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.