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My baby turns Thirteen tomorrow. He was almost two weeks late and beat the East Coast/Midwest Blackout by two hours. He was born purple, his umbilical cord tied in a knot and wrapped around his neck twice, but recovering immediately. He wanted his mama from the first moment and stays close to this day, but not too close. That would be completely uncool. I’m really not ready for this next stage, but it’s not my rodeo. Well, it kind of is. He is my son, after all, but the experience of becoming a teenager is his and his alone.

Thirteen has been seen as a rite of passage for a long time in many cultures, marked with parties, bar and bay mitzvahs, a step toward young adulthood, but also a time of confusion. Body changes, pressure to do well, and the desire to prove oneself can make turning thirteen more difficult than it needs to be.

I remember Thirteen and it wasn’t that great of a year, but then it was also a year where some exciting things happened. I remember being really jazzed to become a teenager. I have a late birthday and was always one of the youngest ones in my class, so turning thirteen and catching up with my friends was something that couldn’t come soon enough for me. I wish that I had had the gift of hindsight back then, to see that Thirteen was not all it’s cracked up to be. I still wasn’t an adult, much to my dismay, and I still had a LOT to learn.

It was during that year that I made the colossal mistake of calling one of my friends a bitch, and not even to her face, but in a note to a mutual friend. I wasn’t quite that brave and it was my first stab at speaking my mind. I didn’t even write out the whole word. If I remember correctly, I wrote, “B_T_H.”. In fairness, as I look back, she kind of deserved it, but that was not the best decision I ever made. Of course, I was ratted out by the mutual friend and popular opinion rained down on me for the rest of 8th grade, only letting up when we went to different high schools the next year. I learned a hard, valuable, lesson on social niceties and never wrote anything like that ever again.

Thirteen was also the year when I fell in love with the discipline and opportunities in marching band. I am a proud band geek, through and through. Thirteen was my first year of Band Camp, and it will be for Youngest Child, too, next summer. Band Camp was definitely a rite of passage. I had always loved music, I still do, but the late nights, early mornings, sweat, aches, heat, and sky-high diving platforms into the lake made me confident in my abilities. I met new, life-long friends (“Hi, I’m George.” “I’m Ringo.” “I’m Paul.” “I’m John. I’m dead.”) who knew nothing about the “bitch” incident and when they did find out, didn’t care. I found people who didn’t think I was weird, people who I fit in with. I was lucky that way. I loved everything about Band Camp and marching band and still do, even all these years later. I’m so glad that my boys have been through band and it makes me smile to see those friendships continue to grow.

Thirteen saw my first “real” boyfriend, whom I took to my first Homecoming Dance, and I am still friends with him to this day. I won’t elaborate too much, but it was an exciting time for me and that experience began teaching me how to gauge and handle future relationships in a good way. I always expected the respect that I was given with that first dating experience. I don’t like to think of Youngest Child dating at the moment, but the Italian mama in me does want him to find a nice girl someday.

Thirteen allows you to start forming the person that you will eventually be. That wonderful new ability to think abstractly makes you question ideas and beliefs that you’ve always had, in both good and bad ways. Boundaries are pushed, limits are tested, and while it drives parents crazy, it’s actually a good thing. It’s good practice for making adult decisions one day. As for parents, Thirteen means we can’t be with them every second, we shouldn’t be, and that we have to trust that they will make the good choices. Sometimes they won’t, and that part really sucks because we think we failed, but it helps to breathe deeply and to keep going. (A nice glass of wine at the end of the day doesn’t hurt, either.) Every day is a new day, a fresh day, and they need to know that. They need to know that they are loved, mistakes and all, and that we are the people they can count on, even if we overreact at first. We’re both going to screw up, parents and Thirteen, and if we understand that from the get-go, it’ll be easier to forgive ourselves and each other when it happens.

I hope that Thirteen is kind to my boy. He’s been through some storms this past year and I think we’re on the right track, but Thirteen can be tricky. I want him to be happy, but I want him to choose wisely. There’s  a reason why Thirteen was celebrated as a rite of passage; you’re not a little kid anymore and people really start to hold you responsible for your actions. People can eye teenagers with distaste and suspicion, myself included, and sometimes with good reason. Teenagers can be horribly obnoxious and even threatening. There’s something about the infusion of hormones, I think, that entices you to do stupid things sometimes. (Getting kicked out of JC Penney in Southland for jumping on the elevator rings a bell. Group mentality.) It isn’t fair, to be sure, especially to the kids who are amazing, like Oldest and Middle Children’s friends, but it remains and that’s something that Youngest Child will encounter as he turns Thirteen.

