“The way you hobble around is as though you’ve been attacked by a pirate ... “
“And you ... you are a flat-footed platypus ...”
This is an everyday exchange of ‘pleasantries’ between my 13-year-old son and me. A thrust, a parry, followed by a riposte, a lunge and more often than not touché at the very end of our little skirmish. A few minutes later we are at it once again.
My bitter half purses his lips alongside a dramatic eye roll. His legendary patience wears thin as our bouts show no signs of letting up. It’s not like he doesn’t get up to silly antics with our son. But they are more rambunctious and smack of father-son camaraderie, while our bickering is delightfully nasty.
As a mother, I know not how I arrived at this point where I can almost see myself — metaphorically speaking — smacking my lips in anticipation of the daily sparring sessions with my son, needling him, provoking him and baiting him endlessly.
My son is only too happy to oblige, trying to drip his nascent sarcasm all over my parade!!! (Pardon the mishmash of phrase and idiom.)
It all probably began when my son first started labelling me “mean”. This was in answer to my attempts to create some sort of study routine for him, seeing as he had now progressed to Year 8 and we had yet to see even the most rudimentary efforts from his side at independent revision and learning.
It dawned on me then, as I cajoled, threatened and warned in equal measure that I had probably left it a tad too late to enforce discipline. The image of me huffing and puffing as I pushed a huge boulder up a hill — better make that mountain — kept popping into my head, as I tried in vain to get my son to study.
I told myself I wouldn’t give in and wouldn’t give up.
This battle of wills was bound to generate rancour and ill will. That’s when “mean” first popped up, as in “You are so mean.” And I could see that my son meant it.
“Mean” progressed to “meanie” and the label stuck.
Enter the room, and my son in his growing voice, cracking up in hormonal confusion, would declare: “Meanie”. At other times, I might be tapping away at my keyboard, or pottering around in the house, when the telltale sound of keys at the front door would alert me that father and son were back.
1,2,3 and ... “Meanie!”
It’s a toss-up as to who got it out first.
A psychologist might see the apparent “deterioration” of our mother-son relationship as a manifestation of the single child syndrome that afflicts parent and child both, albeit in different ways. For my son, it’s the longing for a sibling.
For me, the guilt of not having given him one. It likely compelled me to step into the void, although I knew very well that it was something like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.
And while our squabbling might have begun in jest, this going back and forth with inane words and labels, has been going on for far too long to not suffuse our relationship with daily doses of the goofy.
So as I very dutifully dropped my son off to school one morning — even as around me mums and dads kissed the tops of their children’s heads and waved them off — I pulled my mask down and stuck my tongue out at my son.
Almost instantly, and equally deftly, my 13-year-old did the same.
PS: Much later in the evening after all the day’s taunts and jibes were exhausted, my son sighed: “I wish I had a brother.”
Maria Elizabeth Kallukaren is a freelance journalist based in Dubai