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Category Archives: Middle School

About Face

They pound into the backseat like an explosion, popping with energy, youth and hormones and the car heaves with the extra weight. I give a small smile in greeting but then concentrate on the road. I am just the driver. My job is to not say a word, suck in as much information as possible and deposit them at their destination without calling any attention to myself.

It’s hard when all I want to do is stare at them, at their maturing faces and expressions, but of course that would be weird so I just stare straight ahead wondering about these almost unrecognizable creatures who I have known for years.

I sneak glimpses through the rear view mirror at the angular lines and skin dotted with the blemishes. They are morphing into new people every day, every second. I want to study them and find the little boys who I remember. Where did the curvy cheeks and smooth skin go?  The sticky smiles? The Hot Wheels and Pokemon cards? But really, where did the years go?

My son sits in the front seat next to me and keeps me in line, changing the radio to a more preferred station, giving me a stern nod when I start singing along. That is not on the list of things moms are allowed to do. I comply, of course. I want to be allowed to chauffer them places. I want to get to know them as they are now, these little boy men.

I arrive at the chosen house of hangout and watch them shoot out like firecrackers. They remember to thank me politely and I know their mothers would be proud. My own boy jerks his head to the left, momentarily tossing his surfer long hair off of his golden eyes to give me a sideways glance and a shy smile. “Bye, mama.”

Oh that face. I wish I could preserve it, set it in stone, hide it away in my heart and in my house and never have anything change. He is so beautiful and I know he will grow and become a handsome young man like they all are, but I have just this moment become desperate to stop time and hold on to this boy. I’ve already lost the baby who nuzzled me, the sweet kid who clung to me, and soon I will lose this face as well.

It’s almost too much but life forces me to accept that. Because I know that while I can capture a moment, I can’t capture my boy. He will grow and change. He will rise and fall. He will love me and leave me. And all I can do is sit back and be grateful that I’m along for the ride.

I love this boy!!!!

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Boys through nov 2009 024 IMAG0261 430 IMG_0286

My baby turns 13 this month. Puh Puh Puh. I love this face. I love this boy. Always.

This face has my heart, no matter what it looks like. Always. Happy almost 13 baby.

Drive of Shame

I had never been to the girl’s house and crept down the street squinting at addresses. 37… 34… Close. Close… The numbers were partially obscured but I heard youthful noise so I pulled into the driveway then immediately hit the brakes. At least 9 cats lounged on the blacktop. Not one of them even flicked a whisker, and after a moment staring me down, resumed the important business of licking themselves and stretching out in the sun.

Amused, I zigzagged through them toward the back of the house, but found nothing but manicured grass and empty lounges. The voices were coming from next door. I turned to go back to my car and almost ran right into a pissed off woman.

“What were you doing in my yard?” She accused.

“I’m, um, picking up my son but uh wrong house,” I stammered and pointed next door where the sounds of merriment lifted into the air like music notes. “Sorry.”

I received an extremely skeptical look. Jeez. Did people regularly walk into her yard? Did she think I was animal control?

I was still giggling when I walked into the next yard and saw my son, his friends and a bunch of girls in shorts and bikinis running around an empty blue pool, circling each other in a fascinating mix of confidence and insecurity.

They all stopped their pubescent frolicking at my interruption but only briefly, like I was the most uninteresting person in the world. The boys gave me a cursory smile or wave; my own son the most standoffish among them. I think I heard a cat yawn.

“Hey guys,” I said, “I’m picking up you, you and you.” I pointed at three boys who each looked at the guy next to him.

A quick huddle ensued and my son was sent over to break the bad news.

“So um, listen,” he started, giving me his sweetest smile, “Don’t feel bad or anything but we’re going to wait for Sawyer’s mom,”

“What?” I said, “Why? I’m here.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” he soothed, putting his arm around me and walking me out while the bikinis and boys who grew up on my lawn watched. “She’s on her way. We’re going back to his house anyway.”

“But I can take you there. No problem!” I pleaded a little desperately as he led me to my minivan.

“Thanks, mom. But it’s okay.” He closed my car door and leaned in the window amused, “Don’t feel bad that you’re not the cool mom.” I was about to protest but didn’t get the chance, “And I need some money. We might see a movie.”

“I’m cool,” I pouted, reaching into my sack and handing him $20.”

“Of course you are,” he smiled, pocketing the cash. Then with a hint of boyish bashfulness, he slouch walked back to the yard, behind the fence, to his friends, the bikinis and beyond my reach.

With no one to carpool, I drove off rejected and smiling but still feeling somewhat astray.

I knew I should have taken the Jeep.

