The longer I’m a parent, the more it occurs to me that this parenting gig would be so much easier if kids either came with instruction manuals or if they skipped the teen years altogether. What’s worse is discovering that the same parents can have multiple children wired so differently from one another that you start to wonder if someone’s been dumping funky chemicals in the water of the gene pool.
When it comes to child-rearing, just because you’ve figured it out with one of your kids doesn’t guarantee you’ll know what to do with the rest of them.
My 13-year-old son has a girlfriend. Even though I have socks older than this child, he is apparently mature enough to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. This hasn’t concerned me up to this point. Since she goes to another school, their relationship has consisted solely of phone calls to one another. In fact, it’s hard to tell the difference between this girl and Matt’s other friends who are girls.
I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I do remember being thirteen. I liked boys but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I wasn’t the only one. If my friends and I were “going” with a boy it meant that we passed notes around to each other proclaiming our love for a certain boy but we didn’t actually let him know about it. Once in a while, if the planets aligned properly and we both happened to be in the hallway at the same time, we would walk out to the school buses together. That was pretty much the extent of our 8th grade romance.
Because of my own experience, I wasn’t particularly alarmed when Matt asked if his girlfriend could come over to our house this past weekend. I figured they’d play video games, fuss over the dog, and act annoyed at Matt’s younger brother.
This isn’t exactly what happened.
Allow me to set the scene. On the first floor of my house, I have a living room, a small laundry area off the living room, a kitchen, a dining room, and my office. We do not have a family room; we do not have a finished basement. Basically, there is one room in which to hang out. Matt and his girlfriend naturally chose the living room.
After our introductions, I went into the office to finish up some work, figuring I could keep an ear tuned to any mischief that they might get into. Dan was sitting at the dining room table doing some paperwork, again within earshot.
I could hear the two of them playing with the dog for the first 10 minutes after the girlfriend’s arrival, but then I suddenly couldn’t hear anything else. This was odd. Shouldn’t I hear video game sounds or at least sounds of conversation? Nothing, not a single sound, came from that living room.
My youngest son, Evan, came down the stairs at the same time I was pondering how to casually check up on them. I didn’t want to be overly protective or intrusive, but still, it was awfully quiet out there.
“Hey, Evan,” I whispered. “Can you please peek in the living room and see what Matt and his girlfriend are doing?” Evan was happy to oblige since he was curious, too. Matt’s friends were always way more interesting than anything currently happening in his 9-year-old world.
After a minute, Evan came back.
“I think they’re kissing or something.”
What?! Kissing? At thirteen years old? I jumped out of my office chair and ran to the laundry area where I could spy on them more easily. They were not kissing, but were sitting next to one another on the sofa, each one hugging the other and each sharing an earbud to Matt’s iPod. They weren’t moving. They were totally still and frozen in an awkward embrace, one that would surely land me at the chiropractor’s office.
Their hug was not a gentle one, nor was it a sensual one. It was more like they were holding on to one another in a desperate attempt to keep each other from blowing away.
I gathered some clothes from a basket in the living room and put them in the washer. Matt and his girlfriend did not move. I walked back out into the living room to clean up some dog toys. Still, they did not move. Not a finger, a hand, or an eyelid.
I didn’t know what to do. My oldest son never did this. He wasn’t even into girls when he was thirteen. I went into the dining room and nudged Dan.
“You’ve got to do something,” I whispered. “Matt and his girlfriend are hugging each other for too long.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?”
“I don’t know. He’s your son. Make them stop. Make them play video games like normal 13-year olds.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one with the Y-chromosome. I figured you'd know what to do. At least go see for yourself.”
Dan got up to go into the kitchen but took the long way so that he could walk through the living room.
“Well?” I asked when Dan returned, anxious for his opinion on the two lovebirds.
“They’re just sitting there, hugging, listening to music. I can see their hands, and they’re not moving into places they shouldn’t, so I say we leave them alone. Besides, they’re not going to do anything with us right here.”
Leave them alone? It infuriated me that Dan was so nonchalant about the whole thing. Images of a 14-year old Matt holding a baby in one arm while playing with Legos in the other flooded my mind.
“But…he’s hugging…a girl. Our son who builds teepees in the back yard is hugging a girl.”
Dan shot me a look suggesting that I was entering Helicopter Mom territory. I didn’t care. This was all new to me and I wanted to handle it responsibly. None of the dozens of parenting books I’d read when my kids were younger prepared me for anything like this. In my own childhood, I wasn’t even allowed to date until I was 16. Everything about this felt strange and new to me and I didn’t like it one bit. Was I being a prude? It’s possible, since I had been raised Catholic with the standard curriculum of All Touch is Bad Touch. Still, I had no time to sort all of that out. Something had to be done now.
When in doubt, do laundry, so that’s exactly what I did. In between loads, I clipped coupons at the kitchen table so I could maintain a direct view of Matt and his girlfriend. They did not seem to mind the audience, nor did they act as if they’d been caught doing anything wrong when I walked into the room. Once in a while, they’d shift position slightly, or would stop hugging long enough to change the song on Matt’s iPod, but basically they sat quietly with their arms around one another for the entire time she was at our house.
I’m still not sure if I handled the situation appropriately. All I know is that if this is the how the 8th grade set behaves these days, then I need a crash course on teen dating.
That, and some incredibly strong anti-anxiety medication.