Middle Schooler

I was really tempted to write this as a “Thrift Shop” parody, because a rap about it would be less likely to make me cry.  My son, who is careening toward the not-so-tender age of 13, is now officially taller than me.  When I say it’s official, I mean it’s on the books.  The record.   The pediatrician’s report.  The tip of his tongue (cause he thinks it’s really cool).

We knew it was coming.  He’s been sort of staring me square in the eye for the last 6 months or so… and I have to admit to a sort of fascination with hugging flesh and blood as large as me.  Well, he isn’t as large as me.  While he tips the height percentile at 90% or so, he is clawing at the 50th for weight.  But what he lacks in girth though, he more than makes up for in 40 pounds of adolescent smart mouth. 

It’s maddening to hear the apple of my eye open his mouth – to sass me with some declaration of the unfairness of life as he knows it.  Or, to constantly prod his little sister with nicknames like “fart” and “poo” (and sometimes in combination, “fartpoo”) …  guaranteed to elicit a subterranean squall from the offended that hammers on my delicate sensibilities.  If I had a dime for every “Owennnnuhhh!” I could afford to be lying on the beach in Anguilla going deaf by the sound of the crystal waves licking the powdery sand.

I took him for his annual physical – not because I’m a good mom but because I wanted to get it in before his medical coverage ran out.  (Not that it’s going to – there’s just been some random, foreign news about insurance rates higher than the Empire State becoming a hardship or something.)  Anyhoo – I strategically scheduled said appointment for early morning after our little princess got on her bus to school.  The pediatrician asked the typical questions, directed mostly at him, gave a quick exam and announced that my firstborn is now 5’3” tall.  We each filled out psychosocial questionnaires – I assume to weed out the normal kids from the kids most likely to burn down a building, or drown a live animal.  My nosy eye noticed that Owen had answered the questions almost exactly the same as I did (insert sigh of relief).

It’s almost intoxicating, to have even a glance through the window of your kid’s soul …. Like flicking through television channels and accidentally stumbling across a forbidden movie.  There’s a small thrill, to see what they feel on the inside sometimes, and at the same time triggers that tilt-a-whirl in your gut where worry over what you might see lives. 

I was cleaning out his room the other day, moving things around, throwing stuff away, putting others in logical places – when I stumbled upon one of those old-style composition books on his desk.  Without any ill-intent, I opened it up to determine whether it was worth tossing, and to my surprise there was written a page-long rant dedicated to the night I grounded him.  Hehas the right to do whatever he wants, no one can tell him what to do, and parents are so stupid for grounding us for no good reason. 

Admittedly, I had been concerned by his emotional response the night of the “incident,” he was alternately angry and crying, both claiming innocence and accusing me of being wrong and unfair while announcing that he hated me.  He made some worrisome statements, peppered with smart-ass remarks that catapulted this unmedicated momma to Pluto and back.  I got angry.  Really angry.  But what I hadn’t known, when I sent him to his room, is that he had sat down with an empty page and journaled his feelings.  How f-ing amazing is that??  His mother – herself a self-proclaimed wiseass – has always used her own journals for expression.  Well, after she shot her mouth off and threw a few objects, that is.  I never taught him to do that – the first part, that is.  But, he has certainly seen me writing plenty over the entire 12 years of his life.  I was at once proud of his self-imposed coping mechanism and – even if I still felt spinning-tea-cup-whoozy – somewhat relieved that what he had privately written was normal.

So we left the doctor’s office, and grabbed some Cinnamelts for a treat.  We have so few of these moments alone together, and they are so precious – more so because the symbolism of his stature affects a knowing sense that they will grow fewer as the years, and his body, progress.  I took this rare opportunity to open a discussion about how he’s doing.  Really doing. 

Okay, I guess, he says. 

I mean, how are you feeling about things now – you know, since the divorce and all? 

Okay, he says, it’s kinda hard sometimes.

How is it hard? 

Well, it’s hard because we don’t all live in the same house. 

And that was all he said.  But I understood his perspective, because I witness it nearly every day that custody is exchanged, with Ava’s smothering, emotional and physical response to me, and when her blood sugars do their emotional dance.

I’ve been wondering whether the children would benefit from counseling – someone safe to talk to with no personal stake in their situation.  I spent a good deal of time investigating the possibility, but for a number of reasons I don’t need to share today, wasn’t able to get either of them to see someone. I still think it’s a good idea.  I think it’s a good idea for me, too, but that’s also another story, for another time.

The rest of the car ride we spent discussing trivial things, like Owen’s latest achievements in Roblox, and his Honor Roll report card…. and the Gardisil vaccine.  The good doctor  had turned his attention to me after my 12-year-old’s exam, to share the latest news regarding this “important” vaccine.  For the second year in a row – I turned it down.  I KNOW my son doesn’t need it just yet (though I won’t be so naïve as to pretend he never will).  Come on – he’s TWELVE, won’t even talk ABOUT girls, let alone LOOK at them. 

So Owen and I discussed what it’s for and why it might be a good idea in the future… and WHAT  would make it a good idea in the future.  Thankfully, he’s had enough health education this year that he understands the basic concepts of this conversation, and we were able to move on to other topics. 
Passing the Chuck E Cheese reminded me of an earlier day when I took him there with my Mom’s club, and his little 3-year-old self threw a very orthodox tantrum on the floor in front of a table of grandmothers when it was time to leave.  They all just sat there staring at his prone little body, seizing on the carpet in front of their table, like he was an animal at the zoo.  

I was mortified.  He was never one of “those” children.  Never.  He was my easygoing baby from the very day he slipped out of my body…..  and the reason I tempted fate by having another.  He was always smiling, always loving, affectionate, and outgoing.  He loved making new friends.  With the reasonable exception of what I used to call the 6 o’clock witching hour, where he would fuss incessantly for over an hour every day, he slept through the night and I didn’t go any grayer. 

I recalled the Chuck E. Cheese story with him, and he laughed out loud.  Then I recalled another isolated incident – a Sunday afternoon trip to a local toy store when he was 18 months old – he fell in love with a Thomas train table set up for play in the store.  We gave him a good half hour with it, but he was still VERY unhappy when it was time to leave.  He kicked.  He screamed.  He howled.  But I kept an iron grip on him until we got to the car, where his limbs went rigid and I couldn’t fit him through the car door.  I am still amazed how strong small children can be, when they want to.  My mother-in-law, who was with us, just stood motionless, taking in this spectacle and finally asking, what the f— is wrong with this child??  Owen thought this hilariously funny today.

I love to recall “the old days,” as we call them.  I will never forget, nor stop missing my little man.  And now I am starting to sound like an old woman, or that embarrassing, doting mother no one wants to listen to.  I swore I’d never be that, and now it’s too late and I’m afraid I need a support group.  I could call it, Mothers Who Miss Their Baby Boys. But, I’m also loving the Joy of watching him grow into a man – the thoughts and ideas he possesses and the personal achievements he makes, the character he is building and the values that will make him a successful man.  I just wish time didn’t go quite this fast.

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