This Is Adolescence: 13

I have a teenage son.

It gives me pause to say it aloud.

Just like I stumbled over the words “fiance” and “husband” when I first spoke them, there is something surreal about hearing myself admit to having a teenage son.

He certainly looks the part.

When he sleeps, he takes up the entire bed. He throws his long, toned arms overhead in repose. Even on the coldest nights, the covers are cast off, and he dons the obligatory teenage sleepwear–gym shorts and an oversized t shirt.

When did he last wear pajamas? A year ago? Two years?

There are no pajamas in the land of 13.

When he stands, 13 is tall enough that I have to look up to meet his eyes, indigo like his Father’s. They share the same broad shoulders and enviably long legs. I know those legs by heart. I see them every day as 13 maintains his three-stride-ahead-of-me distance. He carries himself with just as much confidence as his Father and a touch more humility.

Is it wrong to hope that’s my doing?

13 has an upper lip in need of its first shave.

He ambles around in a men’s size 11 shoe.

He grunts more frequently than he speaks.

When he does talk, his voice is so deep that–when I hear it from a room away–I wonder which of my children let the strange man into the house.

***

I am negotiating with 13 as I write this. He is painfully private, so I feel it’s only right to ask his permission before writing about him. His reply? “You may write about me. But it will cost you.” He lobbies for a YouTube account. I have something less permanent in mind. Like a chocolate milkshake.

Negotiations remain at a standstill.

***

I am puzzled by 13 as I write this. He would eat buffalo chicken sandwiches every day of the week if I let him. And chase it with a jar of olives. I find wrappers in his pockets from packs of Mentos. Mentos. Are they back? Were they ever really in?

13 fills every blank space in his first grade brother’s My Book About Me with the word “poop.” All 63 pages.

13 ducks when I reach out to fix his hair. He allows me to kiss him goodbye and goodnight, but he rolls his eyes almost every time I do it.

13 removes the tank lid from the toilet, assesses why it won’t flush, and remedies the problem in under a minute. Yet he wants me to spread cream cheese on his bagel.

13 prefers to stay home and watch Jimmy Fallon clips rather than accompany his buddies to a middle school dance. “Why would I ever want to go there?” he asks.

“I know what that means,” I whisper my husband. “It’s The Girls. He isn’t ready to be around The Girls yet.”

13’s only wants are Doritos, video games, YouTube videos, and sleep.

Rinse (really well. And, I beg you, rinse again) and repeat.

I know this boy.

Except maybe I don’t. Because one day, he rolls in and announces he tried out for a part in the school play. And he’s made it. He doesn’t remember which part he got, but it’s a big one.

The one thing he is specific about?

“The Girls. There are lots of them,” he smiles and raises his eyebrows as he relays this.

Wait, he’s not smiling.

He’s beaming.

So maybe he is ready…it just needs to be on his terms.

***

I am frustrated with 13 as I write this. When I reach under his bed in search of a missing  Nike Elite sock, my hand brushes his laptop. His school laptop. Which he should have with him right now. Because he is at school. I am frustrated not because he has forgotten it. In a house with five males, things get forgotten. I am frustrated that his laptop is in his room when we have a clear no-electronics-in-the-bedroom rule. A rule he continues to break.

I don’t find the overpriced sock. Instead I find the security blanket that was his comfort and constant companion through the first years of his young life. To anyone outside our immediate family, it looks like a rag collecting dust. For me, it’s like bumping into a dear old friend. It is his Velveteen Rabbit, the most treasured item from his childhood.

But he is 13.

Has it been abandoned? Outgrown and forgotten like Jessie in Toy Story? A movie we watched together a decade ago while he sucked his thumb, wrapped in that very blanket and snuggled on my lap.

Or does he leave it under his bed on purpose? Does it comfort him at the end of each day to know that it still exists and is literally within his grasp?

I know better than to ask him. His answer would come in the form of Sarcasm. 13 speaks it every hour of every day. Except for the thirty minutes before he goes to bed. Which coincide with the thirty minutes I’m most mentally and physically drained. He is quieter than ever–if you don’t count the grunting–so when he speaks, I try to listen. It’s then that he allows the mask to slip, and I glimpse the young man who wants to do right. By himself, by his parents, by his brothers, by his teachers, by his friends.

