It’s been coming for a long time, these end of year festivities – the ones that mark his epic move from middle-years to full-fledged teenage years.
The ones that I no longer get to see all of, the ones the parents have been weaned slowly away from until we’re standing on the outside curb wondering what the hell just happened.
In a few weeks he’ll turn 14 and graduate the 8th grade.
The ceremony’s for us, but not the dance. We’ve transitioned from classroom volunteers and field trip chaperones to taxi-cab chauffeurs. This year we juggle family camping trip plans with a graduation ceremony, a dance, and a friend’s epic end-of-year garage band party.
I don’t want to ask him how he wants to divide his time. He chooses his friends but he won’t want to say it. He doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, though I hurt his every day. My sharp criticism slashes his every move – the oatmeal bowl placed in the clean dishwasher, the homework unaccounted for, the onions from dinner spilled onto the floor.
Why am I short with him? Why do I do this?
It hit me when I sat on the toilet this morning – the first moment of silence after shuttling two kids one way and biking the third another. In the same span of time it took my youngest to became a four-year-old – a breath, a moment – my 14 year old will be 18. I could swear any of my kids were just born yesterday. I swear that was just the other day.
In four years we’ll be prepping for a more concrete end of year festivity.
In four years it’ll be over.
It’s normal, this transition. But normal doesn’t make it easier. This child, who slept next to my body for much of his first four years, will spend these last ones preferring his friends, turning to his phone, hiding behind the closed door of his room. It’s normal, I know.
I’m contemplating these last moments like they’re already gone. Because I know I’ll look the other way for a moment, and they effectively will be. I’m already critiquing how I parent(ed) – my past, present and future all bundled together, existing in an inexplicable time warp as a single instance – that brief moment this kid was here. I torture myself with a mental self-flagellation: What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? It’s a sort of parental penance, a desperate hope for relational absolution.
Maybe I shouldn’t get so secretly scared. Maybe I could make these moments linger; breathe them in, feel them in my senses. Maybe I should stop resisting and shouting them all away.
Careening into the high school years feels like I’m coming upon an epic car crash scene in slow motion – the kind you have inner battles about looking too hard or not looking at all. Where you have to rationalize the practical reality of safety and staying the course. If you glance too long, think too hard, you may lose control. Maybe you’ll devolve into fits of tears, and what if they never stop?
It’s been coming for a while, the beginning of the end.
This giant looms over top of me, reminding me of how foolish I was in my moments of exasperation to ever wish away any parts of his childhood; reminding me how these next years will be like minutes. I snap at him because, like a ghost, he’s growing fainter and fainter. Here and then abruptly gone.
I shout because I’m afraid. Maybe if I yell loud enough the spooks will go away. Maybe someone will hear me – rescue me; rescue us. Give us our time back. Or just make it stop.