Pushing My (Calculator) Buttons

Last week, I asked my 20-year-old son, Ethan, to try and find the graphing calculator we bought him when he took high school trigonometry four years ago. His younger sister has the same class this year and I was hoping to avoid shelling out $100 again for a new one. After Ethan completed his general ed math requirements a year or two ago, he hoped to be done with factoring and functions for the rest of his life, so I was sure the graphing calculator was languishing in the bottom of an old backpack someplace in his room.

But I wasn’t about to go into his room and look for it myself. I avoid going in his room on principal; I want to be respectful of his space and unless I want to precipitate his moving out”¦which I don’t”¦I had better not start rummaging around in his room. Plus being on the compulsive side of the neatnik scale, the post-tornado look of his room makes me a little crazy so I’m better off averting my eyes as I walk past it ““ not that his sister’s room across the hall looks any better.

So a day later, I checked in with Ethan about the whereabouts of the calculator. He said he couldn’t find it. “Did you look?” I asked, since a quick glance around the room showed that the patchwork of clothes, papers and textbooks covering the floor was in the same arrangement that they had been in for days. And the dust on the shelves above his computer covering the knickknacks, manuals, and game boxes was obviously undisturbed and still in a nice smooth layer.

“Yes, I looked, but I must have lost it,” was his reply. And he headed out the door to go to work.

Now what should I do. I really didn’t buy this answer because he’s always been very responsible about his stuff. He never lost his retainer, cell phone, or car keys so I doubted that he had lost it. The more likely explanation was that his search for the calculator was more cursory than intensive.

I was sure that with a pick axe and a shovel, that I could unearth the calculator from the strata of class schedules, receipts, pay stubs, college brochures, and notebooks that had been building up on the floor of his room since he started going to junior college two years ago.

But I knew that would not be the best plan of action. After all, he is an adult now and I didn’t want his last memory of living at home to be that of his mom using our German Shepherd to sniff out a calculator so I was prepared to drop the whole issue. I was just about to start my search on eBay for used graphing calculators when I filled Steve in on the situation. Steve went into Ethan’s room and about ten seconds later, emerged with the calculator in hand. He found it under the hand-me-down love seat that lives in Ethan’s room.

So when Ethan came home that day, of course we shared the good news that what was once lost, was now found. “What, you’re going in my room now?” was his response. But what else could he say, he knew he hadn’t looked for it very thoroughly.

As Steve explained to him, if we didn’t make the effort to find it, when he moves out in a year or so from now, we’re not going to be very happy that we’ve spent another $100 on a new calculator only to find his under the loveseat. “And no matter how smart you are, when your lack of organization starts costing you ““ or your parents ““ money, it’s time to start taking responsibility for organizing your life. And by the way, where is the copy of that scholarship application form? You’re going to need some proof you sent it in, if you want to have any hope of getting the funds.”

The issue of how much control we can exert over an adult child is pretty confusing. Yes, he’s of legal age, but he’s still in our house and it is obvious to us, that he still needs guidance in certain areas of his life. It was much clearer when he was younger and I could use my maternal authority to insist that he do things a certain way.

However, my insistence at a tidy room then is probably coming back to bite me now. I don’t think he consciously thinks, “I’m going to make my anal retentive parents crazy by purposefully keeping my room in a state of chaos,” but nonetheless, I’m sure he’s getting some enjoyment out of knowing he can push my buttons.

I’ve heard parents say that they just close the door of their teenage kids’ rooms and ignore the mess that’s inside. His landlord can do that when he moves away from home, right now, I’m still his mom.



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