We speak in hushed tones in darkness, save for the faint glow of a street light that casts a single beam through his bedroom window. Comforted by the shadows, he breaks down the difference between cool and uncool. Listening to him, it occurs to me that cool is not just an adjective. It’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s an adverb. It’s the object of every 13 year old preposition. The gap between his definition of cool and mine would take several oceans to fill. It’s the difference between having experienced life and having one’s entire life still ahead of him.

He explains why he doesn’t text an old friend as much and that it doesn’t bother him.

Confides that one girl is not as friendly in his eyes as another, but he is in no hurry to speak to either of them.

I answer questions if he asks, and rail against the voice in my head that aches to turn every moment into a teaching moment. It is the most well-intentioned part of me. It’s also the part that shuts him down most quickly.

I walk away from those insightful nights with a better understanding of where 13 believes he resides in this world. He wants to fit in, but is not uncomfortable standing out.

It’s not a bad place to be.

***

I am captivated by 13 as I write this. He is our oldest child. His firsts are our firsts. Ours is a complicated dynamic because 13 has three younger brothers. It’s noisy. It’s smelly. It’s snacks all the time. There is bleeding. We have stitches. My husband and I have little confidence in our ability to anticipate what 13 needs because this is the first time we’ve parented 13.

Hello, how do you do?

So much of our interacting is my asking him not to do some things…

“Please don’t tease your brothers,”

“Please don’t curse at the dinner table,”

“Please don’t cook anything while you’re babysitting,”

…while begging him to do others…

“Please change your socks. Every. Day.”

“Please wait to tell me this story when we are not around little ears.”

“Remove your headphones when I’m speaking to you. What did I say? I SAID REMOVE YOUR HEADPHONES WHEN I’M SPEAKING TO YOU!”

13 enjoys his math teacher so much that he agrees to spend his Sunday afternoon volunteering at a school open house simply to spend more time with him.

For all of his grunting, 13 grows animated when the subject of Santa Claus arises. This is his fourth Christmas in the know, but you’d never guess by listening to him regale his younger brothers with stories of that time he heard reindeer on the roof. He’s no readier for the magic to end than we are. We are bonded in our enthusiasm to keep the littles believing.

When we go out in public and I have the wherewithal to step back and let him take the lead, I am able to appreciate the young man he is becoming.

I find that I like him.

He is clever. Well spoken. Smart. He engages comfortably with adults. He enjoys people and wants to put them at ease. He is an old soul. He reminds me of the things I love most about my Dad.

fourcast-1765-2

Yes, I miss when his hand was little, and it fit so perfectly in mine. I miss the way he climbed onto my lap. I miss hugs initiated by his little arms. I miss singing him a lullaby every night.

But 13 is good stuff.

It is watching The Walking Dead with him, but knowing, no matter how much he begs, he is way too young for Homeland.

It’s skimming the last hundred pages of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 because I can’t wait to give it to him to read next.

It’s intentionally sitting next to him on a haunted hayride so that I can seek refuge behind his broad shoulders.

It’s talking more candidly about health and human sexuality because I want him to be informed, be safe, be respectful, be happy. I want him to feel normal.

It’s knowing that he is going to make mistakes–that he needs to make mistakes–and hoping they aren’t the kind of mistakes from which he can’t recover.

***

He remains three strides ahead of me on the sidewalk.

I’m no longer the central character I was in his story a mere decade ago.

13 feels compelled to walk his own path. His need to brave it on his own transcends my desire to be alongside him every step of the way.

Where I fit into his life is not his concern.

That I am here is all he needs to know.

I will not look to close the gap between us.

For now, I’ll stay out of sight, out of mind–yet still within arm’s reach at the end of the day.

Just like his beloved old blanket.

It’s not a bad place to be in this surreal world of mine.

Now that I have a teenage son.

