Friday, June 7, 2013

Can I really be a mother of teen boys?

I sat with my boys in yet another doctor's office waiting room, an endless ritual during our annual visits home from Kenya. In a rare moment in which they were both happily engaged, I sat back with a magazine folded in my lap, watching my boys. I took in the wispy hair on Emmet's head, barely moving in the breeze from the vent as he sat, legs splayed, concentrating on his wooden toy.  Caleb was engrossed in an elaborate fantasy featuring a plastic dump truck and a cement mixer.

As I watched my babies completely embodying their one-year-oldness and four-year-oldness, a mother entered the room, trailed by her teen-aged son.  A few minutes later another mom came in with a son who towered over her even as he bent over his iphone.  Finally a third mom-teen boy dyad entered the room.

I had lots of time and no semblance of propriety to stare at these almost men.  They were all Adam's apples and awkwardness.  They sat politely and patiently but with an aura of insecurity, with limbs that seemed somehow too big for them, the hair on their legs contrasting strangely with their soft still-boy faces.

I found my heart racing, slightly panicked to look into my own future like that.

I looked back down at my boys, so easy to love and uncomplicated.  Exhausting and frustrating, but uncomplicated.  I can squeeze them and kiss them and tuck them in at night without embarrassing them. In moments of pain or sadness they want nothing more than my embrace. I am still, for the moment, their simple salvation.  I'm not sure what I'd do with an older boy.  And, probably more to the point, not sure what he'd want from me.

When I was growing up, by the time boys were no longer icky, they were making me nervous and breaking my heart.  Somewhere in between all that they were huddled around video games, or sweating testosterone, playing games I didn't follow and hardly cared about.

I had lots of girl friends and we did girlfriend things.  We made up dances in my parents basement, we wandered around the mall and tried on scandalous clothes we had no intention of buying, we gossiped about which of these enigmatic people, boys, we had crushes on.  But we never really related to their world - their teen boy culture.  Even after we started dating, we preferred our own.

But babies and small children are different.  There's no great need to relate or even totally understand them, and they don't have a culture that excludes you.  Their gender is largely besides the point. The point is to smoother them in your love.

In fact just that morning I was playing a game with Caleb.  The one where I lie on my back, and give him "airplane rides" supporting his torso with my feet and holding his hands, giving me an inches- away view to his giggly bliss.  Amid staring love-struck at his baby teeth swimming in his "big boy" smile and squeezing his whole body next to mine, I spoke the truth of my heart, and said something child development professionals probably advise against: "Caleb, will you stay four forever?  I love you at four.  Please don't get any older."

Caleb actually paused his playful euphoria, maybe reacting to the desperation in my voice, and with an adult-like empathy that never fails to break my heart, said, "Don't worry mama. I won't get older for a very VERY long time."

"That's true, love." I squeezed him.

Even as I knew he was right, I refused to learn the lesson. I wanted to freeze that hug in time.

Back in the doctor's office. The nurse called Tom (teen #3) into the office. And he walked through that door alone.  Alone.

For some reason, as he bent through the doorway to face the doctor alone, leaving his mom to her magazine, I swallowed a lump in my throat.  At that point I realized, of course I'll always be in love with my sons.  They won't be the enigmatic teenagers of my youth.  They'll still be my babies.  They still exude their Caleb-ness and Emmet-ness, and I'm sure that's what I'll see.  I'll know just how to love them.

I remember saying at 2, "Please stay 2 years old forever."  The same at three, and now at four. Maybe it'll be the same at 15.  I realized that what I was truly afraid of was not the clumsy and secretive teen years, but of my boys walking through that door. Without me.


15 comments:

  1. The moment they will be walking through that door, you will not feel what you felt by watching this other boy. You will grow with your children and letting them go is part of the process. They need to be trusted. Like you probably let them eat by themselves now, or get dressed by themselves. It will not happen over night. You will have plenty of time to get used to them growing up. But they will still need your hugs: maybe not in public, but they will. The relationship with a child changes like every relationship, but if there is love and care, you don't have nothing to worry. - This is why every mum of an older child says: "Enjoy when they're little, they grow so fast" ;-)

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    1. It's so true, and in a way their increasing freedom is liberating. The attachment, while sweet and tender, is also what is so exhausting about young children. Still, it's great to have some reassurance here! Thanks!

