My freshly minted sixth grader had his first school dance on Friday night.
"You're sure you want to go?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "Yeah. I guess."
I watched him queue up against the building with his classmates, my eyes playing connect-the-dots with the tops of their heads, graphing the zigzag line made by their wildly different heights. Closest to the entrance, jostling for admission, the seventh and eighth graders looked like a race of giants. A security guard stood there with a metal detector in hand. A metal detector. This is not your mama's sock hop, I thought, remembering my first dance, at the end of sixth grade. We were still in elementary school then, top of the food chain. It was the last year I wouldn't dread going to school, until I reached the other side of junior high.
It's so hard not to project our own experiences onto our children. I've never been more grateful that I have sons, not daughters. The difference in our genders is an obvious reminder that they are not me. I don't know what these years are like for boys, the "tweens." I don't like the word at all. It sounds made-up--trademarked and sanitized, as if puberty were a sitcom dreamed up by Nickelodeon. But maybe it's better than no word at all. There was no name for what I was then. Pupal. Inchoate. In between.
The goth and emo kids, with their black fingernails and bowed heads, reflect a truth about puberty that Nickelodeon doesn't. It's a kind of death, in the way that metamorphosis is death. We are not the same creatures coming out of it that we are when we go in. However splendid our new selves may be, our childhood is discarded. The husk on the ground behind.
My son has barely begun to spin his cocoon. He moved into his own bedroom over the summer, and we've been working on re-decorating it to suit a middle-schooler's style. It's a mash-up of Legos, Beatles, skateboards, electronics and stuffed animals. Perfectly in between. He seems to love it in there. I never know, when I open the door, whether I'll find him laying on the bed, listening to music with his headphones on, or crouched on the floor over his action figures.
He's like me at that age in so many ways, but so much is different. Our family is in a different place than mine was then. Maybe things will be easier for him. Maybe they'll be easier for me than they were for my parents. One can hope. I was so angry with them all the time. When I was thirteen, I hated my father. And anyone who says, oh, no, you didn't really, has either forgotten what it was like to be thirteen, or was someone who probably wouldn't have spoken to me in junior high. I loved my father as much as a daughter can love. He was the sun that rose in my consciousness every waking day of my life, and the moon that shone down at night. I miss him every day. And I hated him for most of my thirteenth year. He knew it, but he loved me through it.
He was given to lecturing. Remember the Gary Larson cartoon that was captioned, "More than any other punishment, Jimmy dreaded his father's lectures?" That was me. Once, when I was in grade eight, he said to me, "You have to think about what you do, Kyran, because people are going to follow you."
I stared back sullenly and seethed. How could my own father so profoundly misunderstand who I was and what life was like for me? People follow me? Was he crazy? Classmates got up and moved away from me if I sat at a desk next to them, and that was the only sign they gave that I wasn't actually invisible. Who was going to ever give a damn what I said, thought or did? He must be talking about a daughter he wished he had. How could he say he loved me, when clearly, he couldn't see me?
And so. Here you are. Not following, exactly. But reading. Caring. Commenting. Seeing something he saw, when no one else did, when I couldn't.
It's what I'm ready to do for my son. To hold that vision of his splendid winged self if he should lose it in the dark. To see it if no one else does, if he can't believe in it himself, if he hates me for it. But I'm also ready to see and love him just as he is, in between. He is not me. I'm not my father or my mother. I need to try not to project, to take these years as they come.
Because the one thing I'm not ready for? What will really throw me for a loop?
A kid who comes home from his first dance, announcing he had the time of his life.
"Mom! It was awesome! Me and my friends started break dancing, and the other kids started following us!"
Now what am I going to do with a kid like that? Who's happy and popular, and likes middle school?
Love him anyway, I suppose.