Lately I find myself staring at baby pictures on the walls around the house. I look close, really close, squinting to see if I can find any piece of that chubby-cheeked baby in my nearly teenage son. I stare, willing myself to see some resemblance, some reminder, that says, yes, it’s me, Mom, your baby.
But as much as it pains me, I just don’t see it.
We are on the eve of 13, the teenage years, and it’s just as big a deal as you think it’ll be all those years ago when you hang those baby photos on the wall.
But it isn’t a big deal because of the last four letters of that word, like I thought it would be. It’s something more obvious, yet also hard to describe or to name. If that’s possible.
It’s the bigger feet and longer jeans and the deeper voice, for sure. But it’s also the in-your-face reminder that time is passing and that this person wasn’t really “your” baby at all; they are they’re own person and the path of becoming seems to be moving at a quicker pace these days.
As much as I hate to admit it, the cliché really is true: the days are slow but the years…boy, are they fast. Well, maybe not fast necessarily, but faster that’s for sure.
In reality, the “bigness” of the teen years began a while ago. Things really do change when they’re 12, or maybe even 11. Who is this person, you think on more than one occasion. Okay, so maybe you don’t even think it so much as scream WHO THE EFF IS THIS PERSON in exasperated and tear-filled walks with other parents in the thick of this angsty, hormone-laden adolescent mess.
And in the midst of all those fears that you’re doing something wrong because you never thought your kid would do that and you totally thought they knew better and they must be on the “wrong path,” you get glimpses of the exceptional person they are becoming.
This is the joy and sadness of the eve of 13 – it is knowing that time is fleeting and kids will shock you with their amazingness sometimes.
Almost 13 is still saying “I love you, Mom” — with surprising ease — when they get out of the car for sports practice or FaceTime to see if they can go to a friend’s house after school. It is wanting – but not needing – to be tucked in before bed. It’s wanting books read to them but wanting to listen to music alone.
Almost 13 is needing a long hug at the end of the day or hours alone in their room, depending on the day. It is shopping in both the men’s department and the kid’s department and nothing fits quite right. It is telling awkward, cringe-worthy, not-at-all-funny jokes but being able to watch inappropriate movies with them (and they actually get most of the jokes).
Almost 13 is arguments about who got more time on the Xbox or whining about taking out the garbage. It is insightful conversations about God and white privilege and how to be a good friend.
Almost 13 is handmade cards and holding hands and Axe body spray. So. Much. Body. Spray.
Almost 13 is a little of this and a little of that, with a foot in both sides of the line between childhood and young adulthood. And because of that, it can be downright brutal sometimes. But it can also be the best of everything, with the innocence of childhood and the authenticity of adolescence.
Now that my son is on the eve of 13, and survived the drama of the preteen years (almost anyway), I think I’m able to getting a few of the deep breath lulls that 13 seems to be bringing with it. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t any less drama or angst. There aren’t fewer eye rolls or slammed doors. And I have no doubt that the tornado of the teen years will continue to swirl around us. But I’ve settled into the chaos just enough to appreciate the quiet moments now and then.
So yes, 13 is a big deal. But not for all the reasons I thought it would be. Not because of the “teen” that’s officially attached to the end of his age. Not because all those jokes and memes about the teen years are painfully relevant (though they are). Not because I can predict with cliched accuracy the bittersweet turmoil of the next five years.
But precisely because I can’t predict what these years will bring. I have absolutely no idea.
That’s why 13 is such a big deal. Because you realize that you have no idea. None of you do – not the kids, not the parents, none of us. You know something big is about to happen but you don’t know exactly what. Like a good friend recently told me, it’s like nearing the top of a tall roller coaster and you have no idea what lies ahead. Will there be a huge plunge? Loopdie-loops? Spirals? Swift turns? All of the above? Who knows.
But that’s okay, because we can be a little of this and a little of that at the same time. They can be a “little kid” and a “big kid” at the same time. We can be terrified of how fast time is moving and also wish sometimes that it would move just a little faster. We can feel the slipping away while also knowing that a parent’s love means they can never really go too far. We can cling to what’s comfortable and also want to shake it off at the same time.
We’re all just fumbling along, looking really close for a glimpses of what we knew, for any resemblance of “our baby” – like I do with those baby pictures that line my walls – as we step into what feels like the giant abyss.
Onward to what is next. Whatever that is.