What do I wish for Youngest Child this year? I wish him wisdom. I wish him grace. I wish him some of the best memories he’ll ever make, and the friends to make them with. I wish him the fortitude to withstand peer pressure and to remember what we’ve taught him. I wish him love and acceptance. I wish him love. I wish him love. I wish him love.

In the meantime, I now have three teenagers and will appreciate all prayers and good thoughts.

Happy Birthday, Youngest Child. It’s gonna be great.

 

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It’s that time of year again: graduation season. My FB newsfeed is full of announcements, plans, invitations to graduation parties, and happy pictures. I remember Oldest Child going through this last year and next June, we’ll go through it again with Middle Child. It’s a wonderful, exciting (expensive!), time for the grads and their families and I really can’t wait for my other two boys to experience it, even if my bank account can.

As anyone who has graduated from anything knows, it can be daunting and overwhelming. It seems like everyone has such high expectations of you, but you might not know what comes next. Now, Oldest Child knows exactly what he wants to do and he’s set about it with admirable tenacity. Middle Child is thinking about it, but he’s undecided at the moment and that’s okay. There’s time to figure it out. Youngest Child bounces from being an FBI agent to working with animals in some capacity, but he has quite a while yet. We don’t put pressure on them to be one thing or another, but we do make it clear that they are expected to be able to support themselves after college, not as easy of a prospect today as it was fifty years ago. I want their college years to be good, to be well-spent, to help them into a fulfilling career, but most of all, to do something that they love.

It’s tough, though, this growing up business. College or work? What to study? How to pay for it? Community college or university? Commute or live on campus? Drink or don’t drink? Do what your parents want you to do or follow your heart? Focus and study, or party? High school graduates have so many options and possibilities, including ones that they haven’t opened themselves up to yet. I look at all of the happy pictures and wonder what’s ahead for these kids, these young adults who have their whole lives to live. This is the time that they can make adult decisions, sometimes affecting a single evening, sometimes affecting their whole lives. Good choices and bad, they will all contribute to the adult that they will become.

Me? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I was overwhelmed in my first year of college and didn’t do very well, except for my theatre classes, which I loved. I had skated through the high school honors program with no problem, but my first year of college was a wake-up call. I didn’t know how to do anything for myself. A couple of years later, I started back to community college part-time, class by class, honestly applying myself this time, using up my savings bonds and acquiring (many, many, many) student loans. I decided on teaching because that’s what everyone told me I should do. Even though it turned out to not be the right decision for me, I was proud that I graduated from college even though it took me 15 years. Would I do it all over again that way? Not in a million years, which is why I’m trying to make sure that my boys are prepared.

In the end, though, each graduate has to decide what they’re going to do. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to screw up royally sometimes, some more than others. At this age, they’re very smart and savvy about certain things, but they really don’t understand what’s ahead. They don’t know how fast circumstances can change, how even though they think they have life figured out, they don’t. When that reality hits, it hurts, not only them, but their parents as well. We can’t just kiss the boo-boo anymore, they have to live with their decisions.

I remember, as I’m sure many of you do, those feelings of insecurity, but also of invincibility. It’s that feeling that contributes to the risky behavior that teens are famous for, although to different degrees for each individual. Some teenagers are just more mature than others. Brain studies show that the decision-making part of the brain isn’t finished growing until around twenty-one years of age and with some kids, that’s easy to see. I am definitely worried about the group of boys I saw in Kroger yesterday. Obnoxious in the store, reckless in the parking lot, their actions put other people at risk but they didn’t see that. They were only concerned with having a good time. I’m sure that if they would have hit someone with their cart or while fooling around in the parking lot, they would have felt terrible, but that regard for others was obviously not in their heads. I feel for these kids, although that kind of behavior is exactly why I did not want to teach high school and why I walk the other way from a group of teenagers unless I know them personally. Part of what makes me cringe is that I remember acting like a teenager and, as an adult, it embarrasses me. That’s one thing I would wish for our graduates: Try and understand how your actions affect others. If someone had told me that back then, though, I don’t know if it would have sunk in.

There are other kids, though, that seem to be light years ahead of the others in maturity and I feel for them, too. It’s tough to see what your peers are doing and make the choice to take the high road. I commend those kids, but I’d also like them to know that it’s okay to screw up once in a while, that even adults screw up a lot. That’s how we learn and as long as we know enough to not make those mistakes again, we’re doing all right..

Graduating high school is an achievement. Becoming an adult is really hard. I would love to tell our grads, my own included, that life, real life, for them is just beginning. This is one of the most exciting times of their lives, but they might not realize it until later on. Don’t waste it, don’t study something you hate or are ambivalent to because people tell you that you should. Don’t spend these years in a haze of intoxication or laziness. DO something to make your mark on the world in a good way. Be a force of light in the world. You are the next generation. What will you do to make life better?

A presto.

 

 

 

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