“Maybe We Can’t Be Friends Anymore”

Photo: Ursa Major is expanding his world every day, and that includes the exploration of the relationships in his life. He relationship with me is, currently, a bit mercurial. We are both getting used to his assertiveness, independence, and abilities to reason, articulate and perform. That being said, he has a lot of growing to do, and so do I.

Ursa Major is a somebody with very big ideas in his head, and one of them is that he and I are “friends.”

I think that this is adorable, because I understand that “friendship” is not an element of the mother-son relationship by any means. I did not create him because I needed a “friend.” I do not care for him because I desire his friendship. He is a child who I love and care for, and over whom I lord over with great unyielding power.

Ursa Major has taken to becoming angry with me over the most trivial things. Yesterday, it was over his being able to take off his own coat. We’d just come in the house and I was commanded to make peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches by both of the little bears, and so I asked Ursa Major (who was already in the living room) to take off his own jacket and hand it to me.

“Maybe you better take it off  for me,” he came to the kitchen to say.

That’s another thing that Ursa Major has been saying lately. “You better,” seems to come before anything that should otherwise be a request. In response to this, I often pull out my father’s old line, “the only thing I’d ‘better’ do is be Black, pay my taxes and die.”

He doesn’t really understand that line. He either ignores it or looks at me quizzically before repeating his directive.

“[Ursa Major], sir, I know that you know how to take off your own coat. Please do so while I make your lunch.”

NO!” The child screams at the top of his lungs. “I said that YOU do it!

Well, of course, now I’m not doing anything.

“Little sir, please take off your jacket so that I can complete these sandwiches.”

NO! NO! NO!” He screams at intervals.

I lift up my hand and point toward the entryway to the living room. “You can go ahead and go upstairs until you are cooled down and ready to communicate with me.”

“Maybe I’ll just go upstairs and be cool!” He yells at me. “Because I’m mad! I’m just mad, Mommy!”

“Cool, bro, be mad,” I shrug without looking at him.

“Maybe we can’t be friends anymore! I’m just mad!”

“We were never friends, child. Never friends.”

Now, I understand that “friend” to Ursa Major is really more a signal of endearing connection than it is anything else. It’s his way of saying “I like you” or even “I love you” and denoting that there is a connection between the two of us that he values. He understands that I’m “mommy” and that there is no other woman in the world who gets that title, and it’s special, but it’s not like “friend” because friend is something that he gets to choose. Toddlerhood is about choice and when he calls me his friend, it really means that he chooses to like me, not just love me.

And that’s cool. I’m smart enough to be down with that. But I’m not a mother who is a friend. I’m a mother who is a mother, and I know that he won’t understand or appreciate that for a very, very long time.

What is really most interesting about this use of language is that it shows that he is thinking about his words and considering weapons. “Maybe we can’t be friends anymore” is a weapon against me, a thing that is meant to hurt me and make me reconsider my actions. My son is trying to discipline me, or at least hurt my feelings. I think that is a fascinating thing. “I value this relationship, and I think you do too, so if I sever it, you’ll feel bad and change your course.” Heh.

Unfortunately for him, such tactics simply do not work.

And so I send his little butt up the stairs and let him cool off. About 4 minutes later, not only was he back downstairs but he also had his coat off. “Would you like to hand it to me so that I can put it in the closet?”

“No, I’ll do it myself.”

So he goes into the dining room, opens up the closet door, and jumps to try to get a hanger so that he can hang up his own coat. Not able to reach one, he first becomes frustrated, pouts for a second, finds a hook to the side of the closet that is his level, hooks on the jacket and walks away. Only I see that the jacket didn’t really stay on target and promptly fell to the floor.

My son is certainly the tyrant that I named him for, but his assertion for independence is admirable and I’m really doing my best to allow him to have it. As soon as he was able to get away from me, Ursa Major has been looking for ways to navigate the world with as little of my interference as possible. It is frustrating to deal with the blow-ups that come out of nowhere, and seeing his command of language and context means that there will be more hateful and hurtful words in my future, most likely. It took me a while to figure out that the words that I say can be mighty powerful indeed, and Ursa Major will be no different. If I can concentrate on cultivating his understanding of relationships and words, he will be a formidable and powerful young man.

