My oldest son is going through puberty. He still seems like such a tiny, young fellow to me. I realize at 12 that I had physically fully blossomed into womanhood and furthermore was foolishly taking liberties playing at very adult games, but he is so different than I was. He is still small statured, wearing a young boy's physique, though he has grown about 3 inches in the last year. And he, thank all the gods in the heavens, is still a child, an innocent youngster who plays. He and his brother play dress up. They still put on funny outfits, capes and tunics and hoods and boots and take their toy swords and bows into the woods and play elves. They don robes and mount brooms and pretend to play quidditch in the yard with their soccer goal and a sparkly pink soccer ball, no less. Hell, I think they still play cowboys now and again. They have stick horses, OK? Stick horses that still get used, as well as legos and playmobiles and fuckin' bionicles. Less and less often these items appear, but I can fairly say they are still in use. Again, thankfully.
So I was really surprised at first to find some very physical development was occurring. He had already started to get the errant blackhead on his face, but then I found out about the pubic hair. How did I find out? Well, honestly he told me many months ago that the hair had started to grow, but I figured, prone as he is to dramaticism, that when he said he was starting to grow hair around there he just meant some light peach fuzz. But no. It so happened that a few months back we were both stricken with vicious cases of poison ivy, and in an attempt to soothe our rashy skin we got into a tub full of oatmeal and salt and baking soda together. We don't really bathe together anymore, and that was in February and we haven't again since. But that was when I realized that what he described to me was no light fuzz but honest to goodness, dark colored, growing all over his groin, pubic hair. That day I came face to face with the reality that my little son, the funny, little fellow who once had the silky, fine, long hair and the chatterbox mouth was becoming a young man complete with the physical nature of adulthood.
Then this summer his voice started changing. Honestly I have always heard about the archetypal, teenage boy voice cracking, but I don't remember it. Perhaps when I was a young woman and the young men around me had begun to change and their voices were ranging from high falsettos to deeper baritones and shrieking in every octave in between I did not notice because I was so enamored with them in my boy-crazed way. Or perhaps, since I had gone through my own changes at lightning speed that I had already discarded the boys my age by the time they were changing and had moved on to spending (unhealthy) time with older boys who had completed that phase, and I missed it altogether. In any case, now I know that that archetype is all based in reality. My son shrieks with high-pitched giggles when he laughs, but when he answers the phone my callers keep wondering aloud who the new man answering my phone is. He is often hoarse and froggy, and is very self-conscious about this animalistic transition in the way he presents himself to the world, especially because he is such a vocal character.
And now the blackheads have colonized his nose and his forehead and are making progress towards complete facial domination despite the fact that I keep insisting to this young man that he needs to wash his face more often.
I can hardly neglect to mention the attitude change. My L has been a consummate mama's boy most of his life. He listens well, he does my bidding, he adores me. Now, though he still is fairly compliant in terms of completing his chores and such, he gives me lip nearly constantly. He says mean and sardonic things. His brother and he used to get along famously, but now there is much bickering and wrestling and mockery. He wants to listen to his music, loudly, all the time, and he's on this death metal kick right now thanks to my downstairs neighbor, a 32 year old adolescent still obsessed with Star Wars and the black arts. He wears badly drawn Slayer t-shirts of his own design.
I am patient. I remember my teen years, the struggles for independence, the crappy music and silly clothes, the arguments with my mom. I also remember that by the time I was his age I was smoking cigarettes and marijuana, drinking alcohol and having sex. It makes me shudder to think of my precious girlhood ravaged in that way, but moreso to imagine that it could be my sons' boyhoods going by the same route and it's not. It makes me believe that though I arrogantly assumed that our close-knit, homebirthing, breastfeeding, home-schooling, holistic lifestyle would allow us to breeze seamlessly through my sons' adolescent years and that is not the case, that I am still doing a good job. There are bumps in the road, and I can see on the horizon that the terrain remains rocky for some years to come, but my kids still like me. They still want to hang out with me. They still like some of the music I bring home. They still let me read to them. I am grateful.
Because I have sons instead of daughters, I am unsure how exactly to mark this transition, to honor it properly. I had always imagined that if I'd had a girl I would regale her with gifts and ceremony to mark her transition into womanhood when she reached menarche. That desire welled up in me the day I learned of L's pubic hair. I simultaneously had this freaked out, I'm-losing-my-little-baby kind of impulse to pretend it wasn't happening and a powerful pride surge in me that my little boy was becoming a man and wanted to toast him, gift him, celebrate him. I think he would have died of mortification had I suggested that. "Son, now that you are growing hair on your genitals about which you probably feel a lot of personal confusion, a mingled shame and pride of your own, I'd like to announce it to the world by inviting our friends to a sumptuous meal in your honor and offer you..." What? A new video game? A real bow and arrow? What are the proper honors our young men deserve at this transition in life? I haven't figured it out. I think I will generically mark the transition for him when he officially becomes a teen at the end of this year. I would like to do ceremony. Any ideas anyone?
In the event that my boy should come across this post, I'd like to close it with an adulation just for him:
My baby, you are still everything to me, you will always be everything to me. Despite what may feel like some current awkwardness please know that you are very beautiful physically and emotionally; you are smart and strong and capable. In your long life we may not always see eye to eye on music or art or lifestyle choices or politics or partners, but I will always respect your autonomy, yet in these years ahead I want to remind you that you are still just a boy, and it is still my job to guide you through the process of discovering your own belief system by exposing you to my beliefs and the world around us and teaching you tolerance and compassion and patience. I will always be there for you despite any folly or fluster you may experience. My home will always, always be a home for you. My heart will always, always be a refuge for you. I trust you. I appreciate you. I cherish your growth process as your own. You will know love and partnership though there will be times when you feel frustrated or frightened or hurt by the work required to make it happen. You will experience inexplicable bliss and seemingly unmanageable woes, and you will be enriched for them all. I will be there for you during every personal trial, and though I will want to save you the challenge and live the hard moments for you I cannot and would disservice you by trying to do so because it is through every one of these experiences that you will become more fully yourself. I love you. I am immensely grateful your soul chose my soul to come through for this incarnation. We are gonna rock together for the rest of our days.