I overheard my sixth grader inform his fifth grade brother, “Just wait ‘til next year. In my class, there are relationships and crushes.”
The worst week of your life.
Best case scenario? You wake up. It was only a dream.
Second best? Your seven-year old comes home from school with an envelope.
“I made it for you!”
Inside are a dozen bright yellow smiley face stickers.
“For good luck.”
An unexpected scene unfolded in my bathroom while our seven year old was taking his bath. His brothers, in their pajamas, reenacted the Gettysburg Address.
“Four score and seven years ago…” began one in a deep voice for the importance of the occasion, “our forefathers…”
…while the oldest pretended to translate in sign language.
“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
With an elaborate flourish of concluding sign language, they bowed to their audience in the tub – a boy, a rubber shark and a crab.
“Now let’s do the assassination. This time, you’re Abe. I’ll be the dumb security guard who let Booth in.”
My ten year old made his New Year’s Resolution to “exercise four times a week to get stronger, so I’m not the weakest kid in my class.”
He has dreams of being a lineman in the NFL, or owning a team since his skinny arms might get in the way of player dreams.
At dinner tonight, he proudly pulled up his shirt to show us his muscles. “See, working out for a week, and I already have a two-pack.”
He looked down. “Wait! Where’d it go?” Panic. “I swear it was there yesterday!”
His big brother, in an usually generous mood, looked too. “I see it! Right there! Good work!”
Amazing what a big brother celebrating your two-pack can do for a little guy.
Twelve is a strange moment, made real by the fact that the next number you will become has an entirely different nomenclature. There is a pressure to change to fit the new vocabulary assigned you.
Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Teenager.
But you are not ready. Your feet are too big for your legs. You’re sent to the men’s department without biceps or shoulders. And you still have baby teeth and mom in tow.
In the last 24 hours, I watched my twelve year old wobble uncertainly between child and adolescent. It looked painful.
We were swimming at a local rec center, and I was trying to recruit him to pull his younger brother out of the lazy river so we could get lunch.
He was too distracted. Shook his head no. I followed his eyes, which were peering over the wall across to the lap lanes like a stalker. The intensity of his expression worried me until I saw that he was watching a teenage couple flirting with each other, touching a little too much for public consumption – uncertain in their play, both still in braces, neither having grown into their less-awkward adult selves.
And my twelve year old looked both entranced and disgusted. We would talk later.
The next day, we were at the Museum of Science and Nature, and while exploring the new whale exhibit, he suddenly needed to leave. “I’m hungry. I don’t want to be here. I can’t find anything interesting. Can we go? Now!”
Months ago, he insisted, “I don’t like Native American exhibits. They freak me out. Let’s go.”
But in both cases, he kept getting distracted by the knowledge available as we headed out. He respects facts. He loves the museum. He loved studying Native American culture the year before. And this time, fleeing the whales, he led us into the Gems and Minerals exhibit without thinking.
Then he shoved me in front of him. “Go faster,” he whispered. “Why are you stopping here?” he added in front of the largest piece of gold ever found in Colorado. “I don’t like caves! Can we go?”
Then it all came together. He is afraid of the dark.
Big feet. Baby teeth. Studying the art of flirting. Sleeping with the light on. Panicking at the museum when the lights are low.
Twelve is tough.
Don’t butt in line. Don’t take the red crayon when you know it’s his favorite color. Don’t hog the ball. Don’t sing when he is trying to concentrate. Don’t sit next to the girl he wants to sit with at circle time. And certainly don’t push him out of your way so you can be first.
My first grader has to figure out how to contain his anger at school, but I respect him for standing his ground when he feels an injustice has been done. The third of three boys, he spends much of his time proving himself, keeping up, playing with the big dawgs. He adores his friends, but just can’t stop himself from letting loose when someone butts, pushes, brags, pokes.
The school psychologist called me a few weeks ago after meeting with him. “I was trying to give him an example of how most of the time, anger is not appropriate, but sometimes it is. We talked about how when someone cuts me off in traffic, I want to yell….”
What did my seven year old tell him about me?!
“But usually, it’s just someone being careless,” he continued. “Nice person. Doesn’t deserve me yelling at them.”
“But one time, a reckless driver almost hit my wife and daughter, and I was so mad that I chased after his car and pounded on the hood.”
Redeemed. No scolding for mom!
“That was a real reason to be mad,” said the counselor to my son. “The other times weren’t.”
Later that very afternoon, we were racing to a guitar lessons across town, and everyone was driving slowly.
I lost it. “Do you not realize that the rest of us have someplace to go?! HELLO?!”
And in the rearview mirror, my seven year old looked at me wisely. Peacefully.
“I shouldn’t have gotten so mad at that guy, should I?” I asked.
“Nope,” responded my seven-year-old sage.
I don’t need therapy. I just need my kids to remind me of who I should be… and then follow their lead.
My first grader has been bringing a stuffed puppy with a Santa hat to school. He keeps it in his backpack for when he is feeling sad or frustrated. A quick hug with Santa Dog, and he is off and running again.
Our real dog, however, is lacking in Christmas spirit even if she flies across the yard like Blitzen.
First, our stellar dog ate the roof off of our son’s very cool Atlanta Falcons gingerbread house while we were out on Christmas Eve. Aren’t we smart that we didn’t leave the Christmas presents under the tree?
And on December 23rd, I overheard one holiday season substitute mailmen say to another, “I wouldn’t get out of the car if I were you. Not with that Rottweiller staring at us.”