teenager illostration

He’s 14, He’s Feral And He’s Mine

Deborah Cooke compares the terrible twos with the unwitting feral 14s

A lot has been written about the ‘terrible twos’, when your adorable gurgling cherub suddenly morphs into a bewildering admix of Norman Bates from Psycho, that nice girl from The Exorcist and Kim Kardashian (without the hair).

There’s not a parent in the world who hasn’t stood by apologetically grinning at strangers, while their two year old throws a massive wobbly in the pet-food aisle of the supermarket. Or tried to assuage the shoulder-shaking hysterics of a toddler who has been interrupted during a climactic moment in Play School. (Will the window be round? Square?) But very little has been mentioned about the stage that, as the mother of an adolescent son, I now find myself flailing helplessly about in: the feral 14s.

Just as the terrible twos have an associated arsenal of T words (tantrums, throwing of the torso, tsunamis of tears, etc), so too the feral 14s are defined by a surplus of F words, including fetidness, fury, fecklessness, frustration, fur (as in the sprouting of) and farting. A lot of farting.

I’m not exactly sure how my intelligent, worldly, affable firstborn (let’s call him Jake) became a hairy-legged, odorous, large-footed, Linkin Park-loving, grunting, do-not-touch-me-and-please-don’t-walk-around-the-house-in-your-bra, grumpy semi-adult, whose Adam’s apple is now in line with the top of my hair. Nobody prepared me for it.

Older and wiser friends have taken me aside in the past to deliver talks on diverse topics, such as ‘Delivering what feels like a watermelon’ and ‘Chocolate as an excellent substitute for all the major five food groups’. But not once did anyone mention, ‘At or around the age of 14, the little boy who adored the ground you walked on will not want a bar of you for at least three years’. Or the therapy-inducing, ‘He will begin masturbating at scarily frequent intervals and there will be mountains of tissues scattered about his room, which you will wordlessly collect and dispose of’. Eerrggggh.

Perhaps if I’d been armed with more knowledge about the general grumpiness and get-out-of-my-face attitude associated with the feral 14s, I would have spent most of last year – during the twixt-and-tween 13s – enjoying the final remnants of my son’s boyhood. I appreciate Jake is helplessly under the thrall of mighty testosterone, a hormone that has almost been responsible for more human tragedy than religion.

As his chirpy testicles continue to churn out tubfuls of the stuff daily, Jake gets (a) taller (b) grumpier (c) more fixated with Megan Fox’s breasts (d) pimplier (e) less able to use his words, and (f) extremely easily pissed off, especially towards the person who once carried him in her womb.

I can almost accept all those things (except the nasty repercussions of the first, particularly being patronisingly patted on the head from somewhere in the ozone layer), but it’s the last one I find most challenging. They say it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open with your teenagers: to talk about feelings and issues, and be open about sexuality. But when your son is only fluent in Grunt, it’s almost impossible. For a mother used to talking about everything with her kids, it’s an awfully dull one-way conversation.

I still catch the occasional glimpse of my real son and not this smelly impostor who wears the same pair of boxers for weeks on end. For example, when Jake really wants something – like tickets to see Manchester United in Sydney, a lift to a mass Xbox FIFA love-in, or plate loads of chicken schnitzel – he can turn it on like a charm.

When ensconced in his darkened, my-door-is-always-closed room in Facebook/Skype /iPhone Land, he is the life of the party. Oh, the howls of laughter and witty repartee. I could tell you that I sometimes stand perfectly still outside his room and listen, feeling simultaneously overjoyed that he really is still my gorgeous boy and unreasonably furious that he can be nice to his friends but not to me, but that would make me sound weird.

Suffice to say I’m learning hard and fast, and trying to take nothing personally. Just as I survived the terrible twos with only a few permanent teeth marks to the shoulder, I trust I’ll make it through the feral 14s with nothing more than a hairline-fracture to my heart, freezer overloaded with chicken schnitzel and an aversion to crumpled tissues.

Illustration: Shane McGowan