Me: Honey, you need to wipe up please. Don’t you have to do chores at Dad’s? Him: Are you kidding me? I have to empty the dishwasher, make my own school lunch, feed the dogs, AND babysit my two brothers; it’s like Boot Camp up there!
How much screen time? According to the Washington Post in 2015, teenagers spend an average of 9 hours a day looking at screens. NINE HOURS. (Children aged 8-12 are on about 6 hours). It’s 2017, so I’d guess the times are slightly higher now. Adults are on approx 4 hours a day in their leisure time, but obviously more if they sit at a desk with computer in front of them. Here in Australia, we have a particularly high engagement with our smartphones; some estimates are up to 10 hours a day (Source: ABC News May 14 2016). It’s simple: switch off the wifi When my son was approaching his teens, and had been given his first smart-ish phone by his Dad’s family for Xmas (which I had no say in unfortunately), a wise friend with a son 7 years older than mine gave me this advice: no screens in the bedroom. Brilliant. Don’t let them lock themselves away with TVs or laptops plus smartphones; some kids text and message each other at 2am on a …
The scene: Kitchen, breakfast routine underway before school, radio playing Him [suddenly lunging at radio & turning it up loud]: I love this band! Me [having heard only 2 notes of song]: Who’s this? And how did you know who it was so fast? Him: Because it was the beat that says ‘This is totally this song’.
Me: I’m glad you didn’t have a party while I was away, & you did a great job on leaving the house tidy, but I’m fussy about the kitchen bench tops for a reason, and look, you’ve somehow made a big, permanent stain Him: Oh shit! Sorry Mum. How did I do that? Me: I dunno Sweetie, but that’s why I nag you not to put hot pans straight on the counter. If you were renting this place, you’d get money deducted from your rental bond for that, just so you know… PAUSE Him: Well, when you rent it cheap to me to go live in France or Bali, I’m going to paint it all white, so it doesn’t really matter now does it?
Did he have a party while I was away, like I worried HERE? I don’t believe he did. (And there was a small search for evidence, I admit). However, my bedroom door was open (I’d left it closed), and the bed was made (I’d left it stripped to air). Me: So what happened in my room? Him: Nothing Mum I swear! I’d never let anyone in there, that’s gross. But I was really tired from the party the night before at ‘B’s’ house, and I wanted a good sleep, so I got into your bed… I slept so well, and it smelt of you too… It was very cosy. Me *Can’t continue conversation- gone all soft and gooey*
Me: Remember I’m going to Perth for a week’s work tomorrow, which means you can’t stay home here alone, you gotta go back to Dad’s. Him: Mum, I’m nearly 18, I can look after myself… Me: You’re not 18! You only just turned 17; you’re still too young. PAUSE Him: I’m 17 and a half actually. Me: [counting months on my fingers] OK, you’re 17 and 4 months… LONG PAUSE Him: Well, in my mind I’m already 30, so what’s your point Mum?
I chewed my quinoa and baked veg salad looking up at her; in 2 hours from now, it would start. After 16 years of no access, 500 locals had registered for ‘The Chinny Charge’, a 7km run/walk up our tiny but omnipresent Mount Chincogan, near Byron Bay. The queue to collect our numbers was long, and you could feel the buzz of excitement; even Colin, who won the first ever Chinny Charge in 1967 with a time of 38 minutes and a $20 bar tab prize, was enthusiastic (in that utterly laid-back, short-phrased Australian country way) “Stick to the rules, so we can hopefully do it again next year: wear shoes, don’t litter, stick to the path, and no fighting.” [Fighting? I’m going to be struggling just to breathe aren’t I? What exactly went on in the olde days round here??] Yup, I’m happy to agree to all that. The tiny mountain is on private property, so unless the landowners give specific permission (which they do a few times a year to local school groups), …
So many times as a skinny teenager I used to ask ‘What’s for dinner Mum?’ She’d usually sigh, and dismiss me with ‘Oh I don’t know, I hate cooking.’ I made myself a lot of frozen pizza with instant mash potato. I learnt to love cooking though, especially after becoming a vegetarian in my early, idealistic twenties. When I had my son in my early thirties, I created different memories around food and eating with him; when he was 7 for example, I bought him his own small chopping knife to help me cook with, and ten years later, we still use it. We both enjoy good food a lot (he’s actually making dinner while I write this). His Dad’s a good cook too. We separated when ’17’ was only a toddler, and at first our son spent 2 days with each of us. It slowly stretched to 3 days, then 4; I think he was about 5 when it grew to Week On/Week Off. The day of ‘changeover’ became a mix of sadness and …
Him: ‘Mum look, I’ve created a Study Nook! I’m so going to get on top of my assignments.’ Me [Looking at my now un-useable spare room, complete with blocked access to my linen cupboard, and removal of my only bedside lamp plus the living room coffee table]: ‘That’s great Honey…’ ONE WEEK LATER Me [Having taken back my bedside light, and moved the coffee table so I can get sheets & towels out]: ‘How’s the study going?’ Him: ‘Well I can’t work now that my habitat’s been destroyed.’
… he drapes his arm across my shoulder. He’s never done that before. I put my arm round his waist, but it feels awkward, so I let it drop. We move apart a little, and walk on. We sit in silence on the rocks watching a dolphin pod swim in lazy circles while the sky fades orange, pink, baby blue, dark blue. As we walk back towards the car, he does it again. This time, my arm round his waist feels comfortable. We walk and talk, arm in arm, 17 & 51, as night falls. Best. Homecoming. Ever.