A mom-vs.-son battle breaks out over the fate of a pair of pants

I'm gazing out the window at the little childrenlings marching in place at the bus stop in an attempt to keep the gnats and other biting things from getting hold. It's the first day of school, and though I'd like to say the kids look cute and enthusiastic, the truth is they look anything but.

The male teenagers particularly look thoroughly miserable--shoulders slumped, pants hanging so low around their bums that the only things holding them up are the knobs of their weenies. Interesting fashion statement. Or not. It seems that forever--or a least since I was in school, which is close enough to the same thing--the sole purpose of the way young men wear their pants has been to constrict unanticipated and unwelcome erections. I don't know if it works.

I had a discussion with my own teenage male yesterday on the very subject of pants. Not only does he wear them so low around his hips that old ladies get the vapors and pass out when they see him; he's taken to cutting the knees and ass out, then sort of cauterizing the edges to get the holes just right. Technically, he's not revealing much--the boxers selected to accent this look are as much a part of the impact as the pants themselves--but it's the suggestion, the slightly unsettling nervousness created in the audience, born of the fear that this kid's clothes are about to come completely apart, revealing everything.

The headshrinkers who advise us these days on the topic of navigating our sons and daughters through the treacherous seas of adolescence tell us we must choose our battles. This means, I suppose, that the wisest course of action is to save our energy for the big onslaughts: black-tar heroin and crystal meth, STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Then there's illiteracy, potheadedness and the chronic illusion that high-speed Internet access, electricity, cable TV and laundry service are birthrights as Americans and always and forever free. Superficial stuff, like style choices, should be left up to them, since they should be allowed to express themselves.

Like hell.

I was on the bed, reading a book. I do a lot of that since getting injured, and he was skulking by the bedroom. Teenagers are world-class skulkers.

"You ready to go school shopping?" We had it all planned for Sunday: clothes, school supplies and a few things for his room. He's been remodeling, and it needed some finishing touches.

"Yeah." This, barely audibly, as if I'd asked him whether he was ready to eat brussels sprouts.

"Right. Where do you want to go?"

"I dunno." Skulk skulk.

"One thing," I say, and this is what he's been dreading. "I'm not spending $40 on a pair of jeans to let you cut the ass and knees out."

"What!? They're my pants."

"Bought with my money," I say.

"But Mom! Shit." When in doubt, use profanity. He's a chip off the old mom block.

"There are millions of people in the world who don't even have any pants, legions of miserable Chinese workers spending 15-hour days sewing the goddamned things. I'm not having you cut the ass out."

"I don't tell you how to wear your clothes!" Teenagers are really into playing the my stuff, your stuff, watch-my-boundaries card. I blame this on the headshrinkers, too: You're supposed to let kids individualize. Of course, the headshrinkers never tell you what you're supposed to do 20 years later when they hate you for letting them mutilate their earlobes with humongous plugs back when it was the style in 2005, or not stopping them from getting dopey looking barbed-wire tattoos, or--if they're girls--butterflies above their ass cracks. "She was my mother!" They'll be telling the $500-an-hour shrink. "She was supposed to stop me from being an idiot, and now my life is ruined! Holy shit, I had the worst mother ever!"

"I don't cut the ass out of my pants," I say. "And if I did, I can guarantee you'd be embarrassed as hell."

"But, but ..." he sputters. "It's different." Somehow, mothers' asses are much more embarrassing than teenagers' asses.

"How is it different?"

He storms out and yells a couple of fucks and goddamnits. I turn the page to see what Joseph Wambaugh has to say next.

Half an hour later, he skulks back into the room, the weight of the world on his shoulders, exhausted by the overwhelming effort of working it out. "What if I just do the knees?"

"That, I can live with." And off we head to the mall. It's moments like this in parenting that make you all warm and fuzzy inside.

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