home icon

How My Mom Became a Teenager Again

The writer's 78-year-old mother, a retired schoolteacher, has somehow morphed into Britney Spears

By Peter Gerstenzang | August 13, 2012

Six months ago, I moved home to take care of my mother, who was having trouble getting around, cooking and cleaning. Worse, she was being taken hostage by phone operators who force you to take those customer satisfaction surveys.

Anyway, some of her friends were visiting the day I arrived. Naturally I expected to meet The Golden Girls. Instead, I walked in on The Wild Bunch.
 
There were old women smoking, drinking and spraying Cheez Whiz on anything that couldn’t escape. And the music! You don’t know true horror until you’ve seen your mom and her pals belting out "Since U Been Gone." Especially when most of the women are widows!

I managed to shoo away these aged delinquents, but the shock remains: My 78-year-old mom has been transformed somehow from a retired schoolteacher into Britney Spears. Not the sweet, early Britney. The bald, SUV-bashing Britney.

(MORE: Capturing Memories: A Photographer's Images of His Aging Parents)
 
We often hear about our parents getting old and experiencing a "second childhood." But what happens when your mom decides to become a teenager?

It’s brutal.
 
Our first bone of contention was TV. When I was a kid, mom always said I spent too much time in front of the tube. I should go outside, get some fresh air.

Apparently this law, which I once thought was part of the Constitution, was recently abolished by my mother and her pals during a three-hour filibuster fueled by shots of Jose Cuervo. My formerly PBS-viewing mom now watches reality TV all day. Let me tell you, when your proper mother says she can’t wait for the next episode of Big Ang, it feels like you're in an ad for a horror movie: If you start screaming, you’ll never stop!
 
Now that she's decided to become the new incarnation of That's So Raven, getting Mom to watch her diet is a challenge, too. Sure, she eats the healthy things I prepare (fish, veggies), but she has also developed a taste for junk food. Okay, maybe nuts are one of the basic food groups. But my silver-haired mom keeps trying to make the same claim for Bugles and Dunkin Donuts’ Munchkins. In the world of junk food, Teenage Mom has a dangerous new role model— Aqua Teen Hunger Force — which may also explain why she has taken to calling me "Meatwad."
 
Hoping to bring us closer, I thought my mother and I might try playing some of her favorite old games. She humored me. We had a few spirited games of backgammon, hearts, that sort of thing. And, yes, she beat me. But then it got worse. She went and tweeted about it.
 
Actually, it was pretty funny — until one of my mom’s online friends sent me a tweet an hour later: “Dude, I hear you got hosed.” It was unsettling. The guy is 80. And bragged about having his “original teeth.”
 
Mom later spent 90 minutes on a cell phone with a girlfriend (and agreed that the new bag boy at the supermarket was “way cute”). That's when I decided an intervention was necessary. I had to get Mom to act her age. Or at least stop watching Mob Wives.
 
I tried getting my mother’s attention, but she was multitasking. Meaning, she was listening to Kanye and reading Mackenzie Phillips’s memoir.
 
I finally asked her about all this excessive adolescent activity.
 
“I call it fun,” she said, sharply. “You might not know it, but when your dad was alive, he made most of the decisions — including TV. I mean, how much History Channel can anyone take before they start thinking about starting divorce proceedings?”
 
My mom went on to say she's now her own boss and loves it. If that means watching an episode of Big Ang and trying to figure out what sex she is, well, that's her business.
 
I had a stunning epiphany: It's okay that my mom is acting like a teenager. What's not okay is that I am acting like a child.

All these crazy new tastes, the junk food, the demented luaus she's having with her BFFs? They make her happy.

So I apologized. And started to slink away.
 
That's when my mother said she's glad we talked. That we should do something crazy together sometime, to bond. She was going through her meds at that moment, so she jokingly asked me, "Hey, you want to get high together?"
 
Then she handed me a diuretic and smiled. I told her, so far, I wasn’t retaining water.

But if I was? She’d be the very first person I’d come to.

I kissed her cheek and walked out. Britney and I were both laughing.

Hey, it’s a start.

Newsletter
Next Avenue in your Inbox

Each week we'll send you stories, perspective and advice.