Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Peanut Butter Fights

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So, here’s the thing–

I’m having one of those days when I should probably give up and go back to bed.  I got up late, later than I like to.  Then I came in and turned on my electric kettle and set up for tea. 

That would normally have been fine, but this morning there was a glitch.  I fill the tea kettle at night before I go to bed, and my sons usually check it before they go to bed, because we have all come to accept a simple truth:  when I first get up in the morning, I’m “up” only in the sense that vertical is the up of horizontal.  I’m not actually awake.

This means, among other things, that I do not see too well, and that I have several times looked at the water gauge on the electric kettle, thought there was water in it, turned it on, opened the top (so that it will boil longer) and proceeded to kill it.

Well, you know, here we are.  Except that I don’t seem to have killed it this time, so there will be no need to go chasing out somewhere this morning to buy a new one.

But still.

I’m pretty sure that the reason this snafu happened was that yesterday, Greg and I had one of those screaming matches that occur with adolescents for no reason except that the adolescent wants to fit with his parents now.  I know about that, because I can remember staging quite a few of them myself at Greg’s age.

I was, I admit, always careful to stage them with my mother, because my father could outargue me on any point at all until I was about thirty.  And he also had a tendency just to walk out on things and to get the kind of angry that made me wonder if he’d be angry with me forever.

My guess is that I’m incapable of getting that kind of angry–or that Greg is just so secure in the fact that I’m going to love him forever, he doesn’t care what I sound like.  At any rate, he can stage a nuclear-level hissy on any subject at all.

Last night, the nuclear level hissy concerned whether I was going to cook curry or something called whooshkapfeffer for dinner.

Whooshkapferrer is something completely unoriginal that I invented one night when the boys were small and Bill had just died.  I’d had one of those days when I didn’t want to cook anything elaborate, and I was still paying of medical bills, so I didn’t want to get delivery.  I looked around in the house and came up with hamburger, elbow macaroni, onions and Parmesan cheese. 

That would have been that, but Greg was about two, and he kept insisting that the thing had to have a name, and I came up with “whooshkapfeffer” because I thought it would make him laugh.  It did, everybody was happy, and a few years later we switched to Cheddar because we all liked that better.

Yesterday, when I suggested making whooshkapfeffer for dinner, Greg wanted to know if I could make curry instead.  I like curry a lot, but not the way Greg likes it, so I’d have preferred the whooskapfeffer.  So I told him that, he argued a little for curry, I said what the hell, I didn’t really care. 

And at that point, everything was all right until about half an hour before I should have started cooking..

That was when Greg asked me what I really wanted for dinner, and I said, not really thinking about it, that I’d prefer the whooshkapfeffer, because I liked it better, but I didn’t really care, so I’d make the curry.

At which point all hell broke loose, and the kid yelled at me for forty-five minutes straight about how he hated it when I lied to him, I really did care, I wanted the whooskapfeffer, why didn’t I say so,  and on and on and on and on and on.

Bill used to call this kind of thing a “peanut butter fight,” as in:

Two people have been in a relationship for a long time.  They love each other.  They’re committed to each other.  But lately, a lot of things have been going wrong, and both of them are increasingly unhappy and angry.  But they don’t  want to say anything, because they’re afraid if they start talking they’ll end up having the fight that ends their union.

So, one day, they go to the grocery store–and end up having a screaming fight in the peanut butter aisle about whether to buy smooth or chunky.

Anyway, like I said, I remember having these kinds of fights with my mother.  To use the term a few of you supplied me with a couple of days ago, what they’re really about is achieving escape velocity.  There just comes a point in adolescence when you feel ready to get up and go before you’re actually able to get up and go.  There’s also a point where you get scared you’ll never get up and go.

I’ll admit, though, that the entire idea of escape velocity from the family has started to insterest me.  We tend to think, as modern parents, that something is wrong if the kid doesn’t go out and get an apartment of his own.  And kids themselves tend to define each other as “losers” quite handily by explaining that that guy, no matter what kind of job he has, “still lives in his mother’s basement.”

