget what pissed it off. Frankly, a little bit of forgetfulness might not be a bad thing: here’s hoping my Surly Teen’s short-term memory will become more like the ostrich’s, where the reasons for his attacks will eventually slip his mind.

Till then, no more peck-peck-pecking for Mommy.