And Then Sometimes They Surprise You

64800_10151677746815116_1258777484_nRecently I’ve had a problem with Jackson thinking he’s 40. He’s 14. He’s gotten into this habit of running off with friends whenever he wants. A couple weeks ago, I gave him permission to walk downtown with his friend. I told him to be back in half an hour for dinner. Apparently “be home for dinner” translated to “go out to dinner with your friend and his family and don’t bother asking first and don’t answer your phone when I call or text until you’re halfway through dessert” in Jackson’s language. I was fed up with that, so I grounded him for a week. A week of not going out with his friends was pure torture for Jackson, and I thought he’d learn the lesson. I was wrong.

I left work on Friday and drove to the school to pick up Clay and Brooklyn. As I was driving, I received a text from Jackson. “Mom, can I go downtown?”

A few minutes later, “Forget that. Can I go to Jake’s house instead?”

Another few minutes passed and he sent, “Change of plans again. Can I go out to dinner with Perry?”

At a red light, I quickly scanned his texts. I didn’t respond while I was driving; I planned instead to talk to him when I got home.

When I got to Clay’s and Brooklyn’s school, the cafeteria was all decorated for the Father/Daughter dance. Brooklyn rushed up to me squealing, “I’m so excited to go!” The only problem was I hadn’t gotten tickets. About a month ago, Brooklyn brought home an invitation to the Father/Daughter Dance at her school. We talked about it a little and Austin offered to take her, but Brooklyn didn’t sound like she really wanted to go so I put the flyer in my I’ll get to it later pile and promptly forgot about it.

I admitted I hadn’t gotten tickets, and I told Brooklyn that Austin was probably at home asleep. She started crying. When I got home, I walked away from a crying Brooklyn to talk to Jackson about his plans before deciding whether to bribe Brooklyn with cookies, a movie, and nail polish in place of the dance, or to wake up Austin and ask him if he was still willing to take her as long as tickets were available at the door. However, Jackson wasn’t home. I called him.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in the car.”

“Whose car? Where?”

After much stalling from Jackson, he admitted he was already on his way to the restaurant with his friend and his family.

“Are you KIDDING me?!” I yelled. “You were JUST grounded for a week for taking off without permission. I guess you didn’t learn your lesson. This time you can be grounded for a month! Maybe then it’ll sink in!”

“But I asked you, Mom. I texted you.”

At this point, my head exploded. “Asking is not the same as getting permission!” I bellowed into the phone. “I’m on my way to get you now. You are not taking off without permission again and getting rewarded for it with dinner out.”

Meanwhile, Brooklyn had calmed down and was just sniffling. “How about I go rent a movie and I’ll paint your nails and we’ll hang out here and have fun, okay, Brooklyn?” She seemed amenable to my idea so I left to get Jackson from the restaurant.

As I drove to the restaurant, I talked out loud to myself like a crazy person. “Where did I go wrong? I’m a parenting failure. I’ve taught this kid nothing. First, he leaves without permission and next thing you know, he’ll be doing drugs and knocking over liquor stores. And I’m not even going to talk about the pigsty he calls his room.” In my head I started composing an apology letter to his future wife.

When I got to the restaurant, I’d calmed down. Brooklyn seemed happy, and I wasn’t quite as mad at Jackson. I apologized for yelling at him on the phone, but confirmed that he was once again grounded. I explained that not only is he still a kid who needs parental permission before leaving the house, but making your own plans and taking off is inconsiderate no matter what your age.

Jackson was surprisingly contrite; he didn’t argue or try to bargain at all. Jackson’s friend’s mom texted me to apologize because they’d assumed it was okay that Jackson went with them. I assured her it was fine. It wasn’t their fault; Jackson is old enough to know better. And honestly, this friend and his family are wonderful. They’ve kinda adopted Jackson and I’m super-thankful for their friendship. They’re a good, positive influence on Jax. I thanked Jackson for not throwing a whiny fit, but told him he was still grounded until I believed he’d learned the lesson about not taking off whenever he felt like it.

I arrived home with Jackson and found Brooklyn sad once again. “I really want to go,” she sniffled. I glanced at the couch where Austin was fast asleep. I looked over to Jackson. “Hey Jackson,” I said tentatively. “How would you like to take Brooklyn to the dance? You don’t have to, but if you want to, I know Brooklyn would really appreciate it.”

“Sure,” he readily agreed. He may have been thinking that saying yes would get me to change my mind about grounding him, but honestly, even if he hadn’t been in trouble, I’m pretty sure he would’ve offered to take her anyway.

Jackson and Brooklyn quickly changed their clothes and I dropped them off at the school. I waited to make sure they could get tickets at the door then drove home. When the dance was over, I pulled up to the school and found a little girl who was smiling ear to ear and a teenage boy who looked like he’d not only endured the evening for his sister’s sake, but that he’d actually enjoyed the time spent with her. “Were there other brothers or moms there with the girls?” I asked.

“No, I was the only one.”

“Did any dads come up to you and compliment you or say anything nice because you’d taken your sister?” I wondered.

“Nope,” Jackson replied.

“Well, I’m super-proud of you and you should take a look at my Facebook wall because a few hundred people have liked and/or commented on the picture of you and Brooklyn.

Okay, so maybe I haven’t completely failed this parenting thing. Yet. And maybe I won’t ground Jackson until he’s old enough to carry an AARP card. And maybe I’ll treasure this picture of the two of them forever.

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