But until then, he is my little tyrant and he is leaving me exhausted.

And we’ll never be friends. Even when he impresses the hell out of me. Because that’s not what either of us were put on the planet to be.

There is a stereotype that I’m sorta feeding into here, and I recognize that. A lot of Black parents say “I’m not trying to be my child’s friend” or criticize other people’s parenting by saying “if you were less of a friend and more of a parent…” before saying something right or wrong about another person’s parenting style. I suppose that there may be a benefit to feeling like your parents are your “friends” when you are a child, but I can certainly say that I never had that experience. Hell, I barely have that experience now, and when I do, it’s weird. That isn’t to say that my relationships with my parents aren’t warm and loving, it is just to say that I understand that there are still very strict boundaries to what our relationships are, even if they have evolved as I’ve aged and gone out into the world. And that’s a good thing: There is stability in my adulthood because I know that if I need them, they will be there for me, and that should I make decisions that firmly go against the values that they instilled in me, I’ll most certainly earn their wrath.

And there have been times when I’ve actively made a choice that has called down their wrath in some fashion. I endured or resisted. That’s the difference between adulthood and childhood.

Ursa Major hasn’t quite realized it, but he can’t do either of those things. When you depend on the dictatorship, you do as the dictator commands. I guess I don’t apologize for being a dictator: My sole duty in this life is to bring him into adulthood as a competent, confident, well-rounded gentlemen and scholar. No easy task and no low bar. No time to muddy this up with feelings of friendship.

Meanwhile, Ursa Minor has taken to screaming fits and demands to be on my lap again. I’m like, bro, you’re almost 2 now, we need to get it together. I love snuggling with him, and those times snuggling with him and kissing his little cheeks are really special (and I know that these days are numbered), but they can sometimes be disruptive to the day and they make Ursa Major really jealous. Ursa Major then demands to be in my lap, too, and he wants kisses too, and he wants to jump and wiggle while Ursa Minor is really just content to sit and be warm. It’s hard to juggle the both of them, and what’s worse, it makes me feel bad to know that Ursa Major feels like he’s getting less of my affection that his brother gets. To be fair, it is partially his own fault: Ursa Major has never been one for snuggling, likes to receive hugs and kisses but rarely demands them, and when he does stop to get those things (which I’m happy to give) he is rarely content for very long. I’m not one for big-body play–I don’t like it when he jumps on me or hits me, or swings that big arms and legs around and starts smacking me.. Ursa Minor is sorta the perfect snuggle buddy, you know?

I really wanted to write about this new Ban Bossy campaign that I keep seeing show up on my Facebook newsfeed. I don’t know what it is about Goodwoman Sandberg that turns me from a optimistic east coast liberal millennial to a hyper-conservative midwestern 68 year-old shrew, but that woman just seems to bring the worst out of me. I decided that I just can’t give her the energy today, and I reserve Friday for calm and profound thoughts… and there is nothing interesting or profound about her newest campaign to sell more books and interject herself into our homes, our families, our narratives or how we choose to raise our daughters (and sons). So I’ll just let it go.

See you Friday for Quiet Thoughts.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. maryhelenc says:

    It’s not just something for black parents; it’s all parents. I’m parenting a tween girl & finding the balance between “mom you can talk to” & “dropping the hammer mom” sucks. But I need to stress that I’m MOM. I’m a jerk; I ground you. I ruin your fun because I know that isn’t good for you. Her friend’s parents say I’m too strict & I just think “you’re not their friend, you’re a parent!” It’s a never ending struggle, but I think you’ve got it right. Great post, as always.

  2. I have a little tyrant in my house too. Oh man does it test my patience every single day. It’s hard. And, I agree with you on the friends thing. That’s not the point of my relationship with them. At all. I see so many parents falling into that trap. And, the bossy thing? STUPID. Good for you for dropping it and not giving it any more attention. 🙂

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