My Dear Friend, Denial

As my kids get older, I sometimes find myself in need of an escape, and have refined the use of a coping mechanism of sorts. My indulgence is not unhealthy, addictive or illegal, and I can operate heavy machinery and drive safely while under its influence.

My good friend Denial and I go way back to my early days of parenthood. We enjoy a comfortable relationship in which we can easily pick up where we left off, no matter how long we have been apart.  It is comforting to know my friend is always there to help me cope with everything that parenthood hurls my way.  She asks little in return, and is never disgruntled by her status as stormy-weather friend.

It had been a while since we’d been in touch, but I felt an urgent need to reconnect a few weeks ago when I woke up one morning and found myself…the mother of a twelve-year-old.

I really, really don’t understand how this can be, I told Denial, an excellent listener who never interrupts. I suspect she is my only confidante who doesn’t tire of my over-use of clichés about how quickly time passes.  She is duly sympathetic when I lament that it seems like just yesterday that we brought Nick home from the hospital, totally and utterly dependant on his doting parents.

Now, as our son inches ever closer to his teens, he exerts his independence by making plans and leaving the house on his own, completely out of our protective (not at all controlling) grasp. He forms opinions and makes decisions without our loving guidance (interference), and worse, he is able to logically put forward, and with increasing frequency, even emerge the victor of an argument.

He is showing signs of wanting, and having a life of his own.

My other friends and I commiserate about the challenges as our kids approach adolescence, but nobody provides the level of unwavering sympathy as Denial.

One evening, shortly after what I considered Nick’s milestone birthday I felt the need again to be comforted by my steadfast friend.

We were playing a board game with another couple with a son the same age as Nick and organized into three teams – moms, dads and boys. One team member would use drawings, sculptures or performances as clues to an action, place or well-known person for his or her teammate to guess.

The boys – who had yet to deliver on their promise to kick some parental backside – raked in the points after one particular question.

The answer involved the wrongdoings of a past superstar whom I had assumed the boys hadn’t even heard of. In an effort to elicit the correct response from his teammate, Nick told, in my opinion, an unsavory joke.  The joke, apparently typical for a 12-year-old boy, was completely and quickly understood by Matt who triumphantly blurted out correct answer immediately.

As the boys reveled in their success, the other mom and I yanked our heads out of the sand, and did our best to deal with our dismay. We were surprised to learn our boys even knew of this entertainer, and absolutely shocked that they were aware of and joking about his transgressions.

Incidentally, in the midst of this telling experience that would forever alter the moms’ perception of our pre-teen boys, the dads’ expressions were completely blank…except for the slightly quizzical look each wore as one asked the other whose turn came next.

There was no question: Denial was clearly the only way to manage this realization that our boys were exposed to (but most certainly not participating in, Denial assured me) conversations that their mommies did not approve of.

Like best friends in kindergarten (sigh… I miss my kids’ kindergarten years), Denial and I were becoming inseparable.

My daughter will soon be nine years old. As it occurred to me how close that is to a full decade, my eyes glossed over and I was enveloped by Denial’s calming embrace.

I hear the soothing, encouraging words, “It’s OK. It’s only her first decade, after all.”  But then, “Just think about how many you have logged!”

My husband’s sudden and uninvited involvement served as a rude awaking from my denial daydream. Though he’s kind and compassionate – sometimes in an undesirably practical way – my treasured friendship with Denial, for obvious reasons, only has room for two.

originally published in the Waterloo Region Record