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.