TIA logo

***

This is the third installment of This Is Adolescence. It is a true thrill to be a voice in this writing series. Thanks to Lindsey Mead and Allison Tate for having me. Lindsey kicked off our series with a beautiful look at age 11. Allison followed with insight about 12 that so paralleled my experience with 12 that if I didn’t know she lived in Florida, I’d believe she were my very own peeping tom right here in Philadelphia. I’m looking forward to reading ages 14 through 18, written by Catherine Newman, Jessica Lahey, Marcelle Soviero, Shannon Duffy, and Lisa Heffernan. 

 

101 thoughts on “This Is Adolescence: 13

  1. Forget Masterminds and Wingmen, I’m coming here for all my teenage boy advice and learnings. Once again, you have simultaneously made me cry and laugh, cry and laugh. Your words are pure poetry, your thoughts are so concise and deadpan. You’ve made 13 sound pretty good actually; but I think that’s more about you as a mom, and 13 is lucky to have you. xo

    • I’m going to read this whenever I have a bad day. Thank you a million times over. So far I’m really enjoying 13. XOXOXO

  2. I’m rendered speechless by your words. This age. This beautiful young man. And this amazing mother. xoxo (And oh my gosh those social media account negotiations…exhausting and scary).

  3. All of this is perfect and so very relatable to those of us who have parented in the land of thirteen.
    This:
    “I answer questions if he asks, and rail against the voice in my head that aches to turn every moment into a teaching moment. It is the most well-intentioned part of me. It’s also the part that shuts him down most quickly.”
    This is a constant battle I wage with myself, coming up on the short end too often.
    You paint an accurate and beautiful picture of Thirteen and I so enjoyed reading it.

    • Thank you, Shannon! I’m glad you can relate. I would be a better mother and connect more with my kids if I could silence that well-intentioned voice of mine 40% of the time. They would say 80%. Looking forward to reading 17!

  4. I think you are inside my head, Bethany! This was so beautiful and, for me, very personal; yes, I miss his tiny hand in mine, but I absolutely love the transformation that’s taking place before my eyes. The body that takes up the whole bed and the strange man’s voice and the trepidation about going to the dance – side by side with the lovey under the bed – all of this is happening in my house, too. And I’m so proud to be witness to it. Thanks for your words.

    • Kristin, I’m so glad you can relate! It can be a lonely process watching them get older. I question our parenting decisions all the time, but am worried to talk about it because I’m not new to parenting. But I’m new to 13! And I like what I see so far. Thank you for reading!

  5. I love this. My oldest is 12, and so I’m staring 13 at the face. Thank you for showcasing some of the brilliance and beauty in an age that is often maligned. xoxo

  6. Loved this and it hurt my heart, too. I have a 13 year-old son and could relate to so much. I wrote a rambling comment and then lost it when I forgot to fill in my name. I can’t duplicate it – because I’m rushing back to the middle school, to save the 13 year-old’s butt. He forgot the check for payment of his 8th grade trip – which will be three days away from us. Weep. Beautiful post!

    • When my son goes on those trips, I can’t wait for him to come home and debrief. His last one was in September. I’m still waiting for him to debrief us;-) Thanks for reading, Allie!

    • I’m taking my car cues from you. And hoping I’ll never have to sing a Foreigner parody at the top of my lungs with a car full of boys. The odds are not in my favor. XO

  7. So beautifully and poignantly written! Mine is 14, although a lot of the 13 still applies – what is with the grunting?! I am so looking forward to reading 14. Thank you for your insight and wisdom – I’m reassured to hear that I am not the only one trying to figure it out and questioning everything I do!

    • Are they growing so quickly that they can’t even muster the energy to speak? Alas, no. I fear the grunting is to indicate how annoyed they are by our existence. Glad you can relate!

    • This is my first of four times going through 13…I wonder how it will look different to me each time? I’m so glad you recognized some of your kids in this! Thank you for reading!

  8. This made me cry a little. No son, but a nephew with whom I’m very close. He is only 7 now. This reminded me to slow down and ENJOY him. The laundry can wait while I listen to a story of his day. Thank you for this article.

