Mom’s Silence is Not So Golden

The other day, when I picked up my high school freshman from school, I had a lot on my mind. I guess I was quiet.

About five minutes into the drive, he said, “Well, this is awkward!”

“What?”

“It’s really weird that you’re not asking me a hundred annoying questions about my day.”

“But you complain when I ask you questions about your day.”

“It’s better than this! What’s wrong?!”

I smiled. “Anything cool going on at school?”

“Oh my God, you are so annoying!”

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Slow Dancing in Middle School

Friday: 9:00 p.m. I walk into the middle school, 80s-themed dance to pick up my guys. My I-don’t-talk-to-girls seventh grader is hidden in a clump of other seventh graders wearing neon. I can’t see who he is dancing with, but one of the teacher-chaperones reports over the music that while he may not talk to girls, he does dance with them.

In a small crowd of eighth graders, I see mine slow dancing, his hands on her hips, her hands on his shoulders. Lots of sunshine between them (had they been dancing outside). Step. Step. Step. Eyes darting around the room. Barely talking even though they have been good friends since kindergarten.

As one of the girls supposedly reported to her mom later, what happened to those six weeks of Cotillion? Should I give my guys some direction, or enjoy their awkwardness for another year?

At least they were willing to talk after.

Post-Dance with the Seventh Grader

“Who did you dance with?”

“Can’t remember.” Then he listed three different girls. “But seriously, mom, middle school dances? I don’t think they should have them. A lot of kids aren’t ready.” He described a classmate who stood in the corner all night with his GoPro filming for his YouTube channel. “And a bunch of my friends didn’t even go.”

“But did you have fun?”

“It wasn’t bad.”

Post-Dance with the Eighth Grader

“The girls were dressed weird.” While the boys all chose their shabbiest, I-am-not-trying-to-impress-you clothes, the more spirited girls were in theme – 80s Footloose style.

“And the seventh graders slow dance wrong. It drove me crazy!” I barely stifled a guffaw. “You’re supposed to put your hands on their hips, not their shoulders.”

As I was saying, a little guidance before the graduation dance may be in order. A spin. A graceful twirl. A slow tango through the crowd.

An Important Life Lesson at the Middle School Dance

The theme was USA, so he wore an American flag bow tie over his red polo shirt. He went somewhat reluctantly, but curious. His big brother said it would be fun, yet he still had his doubts.

When I picked them up, he was smiling even as his brother teased him for “dancing with a girl.” Apparently, they had both danced with quite a number of “them”.

“It is awkward,” he admitted. “But it’s way more awkward not to dance. So,” he shrugged, “I danced!”

On Being 12

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.