My son just turned ten. Double digits. A whole decade gone except for the memories. The hype of this significant birthday and the psychic shift in the way he perceives himself and how he needs me now (or doesn’t) is bringing up some difficult stuff for both of us. For me it’s achingly bittersweet. While I'm proud and awed by this older version of my son, I'm also sad. I find myself missing the little guy Zeke was, all wispy haired and milky, running around the house half naked with oversized Tonka trucks, whooping with unadulterated joy as he spies the garbage truck out our living room window. That small, sweet, curious boy who loved his Mama without question, who needed me in very tangible ways that I could easily deliver. He's still his Mama's boy but his life is more complicated. Parenting issues are definitely more intense. We’re heavy into sorting out bullying, stereotyping, what it means to be a good friend, believing in yourself but not being boastful, healthy eating, exercise and body image, taking on more responsibility and finding age appropriate freedom. Some days my heart breaks at how hard it is to grow up.
Zeke is also grappling with all the power struggles of being a fourth grade boy. He’s an athletic kid who likes to get physical and rough and tumble, which used to be plain old fun but now the games are rife with inflated egos, fierce competition and constant comparisons. He’s getting called fat and his friendships aren’t so straightforward any more. Yesterday he cried that deep cry of a small boy who is wounded and overwhelmed by the unfairness of life and I just wanted to go and lambaste the friend who hurt him, who continues to hurt him. But I can’t and he doesn’t want me to any way. So I teeter on that fence of trying to know what is his to work out and when it’s important for me to step in. How to balance holding on and letting go. Creating space for him to figure things out himself so by eighteen Mama can be obsolete. No easy task.
Zeke is a big personality and I’m no shrinking violet so we get into it sometimes. I find myself appalled at some of his opinions and actions. Like the way he lords over his little sister on occasion, puffing himself up and raising his fist at her just for the fun of it. Or how he struts around bragging about his abilities as an athlete. Or makes some rash judgment of a street person, or a guy wearing saggers and a bandana or the latest substitute teacher. It’s tough to like him sometimes and the onslaught of teachable moments is overwhelming. My husband and I are working over time. Half the battle is resisting turning every issue into a teachable moment because it’s suffocating for a kid like mine. Often it is better to let him figure it out; hold my tongue, which isn’t my strong suit and give him the space to keep discovering what he thinks, how much meaning his words have and who he. Coming up under the problem softly instead of going head to head always works best. Remembering to do that in the moment is tricky. It also helps to remind myself that he is ostensibly a great kid.
The pursuit of space and freedom for Zeke eats up a lot of our time these days. How can I let my son manage his time and not micro-manage his every move? What responsibilities can I hand over to him where I do not have to constantly look over his shoulder or give instructions? Where can he go without me? What’s safe and appropriate? Being a city kid who lives in a rental house with a wall of windows and a patio garden for a back yard is tough on an active guy like Zeke. It seems like there are a lot of “No’s” at our house. Plus he has to share a room with his sister and that’s getting old but having his own room can’t happen any time soon. Poor guy. The best I can do right now is to stay on it. Keep the lines of communication open, let him know I love him and will go to bat for him when he needs me to and keep breathing and laughing. Thank god for deep cleansing breaths and for humor. Both go a long way in offsetting the difficulty of growing up.