It’s easy to forget how teenagers behave, especially when the house is in chaos
Chaos gives me a headache. Of course, when the children were small, the four of them used to make plenty of mess and noise, but the mess was tidied into boxes, and they were in bed by 7pm. It’s very different now that our twentysomethings have returned home. Because they’re “adults”, there are no bedtimes and no boxes, and chaos sweeps through our house like a storm.
On Sunday, I find Megan sorting her washing on the kitchen table. Piles of knickers, ripped T-shirts and tie-dyed trousers swamp the bowl of fruit and cover the newspaper that Ed wants to read. Lily sits in state at the end of the table applying henna to her hair, scraping up thick globs of black mud and plastering it over her head. It gives off a medicinal smell. Quite a lot has fallen to the floor, some of it caught on the newspaper she’s thoughtfully spread for that purpose, but much of it is being walked around the kitchen on the dog’s paws.
Jake comes bouncing into the room to make breakfast. It’s lunchtime, and he’s still pale from the night before. There’s only a frozen loaf. Undeterred, he begins to operate on it using a carving knife and salad spoon as a kind of hammer and chisel.
“Stop that noise!” Lily shrieks, whipping her head round so quickly that more globs of mud fly off her hair.
“Jake! You idiot!” Megan growls.
“What are you doing?!” I’m shouting. “You’re going to chop off your finger – and break the salad spoon.”
“Too late,” he says sadly, examining the cracked wood.
At this point, the youngest, Zac, 18, comes in and begins to play the bongos. “Shut up!” We all yell at him.
He puts the drums down and leaves the room. We look at each other. “What’s wrong with him? He’s so sensitive.”
“He never speaks,” I say. “I’m worried about him.”
Inside the chaotic noise of the others, Zac is the quiet eye at the centre of the storm. He is often absent from the room, and when he shows up, he’s monosyllabic. His preferred form of communication is a grunt, a shrug or a raised eyebrow.
My partner, Ed, and I worry about our youngest. We worry that he’s taking drugs, that he’s being bullied at school. That he’s just plain unhappy. When we ask him if everything is all right, if there’s anything he’d like to share with us, anything at all, he gives us a withering glare. “Stop being weird,” he says.
If I initiate any form of embrace, Zac’s immediately uncomfortable, his whole body going rigid, whereas he used to be fine with it, even like it. The rest of us are generous with hugs and kisses. Apart from feeling hurt by his rejection, I worry that I’ve done something to make him hate me.
“Mum, you’re over-thinking this,” Jake tells me, after I’ve had another Zac moan. “It’s not about you. He’s a teenager, his behaviour is normal. Boys are supposed to reject their mothers. He has to push you away in order to grow up.”
“Don’t you remember that Jake did exactly the same thing?” Megan says.
“It drove you crazy,” Lily says. “Your memory’s terrible.”
“I must have blanked it out,” I say. “I only remember the good times.”
“Then he got a girlfriend and,” Megan snaps her fingers, “just like that, he became human.”
My children’s wisdom has a calming effect. And when I walk into the sitting room to find Zac and a girl entangled on the sofa, my first thought is: “At last.”
The couple move apart swiftly, Zac running his fingers through his hair and avoiding eye contact with me. “This is Ella,” he mutters.
“Ella,” I say. “I am so happy to meet you. You should stay for supper.”
Zac shoots me a furious look.
“Too much, too soon,” Jake advises later.
I am waiting for Ella’s female companionship to work its magic on Zac, hopeful that he’s going to join our conversations, even smile occasionally. He’s still monosyllabic. But behind the closed door of his bedroom, I hear him and Ella chatting away and giggling. Bursts of laughter.
“It’s so sweet,” I confide in Jake. “Lovely to know he’s happy.”
Jake nods. “Yup, that’ll be the sex.”
“The … wait … what?”
Suddenly my head is hurting with that pounding feeling behind my eyes that chaos always gives me.
Names have been changed
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