We’ve been arguing about it for months. MONTHS! Every time you said, “I’m going to be a TEENAGER soon,” I replied with a swift verbal smackdown:
“No. NO YOU’RE NOT. I won’t allow it. You can’t!”
You laughed, every time. The joke never grows old. (Then again, when has a joke ever grown old with you? Exactly. Wait, let me guess: You’re Batman? I thought so!)
About a week ago, you told me you had the solution. “Mom. Mom! Since you don’t want me to be a teenager, I’ve decided I’ll just turn THIRT. No teen, see?” I agreed that this was an excellent solution. “Maybe when you stop freaking out then I can add the ‘teen’ part back.” I assured you that that would never happen.
You don’t understand why I’m taking this so hard, why I simply cannot wrap my brain around the idea that there’s no denying you’re on your way to adulthood. I wasn’t like this with your sister.
I know some people lament the teenagerhood of their youngest because they miss the little-kid things, or because it makes them feel old to have all teens. You know I love little kids. Adore them, really. But it’s been years since I made my peace with my days of wiping noses and bottoms being over. It turns out that I like sleeping a lot more than I like baby nuzzles, and besides, you’re still game to climb on my lap and hang off me like a primate, even at your advanced age. (As for feeling old, well… too late. That has nothing to do with you.)
Others see their baby entering the teen years and fear that the good times are over. I mean… teenagers. THEY’RE DREADFUL, right? And your sister had a pretty bumpy entrance to teendom, so maybe I’m afraid of something similar with you…? I’m not, though. First of all, I happen to quite LIKE teenagers, for the most part. I mean, sure, their brains aren’t fully formed and most of them are composed of roughly one part acne cream, two parts drama, and three parts irrationality, but still. Some of my favorite people are teens. So that’s not it, either.
I think the problem is that I finally got what I wanted.
For so many years, I looked at you, my beautiful boy, and my heart would constrict. “Such a beautiful baby,” people murmured when you were tiny. “Such a happy little guy!” they’d exclaim as you toddled around, giggling that deep laugh that bubbled up from your toes. And then that gave way to staring, to pointedly averted gazes, as you shrieked and flailed and hid from a world that was too overwhelming. I worried about you, all the time. Sensory Integration Disorder, they told us, but that didn’t seem like the whole story. Oh, OOPS, actually Asperger’s Syndrome (oh, excuse me, latest revision of the DSM, that’s “high-functioning autism” now, I guess), they decided, later, as my worry continued unabated. And things should’ve been getting better, but they were getting worse, and then there was the whole seizure drama, and my diffuse worries became a persistent chant in my brain.
Please, God, let my baby be okay. Let him grow up. Let him be healthy. Let him have a life he loves. Let him someday move out of my house because he wants to and he can.
We did everything we knew to do to make you okay, darlin’. Surgery, after months of illness, and then after middle school orientation scared the crap out of all of us, we dove into homeschooling with the help of our beloved Hippie School.
Before all of this, I didn’t know if you’d ever truly be okay. I never would’ve said it out loud, of course. But I had no idea what lay ahead for you; I wasn’t sure you’d ever live independently, even, and not because you’re not smart and capable, but just because for so long there, life just seemed to consistently overwhelm you. Even when things were better, they were still challenging.
This morning, as I got up in the wee dark hours to make cinnamon rolls for you (“Because your cinnamon rolls are the BEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD!”), I realized that I’ve gotten my wish in spades. You’re growing up. You’re healthy. You’re happy. You feel capable and confident more often than you feel overwhelmed and unsure. You do the dishes without me asking, most of the time, and if I have to ask you always say, “Sure, Mom!” as if I’ve given you something wonderful. You still hold my hand in public, sometimes, unaware that this might appear odd, but you also occupy yourself for hours and work out classwork schedules for yourself AND sometimes come dancing into my office just to make me laugh.
You will leave me someday. Maybe not right at 18, no, but you will go away to college and beyond, despite your constant assurances that you would never want to live anywhere else. You will, trust me. I will miss you terribly, but you have no idea how proud of you I will be, too. Because I will remember that there were times when we thought it could never happen.
You dance. You make up silly songs. You declare yourself to be Batman. You build LEGOs. You play Minecraft. But you also… have crushes. Take pride in your high school classwork. Worry about your sister. Text with her and respond to her every “Totes, man!” with “Yes, toast! I like toast!” Cook with both careful precision and passion. Knit, because it calms you, and because “there’s no reason boys can’t knit, that’s so dumb.” Call your friends on the phone. Exchange emails with a fellow D&D enthusiast. Express deep gratitude because you don’t know how not to. And hold yourself together when you used to fall apart.
Let us not forget that when I poke at that space above your upper lip and pretend I’m trying to brush something off (“You’ve got a little… something… there….”), you insist that it is your MIGHTY MUSTACHE, and it goes with your invisible goatee. (Then you stroke said invisible goatee, by way of illustration, while waggling your eyebrows.)
I got my wish. You are healthy and happy and now I have to reconcile myself to the fact that you’re only mine for a short while more. All is as it should be, but forgive your old Mama if it takes me a little longer to adjust to this new reality. Just be thirt, just for today. I’m not ready for thirteen just yet. Sometimes getting what you want is harder than you think.
Happy birthday, Monkey. I love the man you’re becoming, but just for now, I’m going to pretend you’re still only a boy. I know the truth, don’t worry. Humor me. Be thirt for a little longer, while I catch up to all of these giant strides you’re making.