Last week Ren, my son and youngest child, turned 13, promoting me to Mom of 3 official teenagers. Wah! So often, older folks commented while I juggled 3 young kids, “Enjoy it while it lasts–the time goes so fast—in a blink of an eye they’ll be grown.” I’m feeling that blink of an eye.
Years ago, during my own teenagerhood, I gave my friend Jeff a lei, kissed his cheek, thought “Wow, what a smooth soft cheek,” and immediately mourned that it wouldn’t be long before that smooth cheek became rough shaven skin. If I thought that about my pre-pubescent friend, imagine how I’m feeling as my son grows!
When my parents hugged Ren goodbye last week, Mama said, “When we see you next in February you’ll be a head taller and tower over us!” Who knows when his growth spurt will kick in, but given his regular growth rate, he most certainly should be taller than me by February.
What do I mourn as I think of him becoming a man?
- Losing physical affection: Moms ahead of me bemoan how their sons stop giving or wanting physical affection, especially from their moms. Physical touch rates high as Ren’s love language, and even though I often wish he wouldn’t hang on me so much (because my love language most certainly ISN’T physical touch), I still get tickled when he can’t help himself and gives me a kiss.
- Losing emotional connection: Moms talk about their teenage sons going into a new communication mode consisting of grunts, silence, demands for food, and dwelling behind closed doors with earbuds stuffed in their ears. Right now Ren chatters my ear off and complains when I’m not around.
- Losing my sweet boy: When Ren was 4 and the school system evaluated whether he would continue to receive services, at least 4 of the evaluators wrote “Ren’s a sweet boy.” ”Sweet” and “teenage boy” don’t seem to go together. Can sweet boys even survive adolescence?
- Losing those soft smooth cheeks
IMHO, boys have it extra hard. They navigate a much harsher social world, with very confusing expectations. I read in some study that teenage boy communication consists of so many put-downs that boys receive thousands of negative comments in a month. Although our culture is changing, there’s still not much room for boys and men to feel all their emotions, to share vulnerabilities, or to invest in deep relationships and connections without being labeled girly. I don’t want my son to lose all those human sides of himself just to prove himself a man.
Yet I want him to “be a man” someday: to be strong; to be stable; to be a leader; to shelter and protect his family while vigorously pursuing good for our world. Or, using Jungian psychologists Moore & Gillette’s terms, I want him to embody the 4 male archetypes of King, Warrior, Magician and Lover (click here for a nice summary).
I just don’t know how to get him there. And some theorists say as his mother I can’t get him there.
Meanwhile, last weekend, Ren and I walked downtown to see our town’s fireworks. And like the boy he’s been, he forgot himself and held my hand. Perhaps ruining the moment I teased, “As a 13 year old, you still want to hold your Mama’s hand?”
He jerked his hand away, then laughed, threw his arms around me and said, “Yes Mom, I LOVE you!”
We kept walking, and he kept reaching for me. Sometimes holding my hand, sometimes pulling away, sometimes just linking his pinky with mine.
A metaphor I’m sure for the days to come.