All of a sudden, in the weeks running up to Christmas, Oldest Son seemed to reach Peak Teen. My mild mannered, quietly sardonic son became slightly moody, his amusingly sarcastic comments became increasingly biting and his usual amused patience with me and his siblings was replaced with an increasingly bemused irritation. It was bound to happen, and frankly, compared to Youngest Daughter’s Wasp Nest Teen-hood (reached at around 12, continuing to this day), it’s been relatively easy, if slightly confusing, to deal with (apart from when Youngest Son was born and my mild mannered two year old Oldest Son turned into Psycho Toddler for a couple of months, Oldest Son has always been a calm and calming boy, so it’s a very strange experience seeing him act all moody).
Oldest Son’s latest hormone surge has coincided with the dishwasher breaking. Whilst E is now paying child maintenance, the money I’m getting doesn’t stretch to expensive repairs to non essential equipment, so for the time being we have to wash the dishes by hand. Being without dishwasher shouldn’t be a big deal, but its clashing with Oldest Son’s maturing, has caused a stupid amount of conflict.
The main reason for this is that Oldest Son, has an almost OCD-like revulsion for food waste. It’s been tacitly agreed between all of us that he will never touch, or empty, the food composting caddy for a few years now, and whilst he was always happy to stack the dishwasher, someone else usually scraped the plates etc before he loaded it. All of a sudden we have scraped plates, with traces of food left on them, and a washing bowl full of water, that, no matter how scraped the plates are, inevitably becomes a bit mucky as the dish-washing process goes on, and Oldest Son wants nothing to do with it.
It doesn’t help that reaching Peak Teen has also seen a marked reluctance to do any of the other jobs around the house that I ask the kids to do whilst I’m at work (basically these are: feed the pets, put the washing/tumble drying on/tidy your rooms/do the dishes) and, as a result Youngest Son and Youngest Daughter have been getting increasingly mutinous about doing anything themselves, when their brother is being a Lazy Git.
Added to this melting pot of conflict is the fact that Youngest Daughter has been waiting for this moment for over a year. Last year, when she was doing her GCSEs, she refused to do jobs every day on the basis that she was ‘studying’. When Oldest Son (quite astutely, if not very wisely) told her she was using her GCSEs as an excuse and just being lazy (cue furious outburst from Youngest Daughter, whilst Oldest Son sat back with a wry grin), I apparently told her that, if he refused to do stuff next year, she could tell him he was being lazy (I don’t remember this), so now, she is using the fact that Oldest Son won’t do the dishes as an excuse to refuse to do them herself, because ‘he’s BEING LAZY and IT’S NOT FAIR’.
After a negotiation process, led by me, of which Kofi Annan would be proud, the three of them eventually reached an agreement, that they would each take responsibility for their own dishes. This still leaves occasional spats over shared meals (who should wash the pan that the pasta eaten by all of them was cooked in?), but peace has generally been restored
Whilst, I’m finding Oldest Son’s intractability re the dishes frustrating at least he is taking responsibility for his own mess, unlike his father, who, is, it seems taking no responsibility and mostly blaming me me for the state of his finances.
E hasn’t now seen the boys since the end of October last year. Each (last minute) text he sends to Youngest Son (who remains hopeful of seeing him every weekend) vaguely blames ‘the money situation‘ as his reason for not coming. The implication always seems to be that the situation is beyond his control and somehow not his fault. One of his texts to Youngest Son said “Situation has become ridiculous and had better sort itself soon“. Given that earlier he’d said he needed to resolve the “money situation with your Mum” before he could see him, his implication was clearly that his financial situation is somehow my fault and also that it’s also somehow down to me that he can’t see them. I was quick to nip this one in the bud and reassure the kids that they could see their dad whenever they wanted (in fact Drunk Me, set up a WhatsApp Group, with all six of us in it, where I said exactly that), but the thing that strikes me with most force is how little responsibility E is apparently taking for the situation he is in. His letter to my solicitor and his texts to the kids are peppered throughout with hints that the situation he’s in is not his fault and full of suggestions that things are being taken ‘out of his hands’. Apparently, in E’s world, nothing is his fault.
Until Theresa May was allegedly accused of being ‘nebulous’, I’d never thought of applying that term to a person. As a long term Star Trek fan, to me a nebula was usually something of a worry. Densely impenetrable, with no way of telling what they contained or concealed, and bewitchingly floaty, they were usually encountered by our heroes with a mixture of suspicion and caution and were only ever driven (or sailed? What do space ships do?) through when completely unavoidable. But reading E’s texts and his letter l have the distinct sensation of being caught in a nebula which is distorting everything, and throwing all my assumptions about the way the world should work out of kilter.
It’s a funny one to deal with, especially for someone like me, whose first instinct is usually to take responsibility (and take the blame) for everything. In fact when I first read E’s letter, my first instinct was to look to myself and work out what I’d done wrong. I’m not quite sure how to deal with someone who doesn’t feel they’ve contributed to the problem they’re dealing with? With Oldest Son, I negotiated re the dishes on the basis that if he’d used a plate he had to wash it. He wasn’t happy, but he accepted he’d used the plate. With E, it’s like I’m waving the tomato sauce covered plate in front of him and he’s not only denying that he used it, but he’s suggesting that it was clearly me that got it dirty in the first place (whilst wiping tomato sauce from his mouth).
It’s an interesting tactic though, and one I might try with the kids. I might refuse to wash up my wine glass, on the basis that Youngest Son is clearly a bit of a boozer, or refuse to make my bed, because I’ve obviously never slept in it. It could change my life – frankly I find that being an adult involves way too much responsibility, I think I definitely need a bit less.
I bet I still end up with pile of dishes to do every morning though.