My middle man, Kyle, is fourteen years old plus a handful of days today. I owed him a birthday blog post on the 7th, his actual birthday, but I didn't get it posted that day. Honestly, I didn't even get started with this post on the 7th. And there are many reasons why that could be. Really lots of legitimately "reasonable" reasons.
One is that he doesn't read this blog much so it wasn't as if he would be terribly disappointed. I hope that one day he will read it. It's one of the main reasons I write at all, so that the boys might have a record of these days that are whizzing by impossibly fast. But he's not much interested right now. So that would be a good enough reason to put off writing about birthday #14.
One reason is that his birthday comes right on the heels of Christmas. That means that we are often in the middle of putting away wrapping paper and gift boxes and pretty much feeling a little "partied out" just as the time for his party shows up. I had also taken a bit of a break from writing over the holidays, so all of that could have been the reason I didn't sit down to write about birthday #14.
Another reason is that this 14th birthday fell on our 20th wedding anniversary which, if I do say so myself, is kind of a big deal. Still though, we always make a bigger deal out of Kyle's birthday than our anniversary, so it was kind of odd that I was able to squeak out a post about our 20th and not this birthday. That momentous anniversary. Sure, that could have been a reason I didn't sit down to write about birthday #14.
But I think I know down deep that all those things weren't the real reason. The real reason? It's just the number fourteen. It seems strange really that this fourteenth birthday seems so different, so special, so intimidating to me.
It's just that I read a lot about parenting boys. I read a lot written by experienced and wise moms of boys who have come out on the other side of fourteen more than once, twice, even more than three times. And I talk to moms. Moms in the middle of fourteen. And fourteen seems generally to be seen as the most difficult for moms with boys. A time when eye-rolling, disrespect and brooding quiet take over boys who were once goofy, loud and rambunctious. And I know that there are always exceptions. In fact, I think I already dodged a bullet with one of those exceptions.
I also know that a mom who dodges a bullet should never ever think she's got it all figured out. Because she might find, in words of Forrest Gump, that bullet will jump up and bite her "directly in the buttocks".
There's a little part of me that wants to stay at thirteen because I can feel the way he might be in the beginnings of pulling away. This child, so very much like me, might start, maybe is starting, to shrug me off. This child who clung to me more than any of the others and who cried in the nursery at church until they had to come get me doesn't give me as much time anymore. He doesn't want to answer a lot of questions or give me a lot of information. This child who told me after the first full day of first grade that it was "just too long to be away from you, Mom." and who didn't want to go to sleep away camp walks out the door easily now.
And it's fine. We're good. Because he's not supposed to be that child anymore. He's supposed to be moving toward the man God wants him to be. And I recognize that I am to be enormously grateful for that. Because I know that there is another reason that I didn't want to write about birthday #14.
Although Kyle might not read my blog, in the past year and a half many of my blog readers have happened here because of their involvement with childhood cancer and because of my writing about my volunteer work for a childhood cancer charity. Many of them are moms. Two of those moms are my friends. Their boys both died at thirteen years old. All of their photos, all of their memories forever stuck at thirteen. Sometimes, I wonder if I should try to separate this new awareness I have. If perhaps maybe I shouldn't look at my life, at the lives of my boys, through a lens clouded by this now constant awareness that there are always children who die before fourteen. Before twelve. Even before five. But I can't unknow what I know now.
A writer always must consider her audience. And because of that, what I couldn't get past each time I tried to write is that two of my friends will never know the trepidation I feel at the approach of birthday #14. They would gratefully welcome this #14 that I fear. They would relish the opportunity to watch their boys turn into mouthy, sullen teenagers.
So, Kyle, here comes fourteen. And maybe you'll sit close to me and still hold my hand sometimes. Maybe we'll watch Will Ferrell movies and crack each other up by quoting them for days on end. Maybe you'll tell me all about your friends and what they're up to and who likes who and all that stuff.
Or maybe I'll wonder what in the world is going on behind those beautiful green eyes and that solemn face. And maybe you'll share nothing. Maybe you'll roll your eyes and mutter "whatever, Mom" when I give you an opinion. But I am keenly aware that there are women I hold very close whose children will forever stay at thirteen. So I will not wish away fourteen. I will not just hope to endure it until we end up on the other side of it.
This is the deal, buddy. We will welcome fourteen with all its blessings and all its burdens. I will not stop hugging you. I will not stop loving you. I will not stop being grateful for the enormous gift we have been given to journey through this year together.
Bring it on, Fourteen. We're ready.