Is there something that happens to 12-year-old boys when they start middle school? Like, do they just completely lose their minds? Because I’m about to lose mine. My darling firstborn child has managed to lose literally hundreds of dollars worth of stuff in a mere two days.
The first was his brand new water bottle—the expensive insulated bottle we chose specifically for its durability. Turns out it doesn’t matter how durable a water bottle is if you lose it within the first 24 hours of ownership. Two days later, it was the bag that contained his school uniform and street shoes; he somehow forgot to grab it after cross-country practice.
Hundreds of dollars worth of stuff, gone. And the thing is, he doesn’t care. I yelled that, actually, in the car as we drove home. It’s a half-hour drive in rush-hour traffic; I have plenty of time to yell. It’s one of the perks of working and going to school across town from our house.
“You’re right,” he snapped back. “I don’t care.”
“Well, you should,” I groused before launching into another lecture on privilege and responsibility.
“Oh, like you’re so perfect,” he retorted. “I bet you lost stuff all the time when you were a kid. Nobody is perfect.”
“You’re right. I’m not perfect. But I did take care of my stuff and take my schoolwork seriously. If I had lost my brand new water bottle and my clothes, I would have taken it seriously. I would have…”
I would have worried all day about how to tell my parents. I would have cried about it all night. I would have beaten myself up about it for days. I would have expected my parents to punish me, and if they refused—if they reassured me it was an accident—I would have begged them to punish me because losers who lose things deserve to pay for their mistakes. Thing this is, all of the anxieties and pressures I put on myself were my own. My parents never expected perfection and never punished me for not measuring up to their—or my own—standards.
I don’t want my sons to be like me. Living with anxiety, in constant fear of messing up or not measuring up, is a horrific way to live. It’s not a life I want for my sons. But there has to be a happy medium, something in between worrying to the point of sickness over every little mistake and not caring at all. “I’m not perfect,” I repeated. “Nobody is. Just pay attention, okay?”
My son will find his missing items or use the money he earned doing chores for vacationing neighbors to replace them. We’re both learning from this. He’s learning how to be responsible, and I’m learning the limits of his responsibility. I’m learning that sometimes it’s a good thing to have a kid who isn’t exactly like me. I’m learning to extend to my kids the grace and forgiveness I can’t always extend to myself. And I’m learning that maybe it’s not a great idea to give an irresponsible seventh-grader an expensive water bottle when the Dollar Spot special will do.