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Fall From Cool

They said it would come, but I didn’t believe them. They told me that one day my children would find me uncool. And worse than uncool: an utter, ego-shrinking embarrassment.

Me. The mom with the killer iPod song list. The mom who considers French fries a vegetable. Embarrassing? It didn’t seem likely.

Then we attended a school concert last week, and when I erupted in my trademark rock-show howl of “oowwwww!”, followed by a passionate shriek of “woo woo!”, I glanced over at my 11-year-old son. And there it was.

The Eye Roll.

It wasn’t a subtle eye roll, either. In fact, it was so exaggerated I thought he might tear an ocular tendon and have to spend the rest of his life staring at the back of his own skull. But then, perhaps this was his goal. At least he wouldn’t have to see his newly ridiculous mother rocking out.

Fortunately, he needn’t wallow solo in such shame. Seems the sentiment strikes all adolescents.

“My son’s greatest mortification comes from when I try out the latest teen speak,” a friend of mine confessed. “He once told me, ‘Moms who drive Volvos are not allowed to say, ‘Fo’ shizzle!'”

I admit that I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how my behavior will reflect on my children. I sing and dance in supermarkets when the muzak moves me. I wear more leopard print and sequins than a woman who doesn’t live in Miami really should. And there is the small matter of chronicling my kids’ every developmental misstep in print.

But my friends with teenagers tell me that a parent’s greatest offense is not what she does, wears or, um, writes. It’s her mere objectionable existence. “Unfortunately, it just gets worse with age,” says another mom I know. “My 14-year-old can barely stand me asking her a question and is mortified when I dare to speak to one of her friends.”

“Yeah,” echoes the mother of a junior-high girl. “My daughter asked me not to talk to her friends. Like, I am driving them some place in a car and I am not to indicate in any way that I can hear what they are talking about.”

The mother of a high-schooler told me she’s not even “allowed” to get out of the car when she picks up her son from school. Once, when he was late getting to the parking lot, she wandered around campus looking for him. When he saw her, his shame was so exquisite you’d have thought she cartwheeled naked through the quad.

Another friend tells me her son won’t stand within 10 feet of her in public. “He speeds up to gain that distance when he and I are walking, and if I rush to keep up, he walks off in a different direction.” At restaurants, he would rather sit at a table by himself than with his parents. “I know that he’s trying to show his peers that he’s independent,” she says, “but it still makes me mad.”

But a guy I know, a practical father of teens, says we sensitive moms should stop lamenting this behavior and start using it to our advantage. “I tell my kids all the time that embarrassing them is an important part of the parent job description,” he says. “It’s one of the last tools a parent has to get teens to change their behavior.”

Acting up? Mouthing off? Refusing to pick up their clothes? A well-placed threat works wonders. He warns his kids that he’ll reveal their personal grooming habits, or worse — hang out in the same room with their friends — if they don’t cooperate.

Hold up. You mean there’s pure, pitiless power in my ability to humiliate? Oowww! Woo woo!!

Published inColumnsParenting

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