Wish that I could be like the cool cats. Like the cool cats...

What are you looking at? I’m a cool cat too! I am! Fine. Whatever.

Finding the middle ground in 7th grade

“It’s 7:30am!” I call out to my oldest son, meaning that it’s time to go.

“Are your books packed?” I follow up when I receive no reply.

“Are you ready?” I shout, already annoyed on at least three levels. First, I am before coffee and racing through the morning routine of lunches and whatnot. Second, there is a binder on the dining room table that I know needs to be packed away in his book bag where I have already placed his charged phone (your welcome) and his lunch (your welcome again) and third, my son doesn’t freaking answer me.

Slowly he saunters into the kitchen. His sneakers aren’t on.

I grit my teeth, corralling my tongue, “Baby, I called you three times and you’re not ready.”

“What do you mean?” His voice flares a notch, “I’m ready.”

I point to the book lying open on the table.

“Oh my God, mom!” He huffs, “That will take like one second!”  He moves in on the binder and shoves it in his bag. He forces the zipper closed, jerks his head to the side to get the hair out of his face just enough so I can catch a glimpse of his rolling eyes. “See!” he challenges.

Yeah I see. I see he needs a haircut because even though he wants long hair, my boy doesn’t want to take the effort to use a comb or a little water or gel to make it look more like hair and less like a mop. I see that he needs to straighten his shorts, put on his sneakers, grab a zip-up jacket, and that we have very different ideas about what being ‘ready’ means.

I realize that this moment hits the crux of our relationship issues for the last year or so. I ask him questions he doesn’t want to answer and ask him to do things he doesn’t want to do… “What’s taking you so long? Put away your phone. Don’t you see your friends look people in the eye? Can you not forget your  book/sweatshirt/shoes/whatever? Is your homework done? Must you jump around like a puppy? No one else has blah blah blah. Did you do this that and the other thing…?”

It’s my job, of course, to help this growing up person act more grown up, to follow certain rules of behavior. Simple ones like responding when someone speaks to you, being respectful, taking pride in his appearance or being responsible to more complex ones like standing up for what he believes in, being extra kind for no reason and every reason or getting out of his comfort zone to try new things.

But what I also realize is that my wanting to help prepare him for being an adult is at odds with the person who he is. He is not a grown up yet. He is a barely a teen who has matured and progressed tremendously in the past year. He may not have his back pack ready in the morning on my clock, but he is doing awesome in every class at school. He plays team sports year round. He is practicing for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. He is fumbling through the social tornado which is Middle School. He still generally always has a smile on his face.

When we get into the car I ask him if he’s got everything.

“Yeah,” he answers without thinking.

“Your phone?” I prompt, forcing him to double check his bag. I’m being a bit of an ass. I know it’s in there, but I want to remind him that he doesn’t know. That he needs to be more prepared.

Growing up isn’t easy or immediate. Every day there are moments that make me quietly cheer and setbacks that make my eye twitch in frustration. It’s an entertaining, maddening road from here to adulthood, but it’s a process that necessitates patience and understanding. It can’t and shouldn’t be rushed, although I often have to remind myself.

After searching around, my son pulls out his phone from his backpack and I can see the boyish relief behind the teenage smirk.

He’s got it.

But we won’t really know until tomorrow.

Meeting in the middle

My baby, baby no more

 

 

Teen interrupted

“Mommy, there’s a problem,” My newly minted 12 year-old says, plopping down on the other side of the couch, interrupting a rare moment of quiet where I am actually relaxing with a book.

This better be good.

I look up at his greasy hair, clothes dirty from a day at basketball camp and face still unnaturally sheened by sweat and sun block. “ls it that you desperately need a shower?”

“Silly Mommy,” he says, flashing me his goofy grin. “No. It’s that I’m bored.”

Well stop the presses.

“Should I mention the shower again?” I ask.

“Later.” He says, and absently starts twisting the top of his hair in his fingers.

Oh. My baby is tired. The simple gesture says so, immediately tugging at my heart and taking me back at least a decade. I see him in his crib putting himself to bed, his fingers twirled in his hair. I see him at nursery when I sneak peeks through the door before pick-up, drowsy on the camp bus after a long day, at the breakfast table the morning after a late night, in bed before sleep. I see him a thousand times, his eyes a little heavy, his fingers going round and round.

A dozen times over the years I told him to stop because he was making knots in his hair. He never listened, but then he did, just by growing up I guess. I almost forgot this little signal that had me nodding and knowing that it was bedtime. God, it’s sweet.

