Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thirteen: The Beginning of the Saga

Here the subject of our story endures an affectionate hug from his ever-optimistic little brother as they watch a flag ceremony.

My son is thirteen. I’ve never had to deal with thirteen except as a thirteen-year-old, so this is new to me: I must address thirteen from the position of authority. I must try to understand it as a person who hasn’t been that age in thirty years.

I have vague memories of it: my perception is that I was generally likeable, but that I was moody, often sarcastic, and sometimes surly. Added to that, I know I was incredibly sensitive, and sometimes if my parents looked at me the wrong way I would burst into tears. I spent long periods of time petting my cat or writing in my journal. It’s not an age I would go back to, given the chance.

But a thirteen-year-old boy is rather a different creature. If my son is any indication, this gender enjoys thirteen as a puppy enjoys a good romp around the yard—usually at the expense of the sanity, or cheerfulness, of others.

I met my sons coming out of school today. It was their walkathon day, and all of the students had been issued brand new, sparkling white T-shirts which I was hoping would last a few months as gym shirt replacements. The current gym shirts are an unpleasant gray and speckled with mysterious stains.

My nine-year-old ran up, a bit sweaty but still sparkling white and smiling. He had run 20 laps and was proud of himself. I waited another five minutes for my older son to saunter up; his shirt had yellow things on it. “What is that?” I yelled.

He looked down at himself. “Uh—either paint or mustard. I also sketched in some scenes in ball point pen.”

Sure enough, I saw upon closer, angrier examination that he had defaced his brand new shirt, most probably to amuse others. “Why?” I wailed.

“I was bored,” he said, as though this made it acceptable.

In the car he reminded me that there was a dance tonight.

“Okay,” I said. “You’d better take a shower.”

“I don’t need to. I’ll just use some deodorant.”

Ick. “You’re taking a shower,” I insisted.

He retreated into one of his favorite languages: a high pitched shrieking that sounds a bit like a dial-up internet connection or an alien from science fiction. He thinks it’s funny.

“Stop it,” I said. “Stop it, or I’m calling dad.” I so quickly resorted to this defense that I could feel his disdain as he smirked out the window.

He then looked into his backpack, found an old piece of string cheese, and flung it at his brother, who sat innocently in the back seat.

“Hey!” yelled Graham.

“Ian, that’s one,” I said, reverting to the counting method we used when they were toddlers.

But thirteen-year-olds are in a different universe—one that doesn’t really acknowledge numbers as specific warnings, and most certainly doesn’t contemplate consequences. Thirteen just is.

At home he stepped out of the car, only to be attacked by the nine-year-old who hadn’t forgotten the string cheese incident.

They grappled for a while in our driveway while I checked to see if any neighbors were watching. As they strangled each other, they told me in angry bursts why the other was to blame. I sighed and picked up the little potted hyacinth that I bought at school. It smelled lovely. I knew that neither of my boys would appreciate this the way they did when they were little, so I didn’t bother to share.

“Who wants to plant this with me?” I asked as they marched, eyeing each other warily, toward the door.

“No one,” said my eldest in his shrieking alien voice.

“No one likes it when you talk that way,” his little brother asserted.

“I do,” said Ian, smiling serenely.

Now he sits in the living room, enjoying some Friday television. He plans to dress as a Miami Vice guy at the dance tonight. He feels it will make him cool and distinctive. Perhaps it will.

But if he doesn’t take a shower, I plan to hose him down.


Pam Quimby said...

I am laughing out loud. I don't know what else to say. HI-larious!

Julia Buckley said...

I'm sure it's funnier to an outsider. So far, still no shower. It is going to rain, though, so maybe I can just push him outside naked.

Maryann Miller said...

What a hoot, Julia. Brought back memories of the antics of my kids as teens. Someday I should post the Great Lasagna Caper on my blog. And it was not as funny to me as it was to readers of the column I used to do in our suburban newspaper. :-)

Enjoy the boys. They can be a real treasure, and it helps to laugh at their foibles.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Mary Ann--do post the lasagna caper and I'll check it out!

I do know these are the good days, and it's funny but even while they're annoying me I know that I don't want this time to end. I already miss their baby days so much . . .

And believe me, making fun of our children is a defense mechanism: they use us constantly as the targets of their jokes. We're losing all our self-esteem. :)

Anonymous said...

Julia, I've told you before that you are at your best when writing these types of pieces. They are not only funny, but they have that feeling of living, breathing reality about them. As the mom of a son who just turned 18, I can say been there, done that. My advice is not to give up being the mom you have always been...right now he sometimes needs you more than he will admit to. Only fight the big battles...dirty shirts and socks on the floor are little ones, although DO require the showers. Have some of your best conversations in the car when driving him someplace...he's a captured audience. Keep your sense of humor with him and let him see it...the humor tends to diffuse difficult moments. And, just love him until he's 18 and then starts pulling away from you, but you will know you have done a good job.
Have fun with him and good luck!

Mary Beth

Anonymous said...

I just figured out who you remind me of with these humorous pieces...Jean Kerr of PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES!

Mary Beth

Julia Buckley said...

Mary Ann, thank you for your compliments about my writing! PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES is a favorite of my family's--what a kind thing to say. Maybe I can approach my agent with a big bushel full of blogs some day . . .

Has your son decided on college?

Anonymous said...

Yes, he's been accepted to Marquette's biomedical engineering program on a partial scholarship. It was his first choice. He's happy, we're happy...and in another year or two I start the college search again for my daughter. I should be a pro by then! See what you have to look forward to...

I am serious about your humor pieces. You should explore other outlets for them just as an experiment to see where it goes. The worst that could happen is nothing, but then again you may be surprised!
Mary Beth

Julia Buckley said...

Maybe I should do that soon, so I can put a dent in those college bills . . . :)