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. 

 

If You Ask a Mom to Meditate…

ifyouaskamomtomeditate

If you ask a Mom to meditate…

She’ll have to close her eyes.

If she closes her eyes, she’ll be at risk of falling asleep.

If she falls asleep, everyone will see her drool.

So, once she closes her eyes, she’ll have to find a way to distract herself from falling asleep.

Before she’ll have a chance to start thinking, a song will pop into her head. It will be that Taylor Swift song, “WeeeeeEEEEE are never, ever, ever getting back together”.

And she’ll think it’s a catchy tune.

But then she’ll feel sorry for the boy Taylor is singing about because he must feel like Alanis Morissette’s muse right about now.

She’ll want to get that song out of her head, so she’ll clear her mind in an effort to meditate.

But she’ll be sweating. Not because it’s 89 degrees in the room. Because she won’t be able to get Homeland off her mind.

She’ll want Nicholas Brody to be a good guy.

She’ll think about how Brody and Carrie click.

She’ll kinda want Brody to end up with Carrie.

She’ll wonder, Is that so bad?

Then she’ll think that maybe Claire Danes isn’t really acting.

And she’ll wonder if Claire Danes is really just a little bit crazy in real life.

Thinking about Claire Danes’ complicated character in Homeland will make her worry about her sons falling in love with batshit crazy girls, and how falling in love with a batshit crazy girl could ruin their lives.

Thinking about batshit crazy girls will remind her of a line from another song…that Ne-Yo song, “Let me love you until you learn to love yourself.”

And then she’ll think about how sweet a song that is…in sentiment.

But she’ll know in reality that bitch he is singing about is straight up cray-cray.

She’ll wish she could tell Ne-Yo to run away from that crazy broad. She’d say, “Ne-Yo, if she doesn’t love herself, she’ll never love you.”

She’ll want to make a note to explain that to her two older sons when that song comes on again. She’ll know she won’t remember it if she doesn’t write it down or chant it.

But she’ll be unable to write it down, because she’ll be trying to meditate in hot yoga.

And she won’t want to chant it because chanting about Ne-Yo falling for a girl who doesn’t love herself will sabotage the entire yoga class for her.

So she’ll try to think of a way to remember to tell her boys.

While trying to come up with a strategy for remembering, she will become keenly aware that she no longer has feeling in her right ankle.

She’ll probably think it’s because 38 year old Moms of four don’t typically sit Indian style criss-cross applesauce for longer than two minutes a pop.

She’ll hear one of the girls in the row behind her shift her position, and she’ll feel that they are kindred spirits, quietly losing feeling in their extremities together.

She’ll send that stranger behind her a silent, telepathic Namaste for making her feel like she’s not alone in her pins and needles experience.

Thinking about having no feeling in her right ankle will prompt her to think about the two toes on her left foot that go numb when she runs in the cold.

Thinking about running in the cold will make her smile, because she’ll inevitably think about the coveted one-on-one time she gets with her sweet second son, who runs cross country.

Thinking about cross country will trigger the memory that she has volunteered to make orzo with roasted vegetables for his team banquet on Monday night.

Thinking about orzo with roasted vegetables will make her picture her crisper drawer in her mind.

And she won’t see any bell peppers in there.

She’ll wish she could write that down too.

But she’ll be unable to, because she’s supposed to be meditating.

Thinking about writing down bell peppers will make her think about Christmas lists.

And thinking about Christmas lists will stress her out.

Because she has 4 kids, and Christmas will be expensive.

She will really wonder what to get her 11 year old son because he’s at an in-between age.

She is seriously considering the Kindle Fire, but then she’ll wonder if he should have internet access.

Thinking about her 11 year old having internet access will make her think about the phone call she got from his teacher because he Googled “the spinning wheel of death” on his school laptop.

She’ll remember that he explained it to her as that thing that pops up when you’re waiting for a website to load.

She’ll remember feeling a sense of relief that he hasn’t Googled porn on his school laptop. Yet.

Then she’ll recollect how she got up on her soapbox at the school meeting with the IT people telling them that her 11 year old son has no fear on the computer.

She’ll remember that she went on to tell everyone in that meeting that Google is a verb in her house, and she’s worried her son will Google anything. And that maybe he shouldn’t have a laptop.

And then she’ll think, Well, I kinda called that one, didn’t I?

