Tonight I attended the high school curriculum meeting for the parents of next year’s ninth-grade class, which includes my fourteen-year-old son.
Holy hell, when did my son get old enough for high school?
This is, of course, impossible. If I dig deep enough in his room, under the underwear and soccer uniforms strewn across the furniture, the shin guards and bedding on the floor (I don’t ask why), I’m certain I’ll find a leftover dinosaur or two from that old obsession. I know he no longer sleeps with the privileged quartet of stuffed friends that he used to consider sacred, but I also know they still live in that room. They’re just tucked into a corner of a bookshelf where he can pretend he doesn’t want them anymore. So “Jack” doesn’t cuddle with me any longer or call me “Mommy.” I can still trick him into get a hug when I really want one.
Next you’ll be telling me he’s going to be driving before I know it.
Oh, wait. He will.
I’ve got a secret to reveal about parenting my son at this age—actually, both him and my ten-year-old daughter. I love this stage of parenting. I waited for this. When I envisioned being a parent prior to becoming one, this is the kind of role I imagined.
To be clear: there has never been a moment in which I did not love my children. And I am not so foolish as to believe that everything will be clear sailing from this time forward.
But patience is not even close to my most abundant virtue, and the world of babies and toddlers was not the easiest world for me to live in. Things got better as my kids grew into preschoolers, then school-age kids. But so much of the interaction between parent and young child is instructional and protective, that of a ward to a beloved charge, superior to inferior. It is a construction of someone guarding and nurturing a precious, burgeoning gift. It’s rewarding beyond measure in many ways, and I suspect that during those years, I learned as much from my children as I taught them—including how to be more patient. Yet, as any parent knows, interactions with little children often lack in rationality to an extreme, a condition not improved by the usual sleep-deprivation that accompanies it.
Now, however, parenting is something else. The instructional component is still very much present; just ask my son and he’ll roll his eyes for you as he agrees. The guarding and protecting has become more fraught, evidenced by my frequent lectures and attempts to establish with my kids values and proscriptions regarding parties-alcohol-drugs-sexually transmitted diseases-predators-an unending list of horrors. The kids talk back to me now with reasoning that would impress any lawyer and hormone-fueled outbursts to liquefy any resolve.
But life with my kids now feels as if we’re living in a different universe than we did when they were younger. They still possess many of the same personality traits as before. Maturity has sharpened some of those traits and softened others, and now I can reason with them via actual conversations. My kids are beginning to learn they can admit when they are wrong. Though very different in our likes, dislikes and abilities, we are discovering activities we like to do together, making choices and compromises, learning to do things in pairs sometimes, as a family of four at other times. Sometimes the kids don’t get what they want and they whine or pout, but other times they simply accept the outcome and move on. They surprise me frequently with their observations, their ideas and their wit—especially when they catch me out and make me laugh at myself.
There is still plenty of learning taking place. But those moments of “hanging out,” of having fun as family around a dinner table, discussing homework or the kids’ futures or embarking on an adventure now involve exchanges of ideas almost always guaranteed to challenge in one way or another. My kids aren’t adults yet, but they are indeed people, with developing senses of identity, preferences, specific curiosities and opinions about the world.
So I can’t wait for this next stage of my son’s development—though I know it will come with new challenges. I know he’s ready, and I know the rest of our family is, too.
I know now, too, how fast time moves. I know how quickly it seems we arrived here. And I feel like I’ll be writing the post about my son picking up the car keys in no time at all.