Friday, July 10, 2015

Teen Beat

If you time it right, and the breeze is slight, and the din of mowers and leaf blowers isn’t crowding your head, you can hear the muffled clang-clang of buoys in the harbor just a few hundred yards from my house. The cool song of the robin and the chit-chat of the cat bird provide the melody, but the buoys bring the harmony of summer to my backyard.

I am entirely sincere when I say I thank God for these seabreezy moments in my small oasis here in New Haven. Summer is here, and although I am enjoying it, I am still busy. I am teaching a freshman transition program at school, where I have the opportunity to work with wide-eyed, incoming students—babies!—for the month of July. I also have one night of graduate classes left next week before wrapping up my Masters program with a capstone project this fall (!). And next week, as soon as my graduate classes are done, I will once again be teaching a six-week session of yoga on the beach to raise money for classroom supplies. I am grateful for all of the above, and I am especially grateful that, despite my commitments, my summer schedule allows me plenty of time to spend with my growing boys.

Maybe too much time.

You see, my boys are 11 and 13. This means that I am now the mother of a teenager.

A good teenager. A smart teenager. A hardworking, high-honors-with-distinction for three years running, witty, clever, creative, and insightful teenager. A teenager who loves to ride his bike around the neighborhood with friends.  A teenager who is still willing to be an altar boy. A teenager who has gainful, self-generated employment mowing lawns for his neighbors. A teenager who loves iFunny, making jokes about politics, and who just earned his red belt in karate. A teenager who loves to kayak. A voracious reader of comics, graphic novels, and all books. Good books. A teenager who is a great brother and a great son. A teenager who loves his three dogs and affectionately calls each one of them “Dogger.”

But still, a teenager.

Please take a moment of silence to recognize what this means for me.

First, there is a great deal of snark and indifference with which I must contend on a regular basis. I, the English teacher, might ask him, “Can you please set the table for dinner?” to which the student-turned-master might reply, “I can. Haha.” I might say, “Are you looking forward to [insert amazing plans here]?” to which he might reply with a shrug while chugging 16 ounces of chocolate milk, “I guess.” I have even been known to ask, quite brazenly, “So, are you and [insert name of awesome girl here] an item? Are you going out? What’s going on?” to which he has replied, “Mom, if you were Alex’s mom, I would tell you. But you’re not. You’re MY mom, so I’m not going to talk about it, ok?”

Add to this the host of other questions I might have for him, from mundane to important, to which I am often given the response, “Because reasons.”

Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I ask too many questions. Maybe I shouldn’t seem so interested in what’s going on his life. Maybe I should just back off and let him have unlimited, unchecked hours of online gaming time in peace.  And for the love of God, maybe I shouldn’t interrupt him when he’s wearing his Beats.

Or maybe nothing is the problem. Maybe this is all just par for the course in the life of raising a young American teenager. Boys are not girls, and many boys are not as forthcoming about their lives as their parents might hope them to be. Case in point: my (much, much) younger brother just graduated high school. He is a wonderful young man, and I love him to pieces. He is a volunteer firefighter in his town—has been for a few years—and he asked one of his friends, a female volunteer firefighter—to the prom. However, it wasn’t until we were snapping pics on prom night that we were told by his date’s parents exactly how my brother asked her to the prom: by spelling out his prom-posal in firehoses on the roof of the firehouse.

Are you kidding me? Can you get more adorable than that?

But no, my brother never bothered to tell any of us that. It wasn’t that he didn’t want us to know. He just didn’t tell us because he didn’t tell us. Because he’s 18, a good listener, and keeps his cards close to his chest. And there is something to be said for that. While my teenage boy is a great talker about anything besides his own life, he listens more than anyone realizes, and he knows how to play his hand close, too. That is a skill, actually. It will serve him well in the long run, but it can really infuriate a mom who wants to hear more than grunts and acerbic comebacks from him at the dinner table.

There is more to him than that, though, and I know it. His friends see it, and he is always polite and engaging with other adults. But what he has, and what he rightly takes advantage of, is the safety and comfort of an accepting, loving, funny home, where he is unconditionally loved and sometimes teased for his monosyllabic self. He knows that, without question, when he is ready to share the more personal details about his life, he will not only be heard—he will be listened to. He will be supported and loved throughout anything life throws at him, even if he doesn’t want to say too much about it. And as he gets older, the truth is that he doesn’t have to say too much about many things. Often, he only has to look at me, and I understand.

I cannot help but wonder if we will experience the same with my 11 year old, the teenage understudy who is quite possibly the most observant kid I’ve ever met. I’m not in a rush to find out if my sweet, snuggly boy will soon morph into a grunting teen creature. For now, I will relish his hugs, keep close his confidence, and stay in the moment. And that moment is beautiful. It is loaded with baseball games and, starting this fall, hockey. It is brimming with broken windows from driveway pucks, cracked fence posts from backyard baseballs, car conversations about sharks, a collection of Nike Elite socks, and lots of dog whispering.

And sometimes, during a street hockey shootout, the teenager will share a few secrets with the understudy. And the younger kid will never reveal what he knows, unless he has cause for concern. So far, he’s shared nothing. Those boys have each other’s backs in teen solidarity. They rarely fight. Just the other day, as I weeded the vegetable beds against the quiet clanging of the buoys in the harbor, the peace was punctuated by the crack of hockey sticks and laughter in the driveway. I don’t know what the boys were laughing at.

The truth is, I don’t need to know. They are entitled to their own lives. They belong to themselves; they do not belong to me.

But still, they are “my” boys. And even if, as they grow, they no longer need to share every detail of their lives with me, they do still love a long car ride with some good music and their mom. Whether my oldest chooses to play “Gates of the West” from the Clash and then exhales contentedly, or my youngest asks to hear Aerosmith’s “Dream On” because it reminds him of the movie Miracle and, he has said, it’s such a good song it gives him chills, we can usually agree on a soundtrack for our ride. We will drive, rock out, and maybe talk about baseball standings, hockey trades, or the water shortage in California.

In the end, what we choose to talk about doesn’t matter. All that does matter is the fact that we love each other’s company and enjoy being together, exactly as we are, grunts and all.