I smile, so happy for this intrusion to my moment alone to have this moment with him. My husband and middle son are off at his baseball game. Tonight I have elected to skip the 8:30pm game, yes that’s 8:30pm for a 9 year-old, and stay home with the other boys who have been out almost every night this week. It’s not often these days that we have this quiet. It’s always race race race.

“So how was camp?” I try, although I already asked this question earlier and received the standard blank stare, followed by the standard “fine,” which seemed an effort to extract.  But now he starts talking, telling me about his day, his birthday, his last baseball game; twirling all the while.

I eat it all up and then say, “You’re tired, baby.”

“There’s a problem,” He continues and lifts his feet up so they rest on my legs. “I need a snack.”

Even through his socks I can smell them. “Oh, there is definitely a problem here.” I agree and push them off. “Come on, go shower.” I gently order and he slowly gets up to go but stops, bends down and rests his head on me for a hug. A warm, greasy, stinky hug.

I watch his hulking, itching to grow pre-teen body go. He’s so far from that little boy in the crib, but there’s still some baby left in there. And just like with all the milestones, this leap to teenager is bittersweet. I love watching him grow physically, mentally and socially, but of course with every step he takes and every inch he grows, I lose another piece of my baby.

I hear the shower go on upstairs. Afterwards, he will wash up and then retreat to his room either to read or play on his phone. He’s disappearing more and more these days, with friends, school, sports, life…

Putting my book aside, I get up as well to slice him an apple, cutting off the skins just like he likes it.

It’s not a problem.

Don't get too close

Don’t get too close

Help

He walked out from the school, his backpack slung behind him looking sweetly melancholy or merely just exhausted. It was hard to tell in the dark.

Usually, my husband did this late night Hebrew school pick-up, but tonight he was working late. So at 8:10pm, I was in the car on a cold night with my two younger boys instead of  in the middle of our stalling before bed routine, probably somewhere between whining for snacks and whining to brush teeth.

When he opened the car door, the noise of his brothers tackled him and he flung the door too hard and hit his hand on the car parked next to us. Not too bad, but enough to make him grimace. He didn’t cry. Instead, he decided to inflict some pain on his brothers. “You guys have nothing better to do than yell and play video games!” He lashed out at them. “Can’t you do anything else?”

“You okay?” I asked, a little concerned by the desperation in his voice.

He just nodded but didn’t say anything more.

Back in the house two minutes, he lost it again when his youngest brother complained that he pilfered one of his goldfish crackers. “You’re so sensitive!” he yelled and then stomped into his room.

Uh oh. Something was wrong and it wasn’t the hand.

I got the two younger boys in the shower and went in to see my oldest son. His room was dark and he was lying under his covers fully dressed, clutching a favorite old dinosaur toy, feigning sleep.

“Baby?” I questioned and rubbed his back soothingly. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” He muttered.

“I can tell something’s wrong. Please tell me.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” He insisted; his eyes squeezed closed so not to face me, his mouth twitching emotion.

I sat next to him in silence, studying his heartbreakingly sweet face obviously in the midst of some internal struggle. Do I respect his space or probe deeper? Where is that parenting book when you need it?

“Did you get in trouble in class?” I asked gently.

He shook his head.

“Did you get into a fight with someone?”

More shaking.

“Were you embarrassed or hurt in some way?” I persisted.

“Stop!” He almost cried, burying his face in his pillow. “You’re making it worse.”

I guess I should have chosen space.

“Okay.” I conceded. “I’m sorry. I just want to help.”

I rubbed his back a little longer; not wanting to leave him, dying to know what was upsetting him, but uncertain what to do. The idea that someone would put him in this emotionally vulnerable place was too much for me. No one was allowed to hurt my baby.

“You can’t help.” He said into his pillow.

What? Untrue! I can help! I need to help. I’ve always been able to help. Don’t shut me out, I wanted to cry. Instead, I left him to get the other boys into bed; the ones whose biggest problems were if I had pirate booty to give for snack the next day and if I could secure a good play date.

By the time I came back to his room, he was asleep.

But I would be up all night.

Back when it was easy... sigh.

Back when it was easy… sigh.

You’ll grow up when I’m good and ready

“Hey, baby.” I say to my eleven year-old. It’s what I call my boys, except my middle son, who at four would already reprimand me for calling him baby. “I’m not a baby.” He’d growl, to which I’d reply, “You’re my baby.” He never accepted my answer and would yell at me whenever I slipped.

Not so with my oldest. He’s always embraced both being a baby and being my baby.

I can’t say I don’t love it, but at times I worry if I’ve made his comfort zone too comfortable; if I’ve babied my baby too much.

