I have both a son and a daughter and can say this with 100 percent certainty: In my case, it’s been two totally different parenting experiences. From the time my son was able to grasp a toy truck, his games of choice have generally involved crashing into things. That toy truck would invariably wind up crashing into walls, furniture, the dogs — who got very skilled at jumping out of his way. My son still plays hard, as any soccer opponent will attest; by the second quarter, they too are jumping out of his way.
But now that my son is officially a teenager — just turned 13 — I have learned a few things that I suspect only the mother of a teenage boy would understand.
1) At 13, they hover between boyhood and manhood.
While my faith may declare him a man at 13, that’s only true on some days. Other days, he’s still very much a boy. In the past year, I’ve seen great strides toward independence and manhood, but they come in fits and spurts. One day he’s taking out the garbage without being asked and the next I catch him breaking the family rule of no screens on school nights. Puberty is a process, not an overnight event. And while they all reach the puberty finish line eventually, it’s at a different pace for each of them. His Dad struggles with this sometimes. He looks at the young man in front of him and fails to see the boy still inside.
2) They are capable of sleeping 26 hours a day and it has nothing to do with ambition or the lack thereof.
My son gets up for school at 6 a.m. five days a week and has at least one after-school activity every day. Twice a week, he doesn’t get home until 9 p.m. because of soccer practice running late. My husband doesn’t understand naps, and associates them with laziness or the elderly. I know them to be the little gifts from G-d that they are. If my son is in a moving car without distractions, he easily passes out asleep. On weekends, he sometimes nods off on the floor mid-video game; one time he did this mid-conversation. If he was 29 and living in my basement unemployed and slept all day, I’d be worried. At 13, his body is telling him it needs more rest.
3) My refrigerator and pantry need to be enlarged because neither can hold enough food to feed him on any given day.
He’s a growing boy, for sure. There are still foods he prefers to eat but in a pinch will grab whatever is closest to his face in the refrigerator and just work his way down through the bins. I’ve witnessed him eat raw wilted kale, shoving it in his mouth while making a face and asking me why I buy such awful tasting stuff. Last weekend we went to In N Out burger; I stood there in awe as he double-ordered while my husband issued the admonition you give to little kids that “if you order it, you have to eat it all.” Simon scarfed down his food and then began eyeing my husband’s.
4) They love their moms, but have some questions only a Dad can answer.
We’ve always been very open in our home and use the real words for sexual acts and body parts. But what a mother of a teenage boy knows is that at some point, we come to a fork in the road. I talk about emotions, feelings and respecting your partner. I also hit on the staying safe parts. The how-to-actually-do-this-stuff questions will go to his Dad. Who are we kidding? They will go to his friends.
5) Parents can be a source of many things, including incessant embarrassment.
My son was one of those kindergartners who refused to hold his mother’s hand walking in the first day. “I got this, Mom,” is what he said. So I was not surprised when he started walking around the mall three feet in front of us. He still freely comes up to me and gives me big old hugs. The difference of course is that he does it when no one is looking. Dads sometimes don’t read the signs so well. I know many of them who should have stopped being the team coach because their son would prefer they just sat in the stands and watched. Parents, as a rule, should assume invisibility when their own teens are around.
6) Letting him do as much as possible for himself is a good thing.
My son long ago developed his own sense of dressing style. As long as he wore things weather-appropriate, I was fine with it. He’s also responsible for keeping those clothes clean, his room clean, and himself clean. One out of three isn’t so bad, I tell myself. What is it with boys and bath-avoidance? As for his room, I just shut the door until company is coming and then I make him clean it. Giving teenage boys their space is just as important as giving space to teenage girls, even though they don’t ask for it with a PMS door slam.