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Boundaries, Empty Threats and Teenagers

This morning my eldest daughter learned a lesson about punctuality and I learned about setting boundaries. Raising kids is not for the faint of heart.

It was the first morning back to school after a two-week holiday. Snow was falling in clumps even though it’s mid-April, and my husband and I had no more shits to give when it came to our daughter being late to leave for school… again.

Because I’m a nice mom (or a sucker), I woke my kids up at 7:30 AM – I know how important sleep is to a growing child, and I want them to get as much as possible. My youngest usually wakes up quickly, while waking my oldest resembles the raising of the dead.

“What would you like for breakfast?” I asked. The response is usually the same, a bagel, but sometimes waffles or French toast are requested, so I like to make sure. “Okay, I’ll go make breakfast. It’s time to get up and get dressed.”

Fifteen minutes later, when breakfast is fresh and hot, one child appeared. This child looked groggy but was dressed in her eclectic style and began to eat her morning meal without a peep. The other was still in bed, waiting for me to wake her up again. I am her snooze button alarm.

“Hey, it’s time to get up,” I shouted up the stairs, “Your breakfast is ready.” I was met with silence. It was 7:45 AM, and the countdown to leaving the house had ticked down to 35 minutes. I continued my morning routine, filling thermoses and cleaning up the kitchen dishes. I made another cup of coffee and waited. After another ten minutes and no sign of my daughter, I was at the beginning stages of losing my shit. I yell, “Get up. Now!”

At 8 AM, I noticed my eldest daughter had finally made her way downstairs but was lying on the couch sewing a hole in a cloth bag. What a great use of time when you have to leave the house in 20 minutes, I thought. “Ugh, hello? Are you going to eat?” I inquired. “You’ve gotta leave soon. Tick. Tock.”

The concept of time doesn’t faze this child. She ate her food slowly while petting the dogs, went to the toilet at least three times, and was caught looking at her phone before I shooed her up the stairs to get dressed. “Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”

I walked past her bedroom at 8:15 AM, and I could see that she was still in her pajamas. You have got to be kidding me. I took a deep breath and walk into her room. “Your dad is leaving in five minutes.” I passed my husband in the hallway, and I knew he could see the frustration in my expression.

He was just finishing up getting ready for the day and popped his head into her room before he headed down the stairs and says, “We gotta get going.”

“Stop yelling at me. I’m getting ready,” she responded with a sassy, know-it-all teenager tone.

All I could do was walk away because this has been the scene each morning for the past 11 years. I knew exactly how it is going to play out. There will be continued yelling by me from downstairs and my daughter will howl back until a door slams shut. Everyone will be sitting in the car waiting on her, or the school bus will sit idling in the driveway until she runs out with one shoe on and the other one in her hand before she has to run back in because she forgot her lunch. I was so over this rerun of life.

8:20 AM rolled around, and there was no sign of her.

“She always makes me late for school,” I heard my youngest groan. She’s was wearing her coat and holding her backpack.

“If she can’t be on time, she can get herself to school,” my husband declared. “Let’s go.”

This has always been an empty threat – get yourself to school. Until recently, getting yourself to school wasn’t an option. Living in Mexico City and Johannesburg as a young child didn’t offer any possible safe passages to and from school, but that’s not the case in Switzerland. Each morning we see teeny tiny kids no more than five years old walking themselves to school with their orange safety vests. If they can get their butts to school, so can my 14-year-old sloth child.

She finally bounded down the stairs at 8:25 AM, still without her shoes on or her school bag packed. “Where’s Dad?”

“He left five minutes ago,” I told her. “You’ll need to get yourself to school.” I felt twinges of guilt in my gut but knew I was doing the right thing. I braced for the wrath that awaited me.

Immediately the tears began to fall. “That’s so unfair,” bawled my teenage girl. She was grabbing her things and forcefully shoving them into her school bag. “Why can’t you just take me to school?”

“Because one of your parents already drove to school this morning. You missed your chance when you chose to be late.” I didn’t speak with an attitude but with a calm voice. I couldn’t tell if she was mad or in a state of shock, but either way I thought I had finally gotten her attention.

I looked at the time once more and saw that it was 8:29 AM. She will miss the next bus at our stop, and not only will she miss homeroom, but the beginning of her first block. “I will drive you to the train station.” I grabbed my keys and put on my coat. Instead of heading out the front door, she walked into the bathroom for one last pit stop. I shook my head and laughed.

The car ride to the train station was quiet, and I secretly believed she thought I would drive her to school. I entered the round-a-bout and took the first exit, solidifying her destiny of getting herself to school. I pulled up in front of the station and placed the car in park. She began frantically gathering up her things like she was surprised to have arrived at her destination. She opened the door and got out. I said, “I love you. Have a good day,” and she looked at me like I had three heads before slamming the door.

As I drove home, I felt a sense of liberation and pride. I couldn’t believe I finally went through with that empty promise. It felt amazing. I didn’t know I had it in me.

I really don’t like to yell (and I know my family doesn’t like it either), so if it takes me having the guts to let the natural consequences of life play out – so be it. I love my kids more than life itself, but I don’t think I should be teaching them it’s okay to be disrespectful to me, themselves or anybody else. One day they’ll understand.

Sure, I felt bad that she had to stand in the cold and snow, but maybe she’ll start getting her ass out of bed in order to be ready to leave on time. If not, well, I guess she can get herself to school.

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