“You are an embarrassment machine,” my son hissed to me at a restaurant a few days before he began sixth grade. He said this audibly enough for me to hear although his head was bowed, his long blonde bangs grazing the edge of his placemat. I don’t recall which infraction I’d incurred at the time. Perhaps reminding him that he should say please after placing his order with the waiter? Suggesting that he spread the napkin across his lap, rather than leave it next to his plate, unrolled? Or maybe it was the way I looked around with satisfaction and sighed, saying how nice it was that our family was having dinner together. “We’re in public, Mom!” Sam admonished me. “Don’t talk out loud.”
Earlier that day, Sam mentioned that he didn’t like the way my hands were positioned on the steering wheel as we drove through town. Or how I’d pointed outside the window at a boy on a skateboard. The boy didn’t see me, I argued, so it was quite all right, plus the reason I pointed was because his adorable little head should have been covered in a helmet.
“Adorable, Mom? Really?”
“Yes,” I insisted. All kids are adorable.”
“Oh my gosh, you don’t know anything at all about kids,” Sam said.
There comes a time when parents can’t do anything right by their children, and that time has obviously descended upon me. The stampede has arrived, the crush is in process, but I’m hanging on in the ring, desperately trying to squeak out a little more time.
“Just so you know, I may quit talking to you entirely when I’m twelve or thirteen,” Sam’s twin brother Jack (age eleven) mentioned casually the other night at bedtime as he rolled down his covers.
“Thanks for the head’s up,” I said, sitting on the floor, petting our dog. Good thing I don’t mind my own company, I thought. Better start getting used to it.
“I mean, I’ll still talk to you, just not about important stuff,” Jack clarified as he hopped into bed. “Night, Mom. I mean Grammy.”
Grammy is my least favorite nickname. A few weeks back, my husband thought it would be funny to call me that. I guess he wanted to try it out since I’m now a a step-grandmother to a beautiful little girl named Maeva. “Hey Grammy, why don’t you join us?” he yelled from the den, which caused our boys to double over with laughter and spurt whatever the heck it was the three of them were chowing down on while watching another Will Ferrell movie. Was it Talladega Nights? Step Brothers? Who knows, and at the time I didn’t care, other than being called Grammy, of all things. Oh, they thought that was hilarious. For his first paper required for the first day of sixth grade, Jack wrote that he lives with a brother, a dog, a dad who he affectionately calls Buddy, and Grammy. When he showed me that, Grammy had to silently count to ten and resist the impulse to rip up his lovely little essay.
While it sometimes feels like I’m caught in the crossfire of the whims and moods of my kids, I’m also aware that, as middle schoolers, they’re dwelling in a hyper critical crawlspace, where they hope (depending on the day) to either: A.) Not be noticed at school and fly under the radar, therefore avoiding potential embarrassment or humiliation, or B.) Hope to be noticed in the spirit of acceptance and popularity.
It’s a heady thing being a middle-schooler, a time when the burgeoning awareness of inequity heightens and grows, darn it all. You inadvertently might wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing – or worst of all, be the wrong thing.
“I wish I were five again. No one makes fun of what you like,” Jack muttered the other morning while getting ready for school. “You don’t have to worry about being cool.”
His brother entered the room then, snapping his T-shirt against Jack’s leg. “You, cool? Like that would ever happen anyway.”
Ah, the mornings, those sweet mornings when arguments fly as soon as the alarm rings, when it’s still dark outside and even the dog isn’t ready for a walk.
“What about you, Sam?” I asked. “Are you one of the cool kids? Or a sporty one?” His eyes were squinty with sleep, his shoulders slumped forward. “Or maybe a nerd like I was?”
“Wow,” he said. “You really don’t know anything about kids.”
“So you say, but maybe you can help me?”
“Not specified,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“That’s me. I’m not specified.”
Oh, I see. Why that’s the very best thing of all, I wanted to say. You don’t get penned in that way. But I caught myself. I knew he wasn’t looking for my reaction or nostalgic stories or further discussion. If I acted too interested, that was all I’d ever get.
So I tousled his hair and whistled for the dog to follow me.
“Come downstairs when you’re ready, boys. Grammy will get breakfast.”