  9. Oh Bethany, you got me again. I’m not ready for 13 yet. Maybe it’ll come with time. I have a good 6 years to go, of course. You paint a perfect picture. Thanks for the insight. I don’t want the hand holding to go away! I love your writing!!!

    • Mon, you still have a bit before you get to 13. Every time I see one of your pictures of the boys on the counter or in their diapers, I miss those ages so much!!! Thanks for reading!

  10. This whole article speaks to where I am now with my 13. Even the cream cheese! The cream cheese sentence made me start crying and I haven’t stopped. Thanks.

    • And I spread the cream cheese for him! Every time! I feel like it’s the least I can do since he was knocked off my lap at 19 months old to make room for his little brother. And then again and again with our 3rd and 4th sons. Mom guilt. It’s a real thing.

  11. Tears as I read this. I have a 12. He’s not quite taller than I am yet, but he reminds me of a puppy who still needs to grow into his over-sized man-feet. By 13 he will certainly be taller. What a beautiful essay – you captured the feelings of being the mom of a boy this age brilliantly. Thank you.

    • It’s a really strange feeling to tilt your head up to look at this person who was once your baby. I will have to look up at him for the rest of our lives, and I know I’ll get used to it. But right now it’s still so new. Thank you so much for reading! Good luck with your 12.

    • My boy grew late – 16ish. But oh he had those big feet! He’s now 22, a solid 6′ 1″, which, when hugging him makes me feel veeeerrrry short. He is one of my very favorite humans on the planet. Insightful, funny, talented – wonderful young man.
      But oh, the feel of a little guy on my lap… thank goodness for grandsons, although even he, at 8, is about ready to stop that silliness.
      Yay for his baby sister! I’ll have little hands and strong hugs for years yet! Grandkids truly are such a great reward.

  12. Your words literally leave me breathless. There is so much amazingness wrapped up in this post that I savored every word, every syllable. You. Are. A. FANTASTIC. Writer.

    That is all.

    See you at BlogU15, Roomie!

  13. It’s amazing how generation after generation of teens act alike. How do they know? Anyway, just loved your description of your 13 year old. We have one of those! But ours still exhibits excitement when he sees mommom and poppy. Thank g-d. Keep writing and we’ll keep reading.

  14. I love your style of writing and this piece made me laugh and cry. My son is 14 but I so easily recall those moments you are describing. Thank you for sharing!

  15. So love this, and so much to relate to as I parent, bewildered, through the 13s with my own son. The slipping of the mask at bedtime is a nightly ritual at my house as well and one I look forward to so much, despite my exhaustion. When I was pregnant, I remember being unable to even picture parenting a teenage boy. Did I even want to? Now that I have one, I’m surprised at my awe and love for him and what I’m learning about men and about him. It’s just awesome! Thanks for the beautiful words.

    • Cori, you put into words exactly how I feel. I was excited about the baby part. And looking forward to seeing what kind of man he eventually grows up to be. But the teenage part? Not so much. So far, I’m so pleasantly surprised. Thanks for reading and for sharing your insight!

  16. Always a joy following your life that is rich in love and laughter! He is as beautiful as the both of you. It is wonderful to watch them grow. Ben wore a tux for Halloween and I fast forwarded to his wedding day in the blink of an eye. Scary stuff indeed.

  17. this is the most brilliant thing i’ve read in a very very long time. my 13 is about to be 14. i cannot thank you enough for your beautiful, real, very real, words that you’ve put here. thank you.

  18. Your words are incredible and so touching! Thank you for putting my feelings into words. I have 5 kids (4 bio and 1 step), but my 18 yr old boy was and still is your ’13’. I am watching him grow up and want to be an adult, but he’s my baby boy and I struggle daily with letting him go and allowing him to experience life since he is in college but still living with me. While he was not the first 13 year old I raised, he was my first and only 13 year old BOY. I will enjoy following you on your journey.
    Good luck and God bless!
    Tonya

    • Thank you, Tonya! There is something about boys and their Mamas, isn’t there? I am trying to pry my claws off of my boys. At least 3 of them. I’ll never let go of the youngest one. He’s going to have to take me with him wherever he goes.

