Boy Wonder: “Ok, so if you have to come get me at the park. . . just, uh, kinda stand on the edge and wait to catch my eye. Ok? Because, waving is so not cool.”
It was bound to happen. Â That Â magic time-release pill you take when your child is born finally goes off in your body. The child you once had to remind hourly, “I’m not a jungle-gym, stop climbing on me!” now, bats away your public attempts to be affectionate. Overnight you are embarrassing. And really, you are. You’re not cool. Don’t let your fashion forward clothing or taste in Alternative music fool you. You are a mother of a teenager and by definition you are NOT. COOL.
Did I mention that this new change in status comes with a new title too? Oh yea, you’re no longer “MOM!” but “Moooother!” Which is apt. Because, let’s face it, Â it’s not your job to be cool. It’s your job to mother and that requires a keen eye at noticing all the newly established and yet completely invisible boundaries your child has constructed overnight:
When you can and cannot give hugs or advice. Hugging only when no one is looking and always at bedtime. NEVER when there is a girl around. Advice only when said child is well fed and there are NO Â girls around.
What you can and cannot call him. Only by his given name in public. Pet names at bedtime. Nothing, you don’t know who he is if there is a girl around.
Where and when you can be seen together in public. If you’re buying clothes or food or “extras” your wallet is always welcome and probably your company too. Â But, only if, you know, there are no GIRLS around.
Did I mention the new boundaries also come with fully installed land mines? Yeah, one of them is called “Not when there are girls around.” It’s not unrealistic that you will lose a few limbs in this process. Don’t worry, they’ll grow back.
This is toddlerhood on testosterone so tread carefully. Respect is Â your best guide, humor your road map. But you can rest easy in one little fact: you are not alone in this. His father took that magic pill too and he wears socks with his sandals.
I will admit, I’m not ready for this. I’ve re-read my baby manuals and I can’t find the chapter on “Dungeons and Dragons, cologne, and some 16 year old tart thinks your kid is SEXY.”
How do you make them stop growing? I don’t mean the constant, “Mom, my pants are too short” growing or the, “Mom, I’m HUNGRY” growing. I mean the, “Hey mom, I need mouthwash” growing.Â
No, no you don’t need mouthwash.
And you don’t need cologne either. I’ll concede theÂ deodorant, kid. But that’s as far as I’m going.Â
Boy Wonder: “But MOM! I want cologne.”
Me: “Do you even know what cologne is for?”
Boy Wonder: “It makes you smell good.”
Me: “No! Â And you may not wear cologne if you don’t know what it’s for. Go ask your father what cologne is for. . .”
Much stomping up stairs and down stairs. . .Â
Boy Wonder: “See, I told you! He says it’s to make you smell good.” Â
Me: “Go tell your father he’s not allowed to wear it either!”
I’ll tell you why teenage year old boys wear Â cologne, and it’s not to smell good. Not exactly. It’s so that GIRLS will notice they smell good. And his father should have known that as he was the best smelling teenage boy I ever knew.Â
Where was I? Oh yea, I’m not ready for this.Â
My BABY came home from his first big kid event last week ( a marathon Dungeons and Dragons game.Â He had been invited by the slightly older crowd and being the youngest player was a big deal.) all a twitter and a glow. Asking forÂ deodorant, cologne, and informing me that some tart girl thought he was cute. Â
Boy Wonder: “Mom! Am I ever glad that you made me really wash my hair yesterday.”
Me: (stopping for a moment to gloat and not realizing what I was walking into.) “Yeah, see, I told you!”
Boy Wonder: “Yeah! Some girl ran her fingers through my hair and told me that she thinks I’m SEXY.”
Me: “WHAT? Wait, wait, wait. What girl, running her hands through, Â what?”
Boy Wonder: “MOM! She’s like, sixteen. She thinks I’m a cute kid. She’s not my age or anything.”
Me: (climbing the stairs to his father’s office) “Yeah, well, ‘SEXY’ isn’t a word I want applied to my 12 year old.”
At this point his father, who doesn’t know what cologne is for, is snorting laughter in his office.
Me: “What are you laughing at, buster?”
Seriously, am I the only adult in this house?
I didn’t tell him to wash his hair so some girl would run her hands through it. I told him to wash his hair because it was filthy. These little moments of parenting can have unintended consequences, my friends.Â You think you’re just doing your job by insisting on goodÂ hygieneÂ and teenage girl reinforces your point andÂ simultaneouslyÂ doubles your water bill. Â And I certainly didn’t agree that he could go hang out and play the ultimate geekville game for him to come home asking for cologne.Â
Boy Wonder: “So, can I have some cologne?”
Me: “No. But let’s talk when you’re 13.”
I’m still not ready for this. But I’ve bought myself 4 months. And who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll forget.
I spent the greater part of this afternoon helping Boy Wonder prepositionally clean his bedroom. Beneath his bed, inside his closet, on top of his computer hutch, under his rug—if it could be cleaned, we did it. He did the 3 weeks of laundry he’d neglected; which really means the 3 weeks of laundry I neglected to nag him to do. He’s 12. So, I feel like it’s a victory that he actually knows how to use the washer and dryer and most of his dirty clothes end up in a hamper, not under his bed. But if I don’t remind him, “Hey! It’s laundry day, get on it. And by on it, I mean now!” it’s not happening. Â For the past three weeks I’ve beenÂ preoccupiedÂ and after seeing him in the same shirt for several days, I took a peek into his closet and declared today a Prepositional Cleaning Day. There’s a reason I buy underwear and socks by the dozens!
It’s amazing sifting through the things he keeps. The things he fishes out of the trash bag, “Hey! That’s tech. I can use that someday!” The mounds of rocks collected on all our vacations, the boxes of legos he still uses to test inventions, the shoe box full of packaging material, “I love that box, Mom! Those bubble sheets make me happy.” His interests have shifted with time, but he’s not ready to let the past go. Not just yet. Next to his 7 year oldÂ obsessionÂ with Scoobie Do mystery books are last year’s obsession, all the Harry Potter novels. And this year, it’s an alphabet soup of programming languages. Texts on Java, html, php and MySQL are stacked up with pages marked by crunchy papers with cryptic notes. He wrote the code for his first database last week. He just didn’t do his laundry.
In truth, I expect a unified theory of physics from him. Someday. Â I just don’t expect him to keep his room clean. I know it’s the path of least resistance. I could yell, and rant, (and trust me, that is what it takes!) and watch him struggle with the process for six hours. Those days usually end with me declaring, “Well you better be one heck of an inventor and make lots of money, because finding a housekeeper willing to clean your mess doesn’t come cheap, Bubba!” Or, “NO WOMAN is ever going to marry you with a room like this. Think about that!” These are appeals that his 12 year old self is willing to ignore, no matter how right I might be.
But there is another option. One that requires less time and less yelling and less suffering. And sometimes, I have the clarity of mind to Â choose it. This path, it is full of laughter and insight. Glimpses into this child of mine, this child who is growing up as quickly as he’s growing out of shoes and jeans and shirts. He is interesting and full of ideas. He is compassionate and loving and kind of funny, in a quirkyÂ irreverentÂ way. It is a path full of gentle moments, sweet nagging and reminders—this is how you dust, remember to hang up that jacket, uh trash does not belong on your floor, I’m pretty sure I said only ONE water bottle in your room at a time, does Six look like ONE. . . gently, now. Gently.
“I forgot how much I like my room, Mom. I haven’t been this excited about it since I moved in. Thanks, Mom.”
As I placed the last of this year’s lilacs in his window, because he loves the smell of them as I do, I watch him. He’s already fast at work on something new—in a language I do not speak.Â