E.T. Phone Home

My teenage boy is an alien. And by alien I mean foreign. Far away from me. It’s not so much that I don’t understand him, or that he communicates as if he’s from another planet. There is some of that going on some of the time, but I’m learning to decode and even speak that language (Mmm mmm mmm means “I don’t know” in Teenglish). It’s more like he and I are in different countries, and we call each other only when necessary. To check in. Or remind him to wash his face. Or ask me to email the karate teacher.

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He’s actually not quite a teenager – he’s 12 and a half. Exactly. And I know much is likely to change in the next six months before his barmitzvah. His voice might break. He could grow a whole foot. The glimpses of sullenness and defiance I’m seeing now will probably turn into full-scale epic movies of extreme emotion. I’m bracing myself for way more drama than when I took him to buy “nice” clothes and he grabbed the pants the sales lady held out to him, and actually threw them on the floor. At her feet. Apparently he doesn’t like dressy clothes – frayed cargo khakis and a polo shirt are as “dressed up” as this NorCal boy will go. Thankfully the lovely lady at Nordstrom has two grown sons of her own and remembers those days. But I cringed in horror as I watched my usually even-tempered, go-with-the-flow boy flail in frustration.

We don’t need much from each other, he and I. He usually just gets on with it. Walks to and from school. Even in the rain. Grabs a snack for himself. Does his homework. Gets consistently good grades with seemingly little stress and effort. Brushes his teeth without being told. Jokes with his brothers. Loves his Rubik’s cube. Reads sci-fi books. Watches Psych and Modern Family. I sign his math test or reading log when he asks, he doesn’t beg me to drive on field trips, casually mentions we’re out of frozen waffles (his breakfast of choice) but is happy to find something else to eat.

We spend a little time together in the car, just the two of us, when I take him to his barmitzvah lessons or to karate. But even then we don’t talk much. He answers my questions about school and friends with no more than three to four words. Not in a moody teenage way, just very matter-of-fact. Sometimes he’ll give me a fun fact, or relay a quick story. Ask me why humans are born with an appendix. As we drive passed the park he might yell out the window to someone. “Who’s that?” I ask. “My friend. Michael. He’s in my Spanish class.” Oh.

Remember when I knew all his friends, and their parents, and where they lived? When I could picture him at recess playing basketball or foursquare with those friends, knowing what he was eating for lunch because I packed it for him?

I’m not sad that he’s growing up, becoming independent. I’m not feeling nostalgic or wistfully remembering when he was so attached to me he cried solidly all day every day for the first three weeks of preschool. In my mother-heart I know that he is happy, and thriving, and enjoying his seventh grade life – even if he doesn’t share the details with me. He still loves to eat the cake batter out the bowl. And I leave the chocolate chips out of the banana bread – he hates chocolate.

Our long-distance relationship works for both of us. He’ll happily babysit the younger ones if I ask him to (meaning, if I pay him to). He helps me unload the trunk, fixes his sister breakfast, explains the math problem to his brother. All with no fuss. Unfazed. I can’t remember the last time he needed help from me or his dad, with anything. Schoolwork. A difficult social situation. A problem with a teacher. I don’t worry if he doesn’t come home straight after school, or wonder what he’s getting up to online. Girls are still just friends, if they exist at all in his world, and on the rare occasion I catch sight of him on campus or on the soccer field, he is engaged and social.

His baby brother wakes up wailing, and I bury myself further under the covers. I hear him crying and mumbling to himself, trying to get dressed, but I don’t move. And suddenly this little guy is at my bedside in the half-dark room, and before I even open my mouth to ask what’s wrong, the big almost-man-brother in dinosaur pajama pants is taking him by the hand and leading him out. “I’ll help you,” he says. As if he knows that I need just ten minutes more of quiet.

I am so thankful for this easy boy. Because son number two is not easy – needs so much from me all the time, and always has. Wants to talk and process and find out what I’m feeling and thinking, needs help with his homework, pounds his drums when frustrated or yells that he’s running away from home. And daughter and baby boy have requirements of their own, one being a second grade girl in a family of boys, and the other the youngest of four. Part of the fun and challenge of being a parent, navigating the different personalities and needs and moods of each child. And I wouldn’t have it any different (well, maybe a little different – like just one kid less). But my Big Easy Boy means a little less stress, a quarter of calmness in the frenzy, 25 percent more headspace for something or someone else.

And in his not-neediness I keep him in mind. Fix him an after-school snack. It’s a one-off thing. I’m not even sure if he’s coming home from school. Pastrami on a challah roll with the baby gherkins that he loves – no mayo, no mustard. I leave it on the kitchen counter on a plate, next to a note scribbled on a piece of scrap paper I fished out of the recycling: Daniel. Love Mom. I use the faintest black gel pen. Minimal effort. Minimal fuss. It feels like the most maternal thing I’ve done since I stopped breastfeeding the youngest three years ago.

