It is very hard to disappoint your mother as a baby, so in your first year of life it’s far more important to build expectations that you can later fail to live up to. It helps to be an exceptionally cute baby, with enormous eyes and chubby cheeks that make everyone fawn and coo over you, lulling your mother into the false confidence that you will be an exceptional child.
However, if you’re ambitious you can get a head start on disappointing your mother by being a colicky baby who keeps everyone in the house up all night with your howling.
The second year of your life is still a prime year to build those expectations. Start speaking early, in complete sentences. Your mother will become convinced you are a genius. She will be proud.
At the same time, really live up to the Terrible Twos reputation. Start asking, “Why?” every time your mother says no, and scream incessantly when she can’t give you a satisfactory answer.
Your third year is a great time to start really disappointing your mother. Become increasingly picky. Refuse to eat anything except plain spaghetti noodles. Sob when she demands you eat just one vegetable, even when she is counting tomato sauce as a vegetable just to make it easier on you.
Get angry with your mother for refusing to buy you candy at the grocery store. Express this anger by banging your fists on the handle of the grocery cart and screaming, “You’re not my mother! You’re not my mother!” at the top of your lungs.
You have succeeded when a small, determined army of grocery moms surrounds your mother, demanding definitive proof that you are, in fact, hers.
Year five is full of potential for disappointing your mother, as it is the year you first leave the safe nest of home for Kindergarten. Do not let your mother savor this moment. Refuse to let her walk you into school on your first day, and fiercely proclaim your independence.
Do well in school overall (remember, those expectations will come in handy later), but struggle immensely with basic tasks like tying your shoes and not humming constantly over the drone of your teacher’s voice in class.
Join the soccer team and excel at this new team sport.
(Don’t worry. I’ll come back to this later.)
Fail to grasp the basics of cursive and make up your own language and characters instead. Refuse to write in anything else despite pleas from your mother and teachers.
Start falling asleep in church as often as possible.
Refuse to memorize the Ten Commandments in Bible Study. When your mother asks why, tell her it’s because you think the “Honor your father and your mother” commandment is stupid.
Ask her, “What about bad fathers and mothers?” so she will forever wonder if you were talking about her.
Start complaining constantly about soccer. Throw a fit every time you have practice. Intentionally leave your cleats in the garage in an attempt to get out of playing. Your mother will only have to run home to get them for you, but it was a good try anyway.
Try and fail to learn how to ride a bike. Never try again.
Be selected for your school’s Gifted and Talented program to renew your mother’s hope in your academic abilities. (This will come in handy later.)
Refuse to go to church ever again. Declare that you do not believe in god and that church is a boring waste of time.
Ignore the fact that her best friend is the pastor’s wife, and your lack of attendance reflects poorly on your mother.
Announce you are quitting soccer, but don’t wait until the end of the season. Do it right in the middle, after all the fees have been paid and she just bought you a brand new pair of cleats.
Don’t tell your mother when you get your period for the first time. Let her find out while she’s doing the laundry six months later.
Start starving yourself and throwing up after meals. This will make you angry and depressed all the time. Scream at her or roll your eyes and sigh deeply when she suggests anything, whether it’s a place to grab dinner or that you should wear more sunscreen.
Insist on shopping solely at Hot Topic and “painting” your nails with permanent marker.
Leave a bunch of laxatives, cigarettes, and a flask in the bottom drawer of your dresser. That way, when you are sent to the hospital for a week for attempting suicide, your mother can find them during a search of your room.
Listen to a lot of Bright Eyes in your locked bedroom. When your mother knocks on your door, start cry-singing along to block out the sounds of her pleading with you to let her in.
Spit all your prescription medications into coffee mugs when you pretend to take them in front of your mother. She will find the half dissolved pills later in the cold, moldy mugs in your room and panic.
Start failing several classes.
Tell your mother it doesn’t matter anyway because you’re not going to college. You are going to ride around in a VW van and start a commune instead.
Drop out of public high school and attend an online charter school instead. Insist you have too much anxiety to go to school.
Never leave the house.
Agree to apply to college, but only if you can major in Fiction Writing.
Actually go through with that whole Fiction Writing major thing. Attend an expensive art school hundreds of miles from home. Do not get any scholarships.
Take summer classes so you never have to visit home for more than a week.
Become a closet alcoholic.
Call your mother infrequently, and ignore her calls when you are drunk (which is often).
If your mother isn’t a total bigot, being simply a lesbian or bisexual won’t do. These are terms she is familiar with. Instead tell her you’re queer. This will be far more confusing, and she’ll never quite know what to tell her friends.
Call your mother often, but never just to ask how she’s been. Instead, find new and interesting ways to guilt her into giving you grocery money. Complain about how hungry you are on the phone. Complain about how you have eaten nothing but mac and cheese for the last three months. If you are feeling desperate, text her pictures of your empty fridge.
Spend eighty percent of the grocery money she sends you on booze.
Stop drinking, but spend months having an existential crisis that you constantly cry to your mother about on the phone.
Graduate from school but seem entirely unenthused about the graduation ceremony. Show up in a dress and sweater you haven’t washed in weeks. Stifle a yawn as you walk across the stage.
You are a real adult now, not a college adult, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop disappointing your mother.
Move all the way across the country with no plan and no job prospects. Stay on the family phone plan and never bring up when you might switch to your own. Complain about your health insurance—you know, the health insurance she pays for.
Continue to call your mother to cry regularly, because you know no matter what she will always listen and never hang up on you, and even when she doesn’t know exactly what to say or how to help, she will tell you that you’re loved unconditionally, and that you are not disappointing (a kind lie).
Also, keep cashing those grocery money checks and buy yourself a new pair of jeans.