But the wisdom of that isn’t really all that clear if you look at the situation historically–in other words, outside the twentieth and post-twentieth century West, and even inside certain parts of it, the assumption was that children stayed with their parents until they were married.  Even male children stayed, and they stayed even if they were forty.

You still get quite a lot of that, even now, in Italy and Greece. 

Now, I’m not anxious to keep the boys at home.  They both have colleges they want to go to and careers they want to make for themselves and doing those things will definitely require leaving.

It still seems to me to be odd that the prejudice is so strong.  I know a student at my place–not one of mine, unfortunately–who has launched, incoroporated, gotten all the state-sales tax stuff, etc, two Internet businesses, which are doing well.  I know another who’s been freelancing as a video designer for three years and making more than he’d make if he got his degree and got a straight middle management job.

Both of them are launching lives, living with their parents makes that more possible than it would have been if they’d struggled on their own–but they, and their parents apparently, both feel that there’s something wrong since they’re still at home. 

I just found out when Matt will be coming home.

I think I’ll go listen to some music–jazz this morning, I’m not sure why.  But Thelonious Monk plays the only piano I really like to hear.

Written by janeh

May 16th, 2010 at 8:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Peanut Butter Fights'

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  1. When Daniel was between 12 and 16, I had several periods when I felt like I was “done” with parenthood. I’m finished, when is this kid leaving?? My husband & I got even more impatient as his daughter and my son got through high school and then diddled around in community college doing not much of anything. They spent time in their rooms, did minimal chores, didn’t seem interested in either getting a job or going to school. For a while it was an endless treadmill of non-progress.

    So we started upping the ante a bit. Anyone not actively in school (as in summers & holidays) or working at a job worked around the house, doing maintenance and renovation, in addition to normal (unpaid) chores. We paid them for the work, but we also made sure that they weren’t just sitting in front of the computer 24/7. And we got quite a bit of work out of them, too.

    Then John’s daughter decided she was going to move to NC to live with her mother, mostly because mom won’t demand she do a lick of work or go to school or anything. Ever. Okay. She’s 22, not our problem any more. We tried. She is (and was when she left) still completely immature, in that mode of behaving where you just want to kick them for their stupid choices.

    My son is 23, and now enrolled full-time in a program that will get him a good job when he’s done, doing aircraft engine & airframe repair/maintenance work. Getting top grades, too. He does a few chores, but obviously school is a priority. He’s matured so much that living with him isn’t the constant friction it used to be. He’s out enough that we feel we have the time to ourselves we need, and having him around has become more pleasant than otherwise. He’s a good guy, funny as hell, and becoming that kind of friend that only your grown child can be.

    Having him around has become more of a positive for me, anyway, than having him gone. I no longer feel the urgency for him to leave that I did. I don’t want him to wait until he’s 35 to start his own life, obviously, but if he’s here a couple more years, fine.

    Perhaps kids just don’t get to that “pleasant to live with, mature and helpful” stage as soon as they used to. Living with a teenager for 20+ (ages 12-35) years is no fun. I’m now living with another adult, and it’s not so bad. He did the teenage thing for a reasonable time, now that’s past. The change in roles and attitude makes his continued residence tolerable, even preferable.

    Of course, a lot of parents today seem to concentrate on “raising children.” I realized from the start that I was raising an adult.


    16 May 10 at 12:35 pm

  2. Jan and I count our blessings daily that we managed to get our two boys through the troublesome ages, and through high school and university, without any great drama. When we see some of the problems some of our friends, and others in our extended families, have had with their adolescent and young adult children, we feel as if we won a very rich lottery.

