Little Son did not want to go to Jiu-Jitsu practice last week. He kept saying his stomach and head hurt too bad to work out. I couldn’t tell if he legitimately felt bad or was just too tired to go. Starting school is rough, y’all. But I made him suit up and took him there anyway. When we walked in the doors, the tears started and I worried that he might actually be sick. So I dragged him into the stands and made him watch instead.
I looked over at him, occasionally whimpering and slouching against me, and hardly recognized him. He just tuned 11, and he is 5 feet tall and solid. I can wear his shoes. He and his dad have the same all-business haircut and glasses, and as one reader pointed out to me, he looks like a “little man.” I already had to reassure someone at a restaurant that he was indeed young enough to be eating off the kids menu. Not that he does, mind you. We have been ordering him an adult entrée for months.
He has been asking me if I thought he was starting “The Puberty” like some of his friends and I have adamantly said no. He doesn’t have hair under his arms and he doesn’t stink like old onions the way some kids his age do.
And then … then I saw a tiny pimple on his nose. Oh, y’all. Are his hormones starting to go insane? Could we actually be in … The Puberty? I stopped watching the kids practice and started thinking about a few other things I have noticed lately.
He has started to be more self-assured, at home and in public. Like every other boy in America, he has started doing the Fortnite video game dances … in public! This is huge for a kid who previously refused to order for himself at a restaurant. Huge for a kid that likes big classes at school because “no one notices him.”
He is trustworthy and responsible, and is great with younger kids. I can always count on him to help me with his sister and he makes a mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich whenever anyone is hungry. Teachers and church leaders tell me how much my son likes to help others – without even being asked!
He is really starting to know his own mind, and is becoming more adamant about what he will and won’t do at home. Or I should say, what he will do willingly. If he disagrees, and he often does, his disagreement is accompanied by door slamming, stomping like a bull elephant, angry tears and a whole lot of backtalk.
Now, I can live with the slamming doors and stomping. The tears gut me. But I don’t tolerate much sass. And just when I think things are about to go nuclear, some secret switch flips and he is right back to being happy and helpful and full of affection. I am left reeling. I mean, what in the name of all that is holy just happened here? This is a serious emotional rollercoaster we are on.
There is a part of me that feels exactly the way I felt at 15 and had my first boyfriend. He was taciturn and emotionally manipulative, but he was gorgeous and played guitar. I never knew what was going on or which end was up. I was frequently left feeling giddy and tearful and angry, but would forgive anything after he smiled. It only lasted three months but I can still remember the highs and lows and the heartbreak. You could not pay me $1 million to be feel the way I felt at 15 again, and yet, here I am.
But I want to handle this boy’s puberty better than I handled my own. I have been reading lots of articles about hormones and pre-teens. Parenting coach Meghan Leahy wrote that parents should take note of when things fly off the rails –is he hungry or tired? And I thought, Lord, Coach! He is a growing boy, he is always hungry and tired. She also suggested re-working household chores to find things that are more agreeable to my pre-teen. But I give him the things I don’t want to do, like putting away the clean dishes and emptying trashcans. If I trade chores, won’t I be stuck doing the things I didn’t want to be stuck with again? I need to think on this one some more.
Her next piece of advice was great though! Stop interrogating and talking to your pre-teen when it is getting you nowhere. Find another way to communicate and bond, maybe on walks or trips to the library or bookstore. Books and queso are my son’s love language and I need to be mindful of that.
I also need to find ways to curb my own tongue and temper. I want to build up so much trust with him now that he feels like he can come to me with anything when he is older and his problems are bigger and more life-altering. My parents raised two pretty successful teens, so I have decided to take a play out of their handbook as well. Their parenting philosophy was, “give kids enough rope to hang themselves.” We were allowed to grow, but we always had boundaries and discipline at home. Well, that and I think my dad followed us around a lot.
The other thing my parents and the coach would have me remember is that time flies and The Puberty won’t last forever. That just like teen-aged hormones and heartaches, this, too, shall pass.