The Last Word

The Problem with you, Mom, is that you always have to have the last word.

Excuse me? A teenager was accusing ME of having the last word, when there isn’t a teenager in this family, or possibly the entire world, who doesn’t ALWAYS have the last word?

I was sitting at the dinner table, surrounded by four glowering children, stunned at my recent and utter defeat at the hands of those very same children. I had lost this skirmish, I felt, if not the entire battle, with regards to giving my children helpful advice about their future life. I suck at debating and they had thoroughly trounced me.

The argument had started, ironically, with a discussion about debate as an extracurricular activity I felt it was important for them to engage in, so as to hone their debating skills should they ever need them in real life. One of them, I think it was Sunshine, mentioned they were going to sign up for book club after school, and instead of telling her how happy that made me and then shutting my mouth, I just couldn’t help myself. I HAD to throw in a helpful reminder, otherwise known as nagging, to all the other kids.

I turned to my high school senior:

It’s not too late for you to do some charity work or outreach, I let him know, ever so helpfully. For the college application, you know, which by the way you REALLY have to start working on this weekend.


I couldn’t stop.

I know you still have a few years, I said to the sophomore, and this would be a good time to start. I just saw an invitation to debate camp in the school newsletter.

More silence.

I really should have stopped there. There was no chance they didn’t properly hear me and I had made my point. I could still shut my mouth and exit gracefully. But a little devil on my shoulder possessed me and I was going for the Holy Grail of motherhood, even though we mothers all know that it is absolutely and without question impossible to ever reach it. By this of course I mean two simple words: “Yes, Mother.”

I addressed my 8th grader: You’re not in high school yet, but this is a good time to start thinking about what extracurriculars you might pick when you are.

Nothing more, and you’d think she would have by now learned to take the cue from her brothers and respond to this with silence as well. But no. She is too much like me for that, and totally rose to the bait.

I’LL NEVER DO A STUPID OUTREACH THING JUST BECAUSE YOU SAY SO! DO YOU HEAR, NEVER! IT ISN’T ANY FUN! (Yes, she said it in all caps, just like that; except the word FUN was in even more all caps than the rest.)

Of course I couldn’t let that stand on so many levels starting at Stupid and ending at Not Fun, let alone the yelling, and so a vicious debate ensued, with all three teenagers raining their arguments on me, one of which was the aforementioned admonishment about me having to have the last word, and therefore it all being my fault, delivered in a dead calm voice by Number Two.

What hurt so much was that he was absolutely right. My kids had made me look bad, and they knew that I knew. They had also shown me that debate, in fact, might not be the extracurricular activity they need any more practice in. They are plenty proficient.

Oh the times when my children were not yet debating me into the ground and consented instead to be lined up in personalized bins for the Christmas photo shoot! Come to think of it, perhaps the recent spate in debates about everything is a direct payback for silly photo shoots in their past.

I did indeed get the last words that day. I’m not proud of them. They were, shouted over my back as I was running out of the house: One day I will leave for WEEKS at a time and then you can see how you will get everything done by yourself. See how much FUN that is!

Like I said, I was not proud of them. My mother regularly said similar things to me and my brothers when we were growing up, and if there was one mistake of hers I had vowed I was never going to repeat, it was that one.

But what do you know, maybe it’s not such a big mistake.

I returned that night (from Parent Night at school, I might add, so not anything really fun for me either), and I’ve never encountered such solicitous and helpful children. The dishwasher was emptied for me, someone offered to help me put new sheets on a bed, and somebody else grated cheese for dinner without prompting. I’m tempted to have the last word more often.

Maybe it can be my new Friday night routine.

What was your lowest parenting moment? Do share!

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