  19. Typing thru my tears, my 14 yo son next to me doing his Spanish homework. My boys are 14 and 12 and this rings true and loud. Thank you for sharing. It’s a beautiful thing this teenage boy world I’m living in.

  20. Just wanted to tell you that I love to read your blogs and articles. I have 4 boys and can relate so well to all that you write about! Thanks for always keeping the humor is raising boys! Good Stuff!

  21. Oh so beautiful. You, your 13 and your writing touches my heart, late this night with a full moon shining in Sydney, Australia. Have no fear that all of you will wander the adolescent byways together in the greatest adventure of all. Blessings on you all.

  22. I just cried reading this. You and David are both amazing parents And Trevor is a gem along with all your boys. I’m fairly certain Jules will marry one of them. I am right behind you approaching 13 and I am already relating to so much of what you said. As always, amazing post. Love ya!

    • We will accept Jules wholeheartedly! Alex thinks he will marry one of his friends who is a boy. Chase is betrothed and too much trouble. Sammy or Trevor would make a good match for her. Thanks, Kel. You know we feel the same way about you and Ry. XO

  23. This is so excellent Bethany! The socks . . . my oldest is 10 and yes, already with the socks. His shoes are stinking up our mudroom.

    I love how you have the joy in here as well as the reality of having a teenager. The school play surprise was such a great detail, as was how he plays up Santa for the littles. That’s the sweetest detail of all.

    • I bought these little ball things at Marshall’s that I put in his shoes and it helps them to stop smelling. Otherwise, I have to leave them outside. Or light a candle. The school play surprise was so much fun for us. And he has to stay after school and isn’t complaining. I’m going to complain a tiny bit though. Because of the driving.

  24. Pingback: Friday fun for everyone | Banana Wheels

  25. This is gorgeous Bethany. I started out reading thinking that it would make me sad because oh-my-gosh I don’t want my boys to be 13 too soon but I ended looking forward to them growing up. Every year I have liked differently and more and I hope that continues.
    I love when you write.

    • I think you will like this age. You have such a great sense of humor about whatever the kids are going through that you can find the sunshine in every age. XOXOXO

  26. Bethany, I am so thankful and happy I found your blog and your beautiful writings. My 13 is the oldest of four too, and lately I can’t stop writing about him. Every word you wrote here resonates. Thank you for the quiet reminder that “13 is good stuff.” In the chaos, the confusion, refereeing the siblings, and wishing he would take those damn headphones off and stop rolling his eyes… I forget it’s also good, even great! He’s a good boy, and still just a boy.
    Can’t wait to read more of you!

    • Thank you, Nicki! I love that you have four as well! I keep writing about my oldest. Probably because we’re walking on eggshells around him. This morning I told him to put his headphones on if we were on his nerves. He looked at me like I was crazy.

  27. Bethany…you amaze me. I have three boys, the oldest is 8. I do not cry when I read things. Your writing brought me to tears. Your words bring it all up and my heart gets all achy and my eyes get all watery. You…with your words…..gah!! The best!

  28. Mine are several years away from 13, but just last night I was marveling at how my son’s frame is changing, and how he is firmly in big kid territory. Every now and then these revelations knock me over like a mack truck, and I’m honestly shocked my kids continue to change. As always, your words made me laugh and cry. Well done, friend!

    • Thank you, Amy! My baby is 6 and I smother him with kisses while he sleeps. He still looks so little to me, but when my oldest was his age I had 2 other babies and I was pregnant with a 4th. What the hell was I thinking? It is crazy to see them as the rest of the world sees them…bigger than our babies. XO

  29. My 11 year old boy still reaches for my hand when we cross a street, still wants to hold my hand in Target. It broke my heart a little to gently suggest that he might not want to hold my hand in the parking lot of Middle School, when we went in for orientation. He won’t reach for my hand much longer, but he doesn’t need any teasing to make it happen faster.

