This blog post was originally written for and published on The Broad Collective, a now defunct local blog here in Athens, Georgia. I lifted it from there to republish it here because… it’s mine, all mine!
Something happened this summer when I wasn’t paying attention . . . my kid grew up.
My son is a rising sixth grader at Clarke Middle this fall. Rising sixth grader, did you hear me? How did this happen? I mean, I know he was in fifth grade last year and fourth before that – but sixth grade? In middle school?
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a weepy, melancholy diatribe about how my little baby boy is turning into a young man, because if you really want to sit and stare at me crying, I’ll invite you to my next therapy session.
Here’s the thing: as of May (as in, this May, just a few months ago), my kid was a kid. He liked doing kid things. If his friends wanted to hang out, his friend’s mom usually called me or emailed me to make the arrangements. He still called me mommy when he wanted something. He wasn’t allowed to go home with a friend from school unless I had the foresight to remember to write a note to his teacher AND deliver that note to school. I couldn’t even pick him up in the carpool line unless I had that rear-view-mirror-number thing that always seemed to not be in the car when I needed it.
And now, this month . . . August . . . he’ll be in middle school and when the dismissal bell rings, that’s it. He’s finished with his day and he’s his own man.
What? No after school care or supervision. No teachers guarding him from release into the wild unknown. Just a dismissal bell and then Baxter Street.
Trying to sort out how our afternoons will play out has been complicated.
He’s asking me if he can leave school and walk to the library next door. This is actually a thing that my kid wants to do – he loves to read but seriously has only asked to go to the library maybe three times since we moved to Athens. However, suddenly, when you’re in middle school, it’s just, “what everyone does, mom.” My reply was simply, “Are you going to actually do your homework at the library?” and he just grinned at me and laughed like that was a preposterous question.
“Of course I will mom!” But I remember seventh grade… I remember sitting in gym class and getting a pep talk from my friend Julie about how to kiss.
“You just have to alternate, like, you kiss his top lip and then his bottom lip. He’ll show you!”
Julie stood guard while Daniel and I kissed, awkwardly and all I could think about was “top lip, bottom lip, top lip, bottom lip.” But what happened after that first kiss? Well, a lot of nothing really, save general normal adolescence. I looked him up on Facebook just now. He has a hand tattoo (a scary one, you know) and several kids and is generally kind of greasy and shiny and bald.
Do I think my kid wants to go to the library to make out? No. Do I think he even could without having someone at the library call them out on it? No.
I’m more worried that he’ll get picked up by a traveling circus creep and put in a sideshow. Will he get mugged for his ice cream money? Will he get ran over by an inexperienced college freshman that isn’t used to narrow city streets (oh my god, they’re everywhere)?
I suddenly feel like the mom from Home Alone, except instead of screeching, “KEVIN!” I’m screeching, “HARRISON!”
And he’s over there, rolling his eyes at me like, “Moooo-ooom,” because what’s the big deal? “EVERYONE goes to the library after school, mom.”
Oh really? EVERYone? Every single person at your school? I have to stop myself before I jump on him with, “If all your friends decided to jump off a bridge . . .” because I am NOT that kind of mom, right?
I’m a cool mom. I believe in autonomy and independence. I have spent the last eleven years guiding him to make independent choices, to evaluate a situation and figure out what the right thing to do is . . . He’s ready. I’m ready. He’s capable of walking down the street, right?
But I’m not ready. On the outside, I feel ready. It’s RIGHT next to the school, for crying out loud! But on the inside, I keep thinking to myself that I’ll end up parking my car across the street and waiting for him to exit the building and then walk down the road and then, I’ll slowly creep my car down Baxter to follow him, park far away in the lot at the library and stalk him . . . In my mind, I envision myself watching him through book stacks, wearing a trench coat and dark glasses. Incognito mom.
But that’s not cool at all. And that’s not respecting him at all. How is he going to grow up to be a man that makes his own decisions about his life if I’m hovering over him, helicopter parenting him? How is he going to gain confidence in himself if he sees that I don’t have any confidence in him? What if this is one of his first experiences with real, honest to goodness independence and I poo-poo on it and stunt his growth? What if I have a little faith in him and he surprises me by being responsible and making great choices? What if I gave him a little room to make mistakes because, really, that’s how we all learn lessons the best?
How in the world am I supposed to help guide him through this space where he is part child, part man, straddling the two worlds? One minute, he needs me to hold him and comfort him and the next minute, he’s upset that I’m micromanaging the way he does his chores. One minute he’s happy playing with his Pokémon cards on the floor, listening to pop music and the next minute, he’s stinking up the whole back end of the house with his cologne and worried about how his hair looks.
I don’t have answers. I just have anxiety. And school starts next week. And, with regard to the library thing, I haven’t given him a definitive answer yet . . . it’s just been a lot of, “We’ll see,” and, “Maybe.”