As I was parking my car in my work parking lot this morning, my phone started ringing. My phone never rings. People don't usually call me. Not unless someone died or there's an emergency. And even then, why would anyone call me if they had an emergency? I'm no one's first call. Call 9-1-1, or your mom. What am I going to do in the case of an emergency?
Probably blog about it, chaz.
This is true.
So I answer my phone because I see it is my cousin, Jan. She's one of my closest cousins. She, like most mothers of three, usually has her hands full but never complains about it. She's an awesome mom, unlike some of my other cousins who just let their children do whatever they want, even if it means playing in traffic or committing a crime. Jan asks if I'm busy, if I have time to talk, etc. Then she hits me with the lead-in:
"You were basically a freak when you were a teenager, right?"
"Um... yeah? What do you mean?"
"You died your hair crazy colors and painted your nails and did other, um... untraditional things, right?"
"Oh yeah. Of course. Why do you ask?"
So she goes into the fact that her oldest child, a freshman in high school, wants to paint his fingernails black. He's deep into Anime and metal music and comic books. He doesn't try very hard in school. His hair is in his eyes. Basically, he's a typical teenager. He's not a jock. The only running around he does is in the video games he plays. The friends he's gotten close with since getting to high school are very similar to him: Artistic, emotional, ghosts. The only time anyone notices his friends and him is when they're doing something wrong. They keep to themselves.
And Jan is fine with that. She tells her son to invite his friends over to the house. She makes them dinner. She stays out of their way, but still keeps an eye on them. She knows his friends have had a rough life. She knows her son has had a rough life. But that's no reason to not have a decent meal or to hang out some where other than under the overpass. Her son reminds me a lot of myself when I was his age. Which is probably the reason she called me.
She had a huge fight with him last night about the black nail polish. She refused it. He threw stuff (probably). Or he shut down (more likely). He ignored her the rest of the day. He didn't talk to her the next morning. He went to school without saying one word to anyone in his house. So she called her mom, who really wasn't any help because she spoils her grandkids. Then she called me.
"What should I do?"
I was hesitant to give her advice for a couple reasons: (a) I feel for this kid. I understand where he is in life. (b) I am not a parent and I don't know what it feels like to have children. But she asked for my advice, so I gave it.
He's a kid. Let him be a kid. This phase will wear off after a while and he'll want to do something else. Hopefully it's something equally harmless. She doesn't like it. She's afraid kids are going to make fun of him or tease him more than they possibly already do. She's afraid he's "going down the wrong path." She's afraid she's losing him. But she's not losing him. At least he's still under her roof. He hasn't tried to run away or anything. Deep down he's a great kid, but he's 14 years old. He's all messed up inside. He doesn't know who he is. He's not a kid anymore, but he's not an adult yet either. He thinks the entire world is against him. He thinks everything is about him. He thinks everyone is looking at him and talking about him.
In other words, he's a typical teenager.
Her compromise was that he could paint his nails on the weekends. But he had to buy his own nail polish and his own cotton balls and his own polish remover. The only restrictions were that he couldn't wear it to school or to a family function. I know she's afraid her son will embarrass her. Some people see someone with nail polish on and they assume they are either a girl or want to be a girl. Especially my close-minded family. They'd start asking her when her son turned into a "fag." I'm sure my mom had to deal with equally bigoted and short-sighted comments about me. But if Jan tells her son that the black fingernails would embarrass her, it'll just add fuel to the fire.
I told her to tell him if he wanted to paint his nails he had to wear a suit and tie instead his usual clothes. That was a joke, but really, if he's committed to the black fingernails, a suit and tie shouldn't get in his way. But then maybe he and his buddies would all start wearing suits and black nail polish and they'd look like Green Day.
And no one wants that.