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  2. Such a sweet post Kim - I feel the same way about my girls. What will it be like when they don't need me so much or want me around all the time, but they are growing up with us and so their interests will become our interests because it will be another way to connect with them. I'm banking on the fact that as they grow and change we'll learn what they still need and want from us and we'll adapt but I also sometime whisper, "please stop growing up."

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    1. What a thoughtful and reassuring comment! I know in my heart it's true. I think it's just hard to even think about what their world (and by extension my own) will be during those teen years. I'm sure I'll learn a lot and I know my love will only grow. Still, I'm glad to hear you're guilty of whispering "stop growing" to your kids too. ; )

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  3. Usually, when i think about my kids as teenagers, I stress about how i am going to stay relevant enough in their lives (either actively and explicitly, or maybe just as the imaginary voice in the back of their heads) that when they are alone, they will make good, safe, smart, and kind choices every day. But, sometimes, I just feel a little relief that they will be able to wipe their own butts, and if they wake up at 6:30 on a saturday morning, they can get their own damn cereal.

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    1. Oh,I am definitely looking forward to the making their own cereal on teh weekend days too! And, like you, I also worry about still being a force in their lives that helps them make good decisions. IT's the whole "you raise them for the first few years and then their friends and the school system does the rest" mantra that freaks me out too!

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  4. Years ago, on a lovely spring day, I caught the sight of a man wearing only shorts walking out of the kids bathroom at my house, hairy legs and all. With a start that I thought might stop, and then break, my heart, I realized that it was MY SON, 16 years old - having grown a whole lot over the winter! With his legs covered each day with long pants, I had no idea he had grown manly hair on his legs and, indeed, that his whole shape had changed into that of a young man, no longer a boy.

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    1. What a terrific memory. Thought, this is the day I fear. ; )

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  5. Hey Kim - I think about this too, maybe more than I should since Julian is still only 2.5 years old and the other is still in utero. ;-) But wondering what they will be like as teenagers makes me nervous because I always think about what my brother was like. He was pretty much a teenage boy nightmare for my parents, and me, most of the time. He was a bully, got in trouble, shut them out, fought with us a lot. Of course, he is an awesome man now: great husband, dad, and successful businessman, but those teenage years were tough, especially for my mom. Even when I talk to John about the things he did as a teenager (generally not too troublesome - just normal teenage boy stuff) it is so hard for me to imagine my little boy(s) doing the same! Good thing I've got 12-ish years to prepare. :-) Miss you!

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    1. I know!! That's the crux of my anxiety. But I guess it's good to look at those years as a sometimes painful PHASE of life - not the end of it. These strange teenagers do turn into the wonderful men we marry, after all!

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  6. My eldest is 11 1/2 and has feet bigger than mine; he was once the smallest baby I had ever seen. Not sure how that happened.

    Luckily we grow with the job, eh?

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    1. That's my enduring hope (growing with the job)!

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  7. So sweet, so poignant, so true...

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  8. I have a 12 year old & 8-almost-9. I miss that uncomplicated & exhausting little-kid-love...and I relish watching them become, you know, people. They both still curl up on my lap; they both want me to tuck them in at night. But as they get older & older I wonder about this strange country called "teenage boyhood." I mean, I've never been a boy! What the hell goes through a teen-age boy's mind? Food, video games, sports, school? Maybe in that order? I think that on some level, to be a parent means always to have a nostalgic perspective about what's happening...

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    1. Yes. IT does seem like a different country! And I wish someone would hand me a guidebook. And as long as they are handing out books, can someone hand me a book that tells me how to prevent my boys from becoming video game addicts - it's a not entirely rationale nightmare I have. And: "to be a parent means always to have a nostalgic perspective about what's happening." Perfect!

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