Last night I mixed up and kneaded the dough for the Super Fussy Pain In The Rear But Most Beloved Homemade Cinnamon Rolls so that I wouldn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn this morning. I took a break to call you and your friends downstairs for a bedtime snack of milk and cookies (hey, you may be teenagers, but cookies are cookies), and then you all swarmed back upstairs without even saying goodnight. I felt a small pang, but you were having so much fun, I tried to let it go.
I should’ve known better, though—you all got ready for bed and then you snuck back down to the kitchen to give me a hug. I squeezed you tight, marveling anew at how you’re nearly my height, now, and then demanded a second hug, on account of it was to be the last 13-year-old hug I’d ever get from you. You did a little dance of glee, hugged me again, then ran off with your buddies to a room littered with sleeping bags, video games, monster manuals, and stinky socks. I finished forming the rolls, ready to throw in the oven this morning.
The cinnamon rolls are always the same. They’re a fragrant anchor in a sea of ever-accelerating change, where every year I cannot believe you’re the same kid who had a birthday just one short year before.
Last year, I couldn’t wrap my brain around you being a teenager. I mean, how was that even possible? (As you would say: “MATH! How does it work??”) You grew and changed so much between 12 and 13, it took my breath away.
Today you’re 14, and while I made my peace with your teenager-dom a few months ago, your pace hasn’t slowed. I’m still trying to catch up. Remember that little kid who once begged me never to make him go back to school again? Remember when you felt like everything was harder for you and you’d never figure it out? On Monday you’ll start back at public school, and if you’re nervous at all, it’s overshadowed by your sheer joy about all of the stuff you’re looking forward to doing. You’re ready. (Heck, you’re more ready than I am, but that’s a different story altogether.) You walked in there like you owned the place a few weeks ago, made polite small-talk with your teachers, and then immediately began grilling the teacher your sister told you would be willing to help you form a D&D club. [Note to self: Don’t attempt to stand between you and a mission.]
When your seamless school enrollment turned into an endless string of hours of testing and hoops to jump through and plans and changes and adjustments, my frustration grew, while you kept assuring me that it was okay. “He shouldn’t have to take all of these tests!” I complained to Otto, one night, when the six hours of testing you’d already done was suddenly deemed “not enough” and you were scheduled for more. You overheard, and sidled up to me and patted my shoulder.
“It’s okay, Mom,” you said. “I don’t mind. It’s not a big deal.”
That’s what 14 (or, at the time, nearly-14) looks like, I guess. Suddenly the kid who used to shriek, “NO NO NO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN!” at the slightest variation in expectation has turned all zen and unflappable.
So this morning you all scarfed down cinnamon rolls and played more video games and everything was the same but somehow different. I tried to stay out of your way, let you do your thing without your mom bugging you, and after a while you came up to tell me that last year you had turned “thirt” because I didn’t want you to be a teenager, so maybe today you could turn “fourte.” You explained that it got you a wee bit closer to the teen part, but not quite all the way there, but also that if you turned “fourtee” that would sound like “forty” and be all wrong. So how about fourte (pronounced “fort-EH”)?
“Maybe forte,” I mused. “That would fit.” I smiled at your puzzled expression. “Do you know what forte means?”
“Yeah,” you said. “It’s… a thing… you do. Right?”
“It’s a thing you’re really, REALLY good at,” I said. “I think maybe you’re going to be really good at being fourteen, so forte is kind of perfect.”
You laughed. “Nope, that wouldn’t have a U in it. Not forte, fort-EH!” Delighted with your sound reasoning, you were off again, unaware of just how amazing your comfort in your own skin really is.
It’s just as well; if you understood how incredible you’ve become in your 14th year, how brave and thoughtful you are these days, you might not believe it.
Happy birthday, Monkey. Here’s to high school, to cinnamon rolls, to fourteen, to you just rocking out being YOU. Just remember that you will always be my little boy, no matter how old you get. Now please give me a hug and go shave off that mustache.