He calls as soon as he gets home from school.

“Mom? So yeah I got the sandwich… it’s nice.”

I love you, Mom. And I know you love me.

challah

Reposted today as inspired by the Finish the Sentence Friday prompt: “I know my child would rather I not reveal this…” Hosts: Kristi from Finding Ninee and Stephanie from Mommy, for Real. Guest Hosts: Kelly from Just Typikel and Anna from Fitfunner.

13 thoughts on “E.T. Phone Home

  1. Pingback: You Rock-Apulco Red! | Red Boots

  2. Reblogged this on Red Boots and commented:

    This post was first published on RedBoots in February. I am reposting today as part of Finish the Sentence Friday on the delicious prompt: “I know my child would rather I not reveal this…” Or maybe it wouldn’t faze him at all. I don’t really know. Which is my point. Since writing this eight months ago, he has turned 13, had his bar mitzvah and moved up a grade but little else has changed. He’s still pretty far away from me most of the time.

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  3. Absolutely lovely. The whole thing. Right down to the pastrami sandwich and Big Easy Boy’s comment. I’m struck once again how we manage to churn out such different little people in the same family. My two are very different yet they’ve been raised the same. Genetics is a powerful thing. My daughter is my dad and my sister – organized, shy, thoughtful. My son is most like me with bits of his late dad tossed in – more social, less organized and an optimist.
    It’ll be interesting to see your relationship mature with BIg Easy.

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    • Thank you Kelly! You’re right – the genetics of it all is amazing. Just the other day my husband and I were marveling at how our littlest guy is such a combo of his two brothers… with his own twist! It sounds like you have tremendous insight into your kids’ inners – such a valuable thing to hold onto.

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  4. Oh Nicki this is so sweet and touching and just everything good. It makes me a little sad, too though, but I know that part’s about me – that I will be sad when Tucker’s that age… maybe because he’s my only? I’m so so happy that you linked up with us for FTSF – this is the perfect post to share. Also? It will forever make me happy that your Easy Big Boy came and took his little brother’s hand and said “I’ll help you.” ❤

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    • Yes, it makes me happy too :). Those two have a special relationship – it’s lovely to watch (more so since everyone in between is on the non-stop-squabble track!). It’s very bittersweet watching and experiencing their “growing-up” – I know you feel that already with Tucker. Sometimes I can’t wait, and other times I’d like it all just to stop! xo

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  5. Hi Nicki: I think that it is part of being the oldest child. Oldest kids learn to be a bit more independent, and can serve as “links” between the parents and their youngest siblings. It’s his way of showing you how much he values his family and how supportive you obviously are of him. Congrats on raising such a good kid!

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    • Thank you Anna. And you are 100% right about the oldest-child thing. I see it all the time – in our family and in others. And this boy is the oldest child of two oldest children :). Not sure if that’s a blessing or not!

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  6. My son isn’t at the non-talkative stage, but he extremely helpful and I really appreciate it. My second is the work of three kids most of the time, managing her emotions is harder as she gets older, and her jealousy is apparent with the birth of her younger sister. I’m thankful that their brother is willing to drop off the baby as he gets ready for school.

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    • You know, April, my son has never been much of a talker (especially not with me) so I’m guessing that yours might not hit at that stage at all! He sounds very happy and comfortable with the big brother, oldest kid role – it always amazes me how those easy kids intuit the need for easiness when more demanding siblings are in the mix!

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  7. Awww this game me goosebumps and made me kind of teary. I only have one boy and he’s been needy and independent 50/50. But I know I’ll be sad when he needs me less and talks to me less. Just when I’m sad about him growing up (he’s nine) I’ll look into his room and see him still snuggled with is teddy bear. Just last week we were going to get ice cream and he said, “MOM PULLOVER QUICK!” He scared me half to death. But we were by the hospital and the helicopter was about to take off and he wanted to watch it. I said, “Awww, there’s my little boy.” I think he would have been an awesome big brother but he’s going to be my one and only. However I do look forward to not having remind him about his teeth, and it would be nice if he told me when he’s eaten the last of something 😉

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    • Kenya, I just found an empty package of cheese slices in the fridge, and two empty cookie boxes in the pantry! Um, throw the empties away maybe? I love how your growing boy is still enthusiastic about the things he loves. Its wonderful to catch those moments even as they’re trying to grow out of them! Sounds like you already know how precious and fleeting they are…

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  8. Pingback: My Son Is An Alien

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