I have a teenager. Biggest is thirteen years old, his voice has gone to that crazy place of deeper valleys and broken crags; his feet seem too large for his body. There is no way I can ignore that he is a teenager very near the cusp of the man he will, one day and all too soon it seems, become. And yesterday, loving him sucked so much.
I suppose I should be more clear – I adore my son. I love him with all my old lady heart. And loving him doesn’t suck. Except when it sucks my old lady heart out and leaves it hurting.
Yesterday I dropped him off at camp. This is a camp I love and, in fact, direct myself later this summer. So it wasn’t the act of dropping him off at camp that was so bad. It was watching him during the process.
Biggest is a different kind of kid–and yet, completely normal and so much like other boys that it seems silly to even say that. And yet.
He’s not an athlete. He’s small for his age. I know he’s self-concious about these things. His favorite activity is playing Minecraft, followed closely by other gaming activities and topics more closely aligned to the “geek/nerd” world than “hip/cool/popular”. He loves watching documentaries, the Vlog Brothers, and Nova. The entire hour-long drive to camp was spent with him telling me all the science behind the plot he thinks I should write for my next book. Suffice it to say, I understood about half of what he was telling me. For us, in our little family, this is completely normal. And I know that there are many, many more families out there with the same kind of sons or daughters. So these are not the things that made yesterday suck at my heart.
It was watching him tense up, get self-conscious around the other boys who threw him a casual, “hey” as he walked past. It was seeing him stand at the end of the line of kids–most of whom he’s been going to camp with since second grade and yet look so far removed from them. So uncomfortable and nervous.
On the trail between his cabin and the field where parents gather to officially hand over their kids to the camp staff, directors, and counselors for a week, my sweet Biggest walked ahead of me. Hurrying to get there not because he was excited to be at camp, but to get the hard part over. And then, just before the bend in the trail where it opens up to the field, he stopped. He waited until I was beside him and then he put his arm around me and squeezed me hard. “I love you, Mom,” he said, his voice muffled against my shoulder. Another squeeze and then he let go and walked away from me and joined the line of kids, miles of green grass separating us…or at least miles and miles of my memory lane.
There was my baby, the first human who ever made me love someone so hard that my own existence is meaningless without him. I’m sure to the other parents and the adults who will care for him for a week, he looked fine.
But I could see it. The same look on his face and set to his shoulders as he did back when I took him to preschool when he was four. That look that I know means he’s a mixture of scared and nervous. And yet, he’s a teenager.
So all I could do was pretend that my heart wasn’t being sucked out. I waved at him, made sure my smile stayed firmly in place. I reminded myself that he loves camp and that the first night is always awkward as the kids learn how to stop being a group of individuals and instead become a community. I reminded myself that he will be fine.
And I reminded myself of that hug he gave me on the trail.
Unlike when he was four, I can’t pick him up and comfort him with hugs and simple words. Because he’s a teenager. He’s nearly as tall as me and he knows that words can’t always fix things.
But he also knows that I love him. I love all parts of him – the little four year old I can still see every once in awhile when he is tired or excited or standing at the end of a line of kids trying to pretend he isn’t nervous.
The last thing I saw of my son yesterday was the adults getting those kids to move from a long line into a circle. There he was, standing with his back to me. No longer alone at the end of the line but instead in the middle of a circle of other teenagers.
It still sucked to be the mother of my dear sweet teenager, but I’ll be okay. After all, my old lady heart may have been sucked out, but I picked it back up, shook it off, and walked back up that trail, knowing he’ll come home to me next weekend, filled with stories and songs and a step closer to the man he is becoming.
Loving a teen may suck sometimes, but it is the opposite side of the greatest joy this mother has ever known.
Thank you Biggest. I’ll see you in a few days. Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen and to floss. I can’t wait to sing camp songs all the drive home, your voice cracking and off key at times. And it’s okay if you are having so much fun you don’t miss us back home. I love you my son, forever and for always.