So, that will settle that, and she’ll decide her son certainly doesn’t need a Kindle Fire.

But then she’ll remember that movie quote, “If we don’t start trusting our children, how will they ever become trustworthy?”

Thinking about that movie quote and how it applies to her children will give her a lump in her throat.

She’ll think about what a beautiful lesson that is…and that maybe it’s time to show that 11 year old boy that we trust him.

She’ll feel like she’s maybe going to cry…and she would almost rather fall asleep and drool in yoga class than cry in yoga class.

So, she’ll try to distract herself from that quote by thinking.

She’ll think, What movie was that quote from?

Speaking of movies, she’ll think, when will I get to see Breaking Dawn Part 2?

She’ll think about how part of her is dying to see it, but another part wants to hold off.

Because once she sees it, she’ll think, it will be over.

Not wanting it to be over will remind her of reading the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

She’ll remember devouring the series night after night in her bed.

Then she’ll remember sitting in her backyard, feeling the warmth of the summer sun on her legs and hearing the sound of her tears hitting the open pages of the last chapter of the book.

She’ll remember how she slowed down to savor the last chapter because she knew it would soon be over.

Thinking about slowing down to savor things will remind her of when she was young and the way her brother always saved one of his Christmas presents to open up after everyone else had finished opening theirs.

And speaking of Christmas presents, she’ll think, where should we put the tree this year?

She’ll think about how she prefers to put it in the living room. She’ll think about how much she loves to see it from the window as she pulls out of the driveway.

But then, she’ll think, only if they boys agree to white lights.

She’ll remember that last year the Christmas tree was in the family room.

Then she’ll remember that the boys insisted on colored lights on last year’s tree in the family room.

She’ll remember how it was a shit show of a tree, and that they hung all of their homemade ornaments on it to junk it up even more.

Thinking about last year’s ugly tree will make her remember her favorite Christmas tree…the tree she and her husband bought for their first Christmas together in their tiny apartment.

She’ll remember her sister coming over to that apartment to watch movies, drink wine, and string popcorn and cranberries for that perfect tree. She’ll remember how fragrant it smelled and how beautiful it looked, with its popcorn and pine scents and beautiful, twinkling, white lights.

That will make her wonder if she could string popcorn and cranberries this year.

Then she’ll realize that, if her two young sons don’t eat the popcorn every time she leaves the room, the cats certainly will.

Thinking about the cats and the Christmas tree will remind her that last year the cats liked climbing the trunk of that ugly tree with the handmade ornaments and the colored lights.

Thinking about those colored lights will remind her that she really prefers white lights on the Christmas tree.

Then she’ll wonder when her husband will want to string the lights up outside the house.

Thinking about her husband putting up the outside lights will remind her of the time he brought their oldest son onto the roof with him to hang the lights.

Remembering the sight of her oldest son on the roof of the house alongside her husband will make her think about how she wanted to call her husband a moron and a jackass from the driveway.

She’ll remember how she struggled to maintain her composure and not show their son how stupid that stunt was by giving his Dad a come to Jesus right there in the driveway.

Remembering that rooftop incident will make her worry about whether her husband has their oldest son on the roof now while she is at yoga.

The thought of her son on the roof will stress her out.

She won’t be happy about feeling stressed out because she’s supposed to be meditating.

But she’ll be incapable of meditating.

And it’ll be her husband’s fault that she’s unable to meditate because he’s probably having a roof party with their first baby right now!!

Then she’ll hear the fidgeting of the guy two people away from her. And she’ll hear him breathing.

Hearing his breathing will remind her to breathe, which has become a good strategy for calming her down.

She will count 1-2-3-4 on her inhale, then she’ll pause and count 1-2-3-4 on her exhale.

She will do this a few more times.

Then she’ll relax and send him a secret, telepathic Namaste, because it was his fidgeting that distracted her from her stress. And his breathing that reminded her to breathe.

Then she’ll think, since she’s already sent two people a secret, telepathic Namaste, she should probably just send everyone in the class a secret, telepathic Namaste.

She will quietly give herself mad props because she’s had her eyes closed for 10 minutes in the middle of the afternoon in a room that feels like a sauna and she hasn’t fallen asleep.

She’ll think about how grateful she is that she’s taken this time for herself, and that maybe she should try this more often.

And, chances are, that Mom will want to meditate again.