The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Turning Tween May 2, 2014

Maybe it’s because of the landmark birthday. Maybe it’s because he himself feels that something should be different by now. Maybe it’s the recent onslaught of the relentless Pokemon sub-culture that has created a divide between us. Maybe it’s because his very physiology is changing. It could be any one of those things or more that have us in a new place in our relationship. It’s pretty clear to me now, we’re entering into new territory; my son and I are entering into the world of the pre-teen.

Yeah, my heart sinks a bit to admit it, but I know for sure that something here is new. It still feels foreign – really wrong, in fact – when I think about such a change occurring between the two of us. We have always been a team, but it doesn’t quite feel like that right now. I’d have expected some sort of mysterious change in our relationship had he been a girl, but I guess I’d thought the mom-son thing might be immune. No matter, something present in our relationship is changing, and I need to adjust. And I need to help make this transition smooth. I need to treat him gently, and with love and understanding. I need to remember how I myself once felt to be on the verge of that kind of change. To be at the doorstep of sixth grade, with its first heavy heart breaks, the complex web of communication and misunderstanding between friends and classmates, and not lastly those strange physical changes that just add to the insecurities of the age. I need to honor what it is that he’s going through. And most of all, I need to give him more space.

We two, like-souled and blessed with uncanny communication have become subtly divided over the past few months without my even realizing it. We have begun to become what our peers have already long been: parent and child. No longer are we somewhat parent and child, mostly peer and friend (I know, I know, folks will chide that this is unhealthy, unrealistic, impractical and more. Say what you will, so far it’s worked very well.) Now our relationship feels just a bit different. There’s nothing wrong here, and we still laugh and play together, but a definite shift of sorts is taking place. And it’s all ok – it’s to be expected. Elihu is growing into a healthy individual, I get that. It certainly helps to keep that in mind when bedroom doors are all of a sudden closed, bathroom doors too, when normal conversation is embarrassing, when my previous silly antics – while still entertaining to his classmates – have now become horrifying for him to witness… Keeping this big, pre-adolescent change in mind helps me to ignore my slightly injured ego when he recoils, tells me angrily to “please stop” or even worse, begins to tear up in embarrassed frustration. I have to remind myself that I too am shifting gears here; what’s worked for the past few years no longer does, so I’ll need to figure out the new boundaries. I’m just beginning to get a handle on it, and I hope that until I do my dear son can trust that I have his back, and that it is not my goal to embarrass or horrify him in front of his peers. I may not edit as much as he’d like, but I will do my best to demonstrate to him that I’m still on his side. (And I hope I can do so without making him into a spoiled brat. It’s tempting to want to acquiesce and buy him that coveted Pokemon card to show him what a pal I can be…)

This new place is not a bad place to be, really. As soon as I begin to lament the passing of my tender young child, I find myself enjoying a bit of relief as Elihu takes on new jobs around the house. In fact, he’s responded resolutely to my requests. I can sense (not just a hunch, we two have discussed it) that he needs more responsiblity around here. He sincerely wants to have more regular duties in our household. And I gotta say, after years of doing every blessed last thing myself, I am more than ready to delegate a couple of jobs.

It’s still a bittersweet place to be; from this day I can remember well what it was to hold my small child only a few years ago, and yet at the same time I can picture a young man preparing to leave home. So many nights I’ve nearly wept with exhaustion at the unending job of motherhood – the baths, the meals, the laundry, the cajoling – the usual stuff. Some days my dearest wish has been that my son not need so much of my goddam help anymore. When, I think, fed up and simply aching for a moment to myself, when will this kid grow up already?

I’d thought we were probably past it, and wondered if I hadn’t been doing it more for me than for him this time ’round, but tonight Elihu asked me to please read to him from our beloved Burgess Bird Book for Children. A rare, first edition copy nearing a hundred years old, we both love the quaint language and thorough accounting of birds that the main character, Peter Rabbit, encounters as they return to the Old Orchard with the coming of Spring. We first read it the Spring he turned six, and I’ve read it aloud to him each year since. Feeling a bit grouchy at the end of a long day and possibly on the verge of another self-sorry rant, I asked if we might want to skip the book tonight. In response, Elihu got kinda quiet, smiled up at me and shook his head ‘no’. My heart thusly softened, we cozied up together in bed to enjoy a couple of chapters.

This time when I reached for the ancient book my heart skipped a beat. A dim awareness had been growing lately, but I had been to afraid to name it. My hunch would no longer allow itself to be ignored, and my heart sank deeply when the question finally spoke itself to me: might this be the last year I’d ever read this book to my son? “Very possibly” was my answer. Oh-oh. All of a sudden I wasn’t so sure I really wanted to be over and done with my job. And when I located the bookmark and opened the book, I noticed that we were halfway through. And you might even say I panicked ever so slightly when another thought then occurred to me… We were halfway through our beloved children’s book, and we ourselves were halfway through Elihu’s childhood. The day that I’d prayed for on so many mother-worn nights was finally within sight. Oh dear friends, do be careful what you wish for…

I know how the remaining chapters of Mr. Burgess’ book will go, but I don’t have the same clear vision for our own story. I am, however, fairly sure that it too will end happily, while setting the stage for many more beautiful seasons yet to come.

 

3 Responses to “Turning Tween”

  1. Eric Schultz Says:

    Yes, it’s sometimes an emotionally conflicting thing we go through as our kids grow up. Even while we welcome every step of development from earliest childhood and up, we start to miss our kids as they were before. Certain qualities are developed and gained, while something else seems to slip away. Just as you start marvelling at how much the toddler is learning, you realize that the baby isn’t really there anymore. Then, as they become adolescents, the “toddler” is soon gone. It’s great every time that our kids learn to do something for themselves, and yet we miss them needing us. As they say, “enjoy it while you can”. Having a positive relationship with our kids means that we never really lose them. As long as we can accept the changes in the whole complicated set of dynamics (if that’s the right word for it) in our relationships, we’ll all be all right.

    A friend of mine who is a school teacher said that we often look at our kids as a composite picture of everything from the start up until now. Just wait until your son is driving your car! It took me a while to get used to hearing, “Dad, can I take the car to…” At first, it was like that TV commercial, where the guy sees his daughter as a little 5-year old sitting in the driver’s seat!

    • wingmother Says:

      yup. jes gotta roll wid it. And as my son will likely never drive (achromatopsia) we’ll just add in a whole new unknown into the mix. That’s ok too – if he moves to NYC he’ll just have to have enough couch space for good ol mom, cuz I”m gonna be a frequent visitor for sure… then we two can look back and have a good laugh…and by then he’ll no doubt apologize for all those difficult, pre-teen moments.Ya think…?.

      • Eric Schultz Says:

        …as long as you apologize for your middle age moments! As cool as we like to think that we are, we have something of a natural ability to annoy our kids, as well! Anyway, times often gives us a safe space of distance, from which we can laugh more easily about things that don’t always seem all that funny at the time.

        Sorry, I forgot about the Achromatopsia when posting the above comments. I was just thinking about a near-accident that my daughter told me about earlier that day, where she had to quickly dart into a parking space to avoid being hit by some guy in a HUGE vehicle, who suddenly backed out really fast, and I was remembering how nervous I felt when she first got her driving permit. Now my two younger kids (twins), have driving permits at the same time. You don’t know the thrills you’re missing in that area! You probably can be glad for that! As the say, “count your blessings,” and in most situations, there’s something to be thankful for, one way or another.


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