Don't get me wrong. I love being a mom. It has been the most rewarding, interesting and exciting ride of my life.
There it is, mere millimeters away, a quick glance upward, in black and white; the praises of parenting have been sung. So now, I am free to say other things, less generous perhaps, but said with the most sincere affection, of course. The whole truth is that not every part of the job of parenting feels rewarding, interesting or exciting. There is a certain degree of mundanity that goes along with parenting. There are a lot of cartons of milk to be bought, quite a few spills to sop up, and for the first few years anyway, a whole lot of fastening.
The fastening days are over. I don't have to buckle my child in or adjust straps or help with zipping coats or anything like that, but as the parent of a teenage boy, it occurs to me that it isn't dramatically unlike having your own SIM. You know the game right? The SIMS? It is a computer game in which you, the player, have to manage your SIM family or SIM person- making sure they get up in the morning, eat, bathe and that they don't set themselves on fire or get so depressed when they walk into a badly furnished room that they decide not to go to work that day.
Brush your teeth, SIM. Go to bed, SIM. Get up, SIM. Go to the bathroom, SIM. Eat breakfast, SIM. Go to work, SIM.
You get the idea. This is the game. You try to keep your SIMS happy and thriving, or at least alive. You have to be careful because if you build a pool without a ladder, your SIM will dive in, swim for awhile and then drown. If you leave fireworks inside your SIM house, your SIM will light them right where you left them and the house will burn down. If you don't tell them to clean up their mess, after a short while, flies will swarm about the room.
When I told my son, Evan, that parenting him sometimes feels like I am playing the SIM game, he seemed a little insulted. But consider the facts. This able-bodied boy who used to be a responsible alarm-clock setter when he was younger, had gotten up around noon that day because I had failed to wake him up. At around 3:00 in the afternoon, I asked him if he had eaten. Despite the fact that we have a well stocked pantry and fridge, he replied, "No." It didn't occur to him to eat, as I had neglected to tell him to do so.
He does get up in the morning. He does eat. But I have to tell him to do these things. And asking him once rarely does the trick. On a given garbage night, I repeat the request so many times that asking my son to dump the garbage could probably be classified as a hobby of mine . Unlike the computer game, in our three dimensional real-time teenage SIM game, my SIM-Son only responds if he is told to do something over and over again. I believe that he really wants to be helpful, but a bug in his programing prevents him from responding to any request that isn't repeated every 5 minutes for at least an hour and a half. A possible exception to this would be if I were to ask, in the slightest whisper, from another floor in the house, something like, "Could you turn the volume up on that profane music so that I can no longer hear myself think, please?" or, "Please place the wet towel on the floor and leave it there." In fact, he seems to do those things without even being asked. But any request for something that might be helpful, no matter the delivery, just doesn't make an impression. As far as the garbage goes, I could either do my ask-and-ask-again ritual, do it myself, or maybe I ought to let the garbage sit there until the inevitable swarm of flies inspires him to dump it.
To his credit, however, we actually have a box of fireworks on top of our refrigerator and he has yet to light them inside the house.