My 12-year-old is turning 13 in 3 weeks. He is my first-born and marks my first foray as a parent into that wild, untamed country of teenager-dom.
There is no more apt descriptor for this phase that children go through than that of “tween”. Perhaps those wild vacillations between “I’m still a kid” to “I’m beyond cool” are the prep kitchen for impending teenager mood swings. One moment my boy will be grumbling a hello (if we should be so lucky,) while rolling his eyes at whatever we have to say, and the next moment he’ll be bursting with energy over an idea he just got, grabbing our hands and bouncing up and down with his freckle-faced grin, barely able to contain himself over not knowing where to begin to implement it.
Since this school year started, it has been increasingly difficult to *reach* him - to find a topic that will interest him enough to set him off on the stream-of-consciousness rambling he did as a child. Busy work schedules on both parents’ part don’t help, but he appears to be pulling away into his own world as well. An hour or two at the end of a busy work/school day is hardly enough time to mine for those jewels of thoughts, ideas and concerns that fill a growing child’s mind and give them assurance that you still know who they are.
Two events occurred this past year that I mark as poignant, significant milestones. The first was a date-night with my tween to see Titanic when it was released in 3D. It had been 10 years since I’d first seen the movie and while I remember liking it, the intensity of the movie had faded with time. As a result, I didn’t adequately prepare him for how difficult parts of the movie would be. This is not a kid who has been deprived of mainstream movie fads a la Harry Potter, Avatar, and The Hunger Games. But where those are mostly fantasy, Titanic is a true story that he has studied in school, with characters both real and fictionalized. So during those final moments of the ship sinking with the quartet playing, the captain at his wheel, and the mother in third-class tucking her children into bed, my son wept. For the first time in his life, he was so moved by a movie that he was wracked with uncontrollable sobs. And he held my hand. Tightly. It’s hard to know if my own sobs were the result of the events on the screen or the event to my right. But I do know this. The moment is indelibly etched into my mind, as it is probably the very last time he’ll ever hold my hand in a movie.
The second event was toward the end of the year when we started reading “Les Miserables” together in preparation for the movie release in December. It has been my favorite book since I read it in college and I was over the moon that he suggested we read it together. Nightly, he would snuggle into bed as I burrowed into his beanbag chair with a headlamp, and we would enter together the world of Jean Valjean. Being a musical theatre family, countless renditions of “Master of the House” have been performed around here at shower-time. But the book by Victor Hugo is an entirely different experience and I didn’t realize how interested a 12-year-old could be in flowery-worded references to a revolution 250 years ago in a country he’s never been to. But he was enthralled. And I was given the gift of not only revisiting a much-loved book, but revisiting a connection with a boy who (seemingly ages ago) wanted bedtime stories read to him. The difference now is that we’re connecting across the darkness with ideas about humanity, charity, sacrifice, love, and duty. And through the discussions those topics foster, I’m getting a preview of the wonderful, caring adult man that is germinating within my tween – a man that values the depth of good within people despite how many “bad guys” he says he idolizes.
He sits across from me at the dinner table each night and I find myself aching for missing him already. I fear if I blink he’ll be away at college. But seen in another light, five years is still a substantial amount of time. And while those vacillations back to the little boy are growing fewer and farther between, those brilliant glimpses of the man he is becoming are as enthralling to watch as the daily unfolding of a perfect bloom.