“You want to call a friend to come over?” I ask.

He’s curled up in his favorite chair, wrapped in a blanket for comfort not warmth, a bowl of popcorn at his feet watching Austin and Ally on television. He barely turns his head toward me when he answers, “Nah. I’m good.”

“Are you sure?” I ask, walking to the chair and squatting down next to him.

At my closeness, he immediately leans over and nuzzles his head against my body. I give him a squeeze and kiss his head. Ah. My baby.

“I’m good.” He says again, opening his arms for a hug, which I happily embrace.

It’s his downtime. He works hard at school, homework and sports, so I don’t mind him relaxing if that’s what makes him happy.

He craves home, while my middle son craves independence. At eight, he’s already a social animal, and has secured a friend to come over. After his play date, it is not unusual for him to ask for another.

Sometimes, I worry a bit that my oldest is too happy nestled in his chair while his more socially developed friends spend more time bonding and making connections. I worry about him being left behind. Even, shallowly, about not being cool. I want, what I think, most parents want, for him to have an easy run through middle and high school. To fit in. To be well-liked.

“Mommy?” He asks, as I give his head one last tousle and rise to leave him. “Can you bring me water?”

I struggle with wanting to push him out there and pull him back in. I struggle with wanting to do things for him and for him to do them himself. Push. Pull.

He’s eleven. Maybe that’s the age where they need to mature. Almost all of his friends are texting and addicted to Instagram. Quite a few are already into girls. At the moment, my beautiful, sweet son remains blissfully unaware of the social tornado going on all around him.

But probably not for very long.

“Okay, baby.” I say.

His chair

His happy place

OMG – Feels Like Teen Spirit!

The phone rings. I immediately recognized the number of one of Tyler’s friends. Not really wanting to, I pick up.

An extremely bored but familiar voice says, “Hey.”

“Hey,” I respond back and wait, but that was all I was getting.

“Do you want to speak with Tyler?” I prompt.

“Uh, yeah.”

Uh, fabulous.

Rolling my eyes (I am years away from them getting stuck there), I yell, “Phone! Tyler!” but there is no response.

Tyler is a very focused boy and I happen to know that he is watching an extremely important episode of Sponge Bob.  “Tyleeeeer!!! PHONE!”

That did it. Something penetrated. My shaggy haired boy slides in. “What?” He asks, clueless.

“Here.” I hand him the phone. Instantly, my son becomes animated. I listen in fascination to him planning some complicated play date. Uh, I mean, hang out. At 10, it’s a hang out. My bad.

Tyler finishes his conversation which consists of a bunch of “yeahs” and “okays” then reports to me.

“Okay, I’m waiting for Jack and then I’m going to Rick’s. We’re going…” The phone interrupts and Tyler immediately answers.

“Oh hi, Luc.”

He instinctively walks into the other room for privacy, where some heavy negotiations are in play.

After a few minutes, he returns. “Okay, Jack is going to Luc’s, so I’m going…”

The phone rings again. I’m guessing there has been a breakdown in the talks.

“Hold on.” He grabs for it and then runs into the other room.

In one minute, he’s back. “Okay, this is what’s going to happen. Because Jack talked to Luc first, now we’re both going to Luc.”

This is what’s going to happen? Who is this kid?

Unbelievably, the phone rings again. I don’t even look it. “For you?” Tyler smiles sheepishly and disappears.  The negotiations resume.

When he returns, it appears there has been a settlement. “Okay, so Jack is coming here and we’re walking to Luc.  Rick’s out of the picture because Jay called him, but didn’t call Luc and they don’t want to hang out with so many people because Brian was already going there. It’s okay, because when Rick and Brian are together sometimes it gets, you know, anyway, so we’re just going to Luc’s.”

I’m speechless and exhausted, but have enough strength to raise a brow.

He gets it immediately. “Is that okay?”

“That’s fine.”

He smiles his goofy, boyish smile. I am wildly in love. He is still so much my baby and so solidly boy, and the next stage stands knocking at the door.

“Mom! Jack’s here! Can we go?”

I follow to where his friend waits. They exchange a very cool and manly, “Hey.”

I stand at the screen, watching them go. They start off walking. By the second house away, they are arm in arm, skipping for the half block to Luc’s. Then, there’s some pushing.  Tyler’s friend is on the ground. Wait. He’s up. They’re arm in arm again, a skipping to Luc’s house they go.

My heart skips with them. My first real pre-teen moment. Sigh. I was on the verge of serious sappiness, when the phone interrupts my thoughts. It has begun.

Part of the posse, just hanging around.

Part of the posse, just hanging around.