My son had three of his buddies over today. My husband was excited because he just recently finished a studio area above his workshop, and the boys were going to spend some time doing some music jamming up there. I was excited because ever since outgrowing “play dates”, the guys spend most of their time outside of school either online talking with each other, or Skyping. So it’s nice anytime we actually get to see them in person.
My son is in his last year of Middle School, so he and his entourage range in age from 13 to 15. Which also means they range in size from 5’ to 6’, from acne to facial hair, from buzz cuts to shoulder length mops. They communicate via a vocabulary only they understand, punctuated by grunts, chuckles and quotes from internet memes.
We are lucky that our son is a good kid, stays out of trouble and seems to have accumulated generally kind friends, with great senses of humor. At this age, the guys have figured out that girls are unpredictable, emotional beings, who for the most part are irrational and annoying yet strangely appealing. None of them have truly started dating, although it is frighteningly on the horizon. This particular group of guys seems to have three great interests: gaming, music, and eating. Well, at least that’s from what we can tell, as communication with adults is kept to a mimimum.
After all, moms are grown-up girls, with many of the same mysteries mixed with the horrendous potential of asking embarrassing questions. Heaven forbid if a mom asks something like “how’s your family?”, or “how’s school?”, or tries to be cool and makes a social media reference….even worse by far, gets out the camera to take photos. So the boys have determined the safest bet is to avoid eye contact and when pressed mutter a quiet “hi” or “thanks.”
As I was putting a pan of brownies in the oven (no boys will starve in my house), I watched them stroll their way out to the studio. At this age, they all travel at the same speed. There is no rushing, no hurrying. It is best described as a lanky trudge, as if they are carrying 10 pounds extra in each foot. Watching them together made me think about my teen years.
The scary thing about watching our children grow older is that it becomes easier to remember ourselves at their age. Do I remember what my life was like at age 3? Not so much. But as a teen? Almost like it was yesterday. Although sadly, it was far from yesterday.
Some things clearly have not changed. The Middle School to early High School years are awkward, sometime challenging, hormonally-difficult times. Yet in some ways, they were some of my best years. At that age, we are all self-focused, and our worlds center around ourselves and our friends. We build strong bonds with our friends, and some of those relationships may last the rest of our lives. I wonder which of my son’s friends will still be in his life 10 and 20 years from now.
I remember the awkwardness of beginning to see the opposite sex as anything more than cootie-carriers. When I was in middle school, I was far too busy having crushes on my big brother’s friends (because they were sooo handsome and such mature high schoolers), to have any interest in boys my own age. Just like how my son seems to feel about girls his own age right now, I thought boys were kind of annoying and goofy but kinda cute. It was by far more fun to spend time with my girlfriends, talk about the boys, and hang up pictures of hunks like Starsky and Hutch and the CHiPs guys in our lockers.
Standing in my kitchen, as I’m sure my mother did, I realized that in those early teen years, parents were in the background of our lives. We saw them as transportation and food suppliers, providers of a place to hang out, and begrudgingly relied on them reel us in when our behavior was less than appropriate or save us from making bad decisions.
Sure, it is hard to see the kids pulling away when we used to be the center of their little universes, and it can be frustrating when they are so self-focused… but it is necessary. These are the first steps in figuring out who they are as individual humans, finding their interests in life, and starting to figure out how to be independent. The difference now is we are seeing it from the other side – as the parents and adult relatives. We put our parents through the same things we are experiencing now with our kids. We took them for granted, and we relied on them even as we spent a lot of time pretending we didn’t really need them.
The good news is this is just one the many cycles of life. It wasn’t until my later high school and college years when I realized it was possible, and even enjoyable, to have conversations with adults. I remember parties that my brother and I used to have at my house, and invariably at some point, we’d find a few of our friends sitting around the kitchen table talking to my mom and dad. We learned that mom and dad were cool, and were genuinely interested in our lives. We sought their advice, and in turn, we kept them young.
And so, as I listen to my son and his buddies in the other room, and I understand about every 10th word, I am content that they are at least safely and happily spending time under our roof. We may easily remember being that young, but now our roles have changed. My goal is to play that role for him the best I can… to be that parent in the other room, a little bit in the background…so he knows I’m there no matter what. If I can do it well, with a little style, and with as few embarrassing-mom-moments as possible, I too can come out the other side as a cool parent.
And at that point, I get to take a few steps into the foreground again.