    I must admit, however, that we were relieved when these relative paragons decided to leave the nest by their mid-twenties. For a while there it looked as if we’d have three families living in the house. Absence certainly does make the heart grow fonder, and even fonder still when there are thousands of miles rather than as many yards separating progeny from their parents. :-)


    17 May 10 at 6:03 am

  3. Because of a combination of a shorter school program than average, being put ahead, my small hometown and both my and my parents’ determination that I would get SOME kind of post-secondary education (preferably something that would lead to me becoming self-supporting quickly), I left home at 15, and although I went back for holidays for a while and I think two summers when I had jobs back home, I never lived with my parents again. They supported me financially for most if not all of the first two years and (I think) part of the third. I think things have worked out for me well enough. However, my mother for years was absolutely convinced that anything I did that either she didn’t like or that even I had to admit didn’t work out well happened because I left home so early. My next sister did about the same; by the time the two youngest were old enough, the family had moved to a bigger city, and they both stayed at home during their undergraduate years. I don’t remember any of us kids (well, at least not me, but I hardly had time!) going in for peanut butter fights.

    I don’t really have anything against adult children living at home as long as they contribute, either in cash or work or both. In my mother’s … I guess ‘culture’, although I live in the same one and boy, has it changed! … adult children always gave part of their pay to their parents; definitely if they were living at home and if needed, after they left. Even when I was a teenager, I knew someone my own age who was fighting tooth and nail to stay in university under family pressure to drop out, get a job, and start paying into the family kitty. That’s going too far, but I like the general principle that if you’re living at home, you contribute.

    That’s not what I see among a minority of the now-adult children of people of my generation, some of whom stay at home for decades after they come of age at 19, not only failing to contribute in any way, but demanding as of right money, expensive food, maid service and nice toys.

    I sometimes suspect that adolescence is an invented concept, and that temper tantrums and prolonged childish irresponsibility are more an artifact of our culture than of anything physiological. OTOH, I am absolutely certain that merely sharing genes does not mean that you won’t get along with some of your loved ones a LOT better if they’re a long distance away, or at the very least, under another roof most of the time. My grandmother had no time for the traditional practice of having a young bride move into the family home with her new husband and in-laws – a system whose demise was much lamented by my grandfather – because she said such arrangements never worked out and the daughter-in-law was always bullied. I could never imagine my gentle grandmother bullying anyone, but I certainly can imagine enormous potential for family rows!


    17 May 10 at 7:00 am

  4. Cheryl, my Dad left home at about the same age you did, though for slightly different reasons. Still, it doesn’t appear to have harmed him.

    Your comment about adolescence is interesting. I’ve often wondered myself – there are loads of experts going on about how boys’ brains aren’t fully mature until they’re 25 (!) and trying to provide a clinical reality for the concept of adolescence, but then I think about the fact that adolescence was essentially nonexistent until, what, the middle of the 20th century? People were often supporting themselves at very young ages, and some still do.


    17 May 10 at 10:30 am

  5. Well, but they didn’t have to make big choices or anything before they were 25. I mean, you knew what you were going to do for a living, and someone picked a spouse for you, and you just went on with life. Or you went into an army where aggression and impulsivity was OK and channeled by older men. It’s only been recently that we’ve had kids making major life decisions on their own as a matter of course….



    18 May 10 at 5:07 pm

  6. Do many kids today make big choices? They go to a job or educational program pretty much like their friends and relatives do; they might have more choice in their spouses or equivalent, but on the other hand, matching up with someone today isn’t nearly as important an action as marrying someone – even your parents’ choice – was in the past. It’s more temporary, for one thing, and less likely to unexpectedly result in children who need supporting or to require enough money to support at least a couple before getting started. From that point of view, the earlier youngsters made the bigger decisions. From the point of view of emotional fallout from unhappy relationships…well, I don’t know. Some people say if you have more, you get better at managing them.

    Back then, maybe your parents would apprentice you to a bootmaker or a dressmaker, and probably they’d give some thought to your preferences, skills, and whether they could afford the fee. Now, your parents encourage you to get a job or attend a university, and they also consider what you’d be best at and what they could afford. In both cases, the child would have some input, but rarely the final say.

    And I wonder if for every child who ran away to the big city to go on the stage in the past there’s one today who runs off to Hollywood, abandoning student loans rather than the deposit paid for an apprenticeship.


    18 May 10 at 7:19 pm

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