I’ve come to a crossroad and so have my children. That crossroad is called puberty, something I naively never imagined myself reliving. Before I had children I visualized long hikes up canyon trails while an infant slept happily in a sling strapped across my chest, or captivating museum visits with a four-year-old clutching my hand in compatible bliss. Never in my imaginings did I picture what life would be like as a mother of twin boys on the eve of their twelfth birthday. If someone had asked me to describe what that might look like, I probably would have replied: Thank goodness I have boys. Girls can be so full of drama (being one myself I’d feel entitled to make this pronouncement). I’m sure boys sprout into young men much more smoothly than girls do women.
If you were to ask me now, smooth isn’t a word that would come to mind.
Yesterday upon after-school pickup, one of my sons grumpily climbed into the car and immediately opened his laptop. When I requested that he please close it, he slammed it shut with a pop and yelled DANG IT! Eight minutes later, when we walked into our house and I reminded him to place his backpack on the hallway bench rather than on the floor where he dropped it, he said he DID NOT want to do that, he also DID NOT want to take the dog outside, NOT EVEN FOR ONE STUPID SECOND, and absolutely DID NOT want me to deny his request that three buddies come over for dinner that very night (on a Wednesday no less). “Why not, Mom? Why can’t they?” he demanded. About seven times.
Because I chose to ignore this nearly hysterical plea, he flopped onto the floor, his head flat against the rug that people wipe their feet upon when entering our house. I watched him flail around for a bit before asking if he wanted to talk about what was bothering him.
“You wouldn’t understand!” he shouted. He rolled sideways back and forth a few times, flinging his limbs hither and thither to prove his point. I refrained from mentioning that he reminded me of an old movie starring Linda Blair.
“Try me,” I said calmly. “You never know, maybe I’ll understand.”
“I’m not feeling well,” he finally said. Was he trying to get out of an imminent session with his math tutor (a generous and understanding soul who we’re all fond of)? Or out of a tennis lesson that was scheduled after that? Surely he wasn’t thinking I’d let him him slip upstairs and play video games, his very favorite thing in the world. Did he really think his frantic thrashing and yelling would earn him that privilege?
“I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, sweetie. Can you explain? You don’t look ill.”
He sighed and rolled up slowly to a seated position. “I’m not feeling well emotionally.”
I swallowed a chuckle erupting in my throat. If I’ve learned anything at all during my journey so far through motherhood, it’s that I should take my child as seriously as he’s taking himself while hostage to hormonal bursts.
“Not feeling well emotionally? Gosh, that sounds like a big deal. Let’s go in the den and talk about it.”
“Nah,” he said, jumping up suddenly. “I wanna go change.”
A few minutes later I found him in the kitchen jamming crackers into his mouth. Unsure whether the storm had passed, I kept my distance, a few feet away from where he was standing. “Are you feeling better emotionally now?” I asked gently.
“Yep,” he gave me a tentative grin and then peered into the refrigerator. “Do we have any Gatorade?”
Speaking of beverages, my other son offered to bring in apple juice for a class reading celebration. Thankfully he gave me enough advance notice to purchase two large jugs, which I slipped into a handy carrying bag. While driving to school this morning he decided he wasn’t sure if today was the right day after all.
“It’s Thursday,” I reminded him, “Thursday is definitely the day you agreed to provide apple juice.”
He was frantically looking out the window. “But I don’t see anyone else bringing stuff.”
“It could be in their backpacks,” his brother offered. What, he’d turned into the voice of reason overnight?
“Nope, no one else has anything. I’m not taking it.”
“Actually, you are going to deliver the apple juice,” I said through gritted teeth.
“I am not, Mom! Do you know how embarrassing that will be?”
“That’s why I don’t volunteer to bring in anything,” his brother chimed in. “Just don’t sign up next time.”
How lovely, I thought. Such great advice. I’ll have to deal with that later. And since when did apple juice become embarrassing? It’s not like I bought juice boxes.
As soon as I pulled up to the curb in front of the middle school, both my sons skittered out quickly, the jugs thudding behind on the floorboard. I rolled down the passenger window, and did what I have been forbidden to do by my sixth graders: I called out my son’s name.
He returned to the car with flushed cheeks. “Just so you know, you will lose your computer time tonight if you don’t take in the damn apple juice,” I threatened as quietly as I could. At seven-thirty in the morning it’s not like I want my parenting skills (or lack thereof) to be on public display.
“Fine,” he said, opening the back door. “I’ll take one bottle. Only one!”
“Love you sweetie,” I said, before he could slam the door, which of course he did.
It’s at times like this that I feel like I’m going through puberty all over again. Sure, it’s with a different perspective. Not necessarily an older and wiser one, but definitely from the opposite gender’s perspective. The highs are high and the lows are dismal, and either is entirely possible at any point. It’s anyone’s guess.
Twenty-four hours after The Exorcist reenactment, my reformed Linda Blair handed me a peace offering. “I bought you something at the gas station,” my son said, placing a 100 Grand candy bar in my palm. A smile spread across my face and I rested my fingertips lightly on his forearm. “Thanks bud, this makes my day.”
“Well,” he said. “I was planning to eat it but since I just finished a giant bag of skittles I guess you can have it.”
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly as touching as it could have been but I’ll take it. In fact I’ll take whatever moments I can get with my sprouting young men: the smooth days, the rough times, and all the somewheres in between. Especially all the somewheres in between, because that’s where most of them are.