    • Hang onto it for as long as he lets you! My 13 year old isn’t as touchy a guy as my 11 year old. I still get the hand holding from the 11 year old, and I love it.

  30. 13 was a hard year .Your words made me cry. I am a sap. We have a 15 almost 16 year old. 13 was the year we found sexting was a thing he and his friends were doing and even though we were diligent ,it was going on . They are growing up in a new time. It was my heartbreak year, the year I realized that although I may see his stuffed elephant from his toddler time still hidden under his pillow ,he was also experiencing some real grown up stuff and trying to navigate without coming to me as he always had for answers and help.I must say as much as it pains me that driving is here its a much better time again with my son.He is back coming over the hill to a young adult ,almost grown.Deep voice 6ft tall and handsome .but forever in my heart my baby .Thank you for this.

    • Ugh, the sexting. Because as much as we tell them that digital footprints are permanent–it doesn’t seem to matter. I have to go through that times four. I hope I’m intact on the other side. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  31. I miss 13. The years leading up to it and those which followed, no, sped by, much too quickly.

    I’d jump at the chance to do it all again. Maybe I could enjoy so much of what I missed because I was too busy being a parent, sometimes not the best one, either.

    An absolutely amazing, heart-wrenching, post. Thank you!

    • Patty, I feel like I spend a lot of time parenting and not enjoying whatever age my kids happen to be today. I need more joy for right now in my life. Thanks for commenting, because it reminds me to appreciate it while it’s happening.

  32. I was so afraid to read this, even though I’ve seen it shared many times. Tonight I did it anyway. My son died at 12, not even 12 1/2. When I glimpse at others’ teen boys I look for clues as to how it would be, should be, if it could have been. Beautiful essay.

    • Oh, Anna, I’ve read you! Thank you so much for coming and reading. I’m sure it meant risking tearing the scab off your heart again. Sending you hugs.

  33. I have a 13 year old and a 17 year old – both boys. I have so loved the teenaged years the best of all. Don’t get me wrong – the baby years were something special however the joy these two bring me (most of the time) as they approach their grown up lives has brought me the most happiness. We certainly struggle at times just like everyone else, but for me, these are the years where I would want a do-over…not to change anything but to do it again. My oldest is off to college next year and will go half way across the country to do so. That day will be the hardest yet, I fear. I have taught myself to look at them, not in “the last…”…like this is the last time they _________, or remember when they used to________. Now, our days are filled with firsts….the first school dance, the first football game unchaperoned, the first time we visited the University of Oregon. Each stage of kids are filled with firsts and they are as fun and rewarding as teenagers as they were as babies and toddlers. Enjoy your ride!

    • Jen, I love this!! Thank you for your terrific perspective! I am loving 13 as we sit and laugh at Dumb and Dumber together while I’m typing.

  34. Wow, I feel like your son and my son are twins. EVERY detail from the overpriced Nike Elite, the laptop under the bed, and the Dorito’s! THANK YOU. This is beautifully written! It touched my heart.

    • The Doritos. I can’t keep enough bags in the house. Consumed in bulk. I’m so glad you saw your son in this! Thanks for reading!

  35. Fantastic! My 13 is a girl…it’s interesting to read what it’s like with a boy. Some things I’m nodding and agreeing with, others, I’m thinking- well at least we’re not dealing with THAT :) And it’s good insight into The Boys that are starting to come into our lives…

  36. Teared up all the way through it b/c it is so relatable. My son is 13 (will be 14 in Feb) and as a parent, it is so bittersweet. I love seeing the man that he is becoming but mourn for the little boy left behind. I think it’s the age that has most made me realize how insanely fast it goes.

  37. I feel like I just got a glimpse into my future… thank you for writing this. My three boys are 8, 7 & 3, so I have a little time left to soak it all in… but I know how quickly it passes! Will be sure get my snuggles in before it is no longer allowed. :-)

  38. It was reading of the fixing of the toilet tank dexterity that hit home for me. So accomplished with amazing things can be the early teen yet still rooted in the needs every child has. You are speaking about that delicate balance to remind us moms what it is all about – thank you.

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