My oldest son, Jacob, recently turned 13. Since he’s my first, I’m always excited to see what each stage of development will bring. By the time my middle son gets to a new phase, I have some experience and can prepare for parenting challenges.
My 7-year-old is not allowed to grow up at all, as far as I’m concerned. Every time he hits a new phase, I mourn the last one. I still tuck him in every night when he’s asleep, stroke the velvet skin on his cheeks, and breathe in his sweet smell.
There’s no sweet smell coming from Jacob’s room. The pungent odor of sweat and feet that lingers in there keeps my visits short. He likes it that way, because then I can’t nag him about the mess.
There are other teen behaviors emerging. He eats more and sleeps later. He spends more time in his room, on his phone and iPad. All developmentally appropriate signs of maturing that I can accept.
What I can’t stand is “whatever, Mom.”
Jacob has slipped into the inevitable yet loathsome phase of believing that every member of his family is a dunce. He barely listens to our conversations, unless they’re about him– because we are clearly not worth his time. When he does grab a detail he deems worthy of his attention, if he doesn’t approve, he snarls his lip, squints his eyes, and cocks his head.
He stares incredulously with contempt and I can only think he’s wondering how he could be related to people so moronic.
When we tell him to do something– anything, really– from flipping a light switch to completing a term paper– he sighs loudly and shrugs so deeply I’m surprised he hasn’t injured his shoulders. We’re such a burden, I don’t know how he tolerates us.
When we don’t agree on a given subject– say, my objection to his 20-minute showers or staying up late on school nights– his teen-ism comes out in ugly force. He argues, gesticulates, exaggerates, and then rolls his eyes and grumbles “whatever, whatever, whatever!“
It makes me want to take my widest, heaviest All-Clad frying pan right to that sweet, boyish face.
I know this is the classic pubescent role. I know it’s just a phase. I know it’s not about me. Sometimes I remember all that and laugh it off. But if I’m short on sleep and/or patience, that whatever can send me right over the edge.
I still see glimpses of my little boy… and of the amazing young man I know he will become. When we can pry him away from his friends for more than a few hours and he settles into our family dynamic, he turns human again. It’s almost like the teenishness melts and we can see the soft center inside. It’s comforting to know he’s still in there.
Many of you who have teenagers or raised them already are thinking I should buckle up, it’s going to be a while. And before I know it, he’ll be out of the house and I’ll be wishing he was home, even if only to talk back. I know that.
One of the many great things about Jacob is that he’s a busybody and a talker. So far, despite his teen inclination to withdraw, he still winds up telling me stuff. The less interested I act, the more likely he is to spill, which often leads to a carefully choreographed dance around each other until the truth comes out. I hope we never get to the point where he completely shuts me out, so I’m working overtime to stay calm and aloof whenever possible.
It’s also nice that he still needs me for rides, clothes, and spending money. Every once in a while when he’s sweet-talking me into one of his grand plans, I make him squirm before I comply. Sometimes I even shrug my shoulders dramatically and say ….“whatever.”