13 Ways To Deal With Your Firstborn Turning 13

by Rachel Tapling
Tom Werner/Getty

1. You are standing in the kitchen with your husband, getting ready for the party. Soon, a gaggle of middle school boys will descend upon the house and you are trying to assemble enough food, which is nearly impossible to estimate. You recall that one of the boys has some food allergies, and somehow a discussion of corn tortillas and the option of soy cheese becomes a fight about how much effort and time you put into grocery shopping, how the kitchen floor always needs sweeping, and how no one else notices the pile of clothes on the dining room table. You are sweaty and screaming before you’ve even gotten dressed, and your younger non-birthday children peer at you from around a corner in fear and confusion. You are sure none of this has to do with your firstborn turning 13. It’s about tortillas.

2. You recall other landmark birthdays. That time your sweet baby turned three and just weeks later you dropped him off at preschool, intending to say a quick goodbye and then walk down to your classroom where you were supposed to teach. On the way in you were suddenly seized with fear that the peanut-free snack you’d packed was maybe not peanut-free, and so you ran to the faculty lounge and scoured the ingredient list of the boxes of baked goods laid out for the first day of school. The preschool director finds you there, in some kind of a flurry with mini-muffins, while your preschooler stands idly next to you with his backpack and new shoes, wondering when he will get to play with the friends he was promised. She asks you delicately if everything is okay, because class is about to start. You sputter about nut-free facilities and chocolate, and she says some soft soothing words, and then you are standing on the other side of the closed preschool door, sobbing. This has nothing to do with your firstborn starting school, and is surely about muffins.

3-6. Spend three weeks trying to write a perfect essay about your firstborn turning 13. You write thousands and thousands of words, and it just keeps running away from you. You aren’t even sure what point you’re trying to make, what emotions you are trying to explore. After a full page about potty training, you aren’t sure if this is an essay anymore, and maybe instead it’s a complete and sentimental retelling of everything you remember about the last 13 years. It feels like wrestling an eel in a bathtub, or trying to hold a patch of sunlight that’s streaming through the window. It’s elusive and impossible, and the best you can do is describe your way around it. You keep the ramblings for posterity, but resign that not everything has the makings of a coherent essay. This has nothing to do with your firstborn becoming a teenager, and everything to do with the difficulty of writing as a practice.

7. Become painfully aware of the relationship between your teenager and the teenagers that you teach everyday. It appears that they are now all in the same age group, and when you bring up several concerns to him about teenagers in general, he balks. This has nothing to do with him, because he would never make those kinds of bad choices. He is wise and level-headed and completely unfoolish, he assures you. He suggests that maybe you are too concerned because of your job and that colors your judgment. This conflict has nothing to do with your firstborn becoming a teenager, because he will never be like other teenagers.

8. Listen, enraptured with charm, as your younger children ask him if he has decided yet what kind of teenager he will be — a Teen Titan or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? When he answers seriously and with great consideration that he has decided to become a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, you think of Gregor Samsa. As you congratulate yourself on making a literary reference in your own head, you note that the reference which suggests one turning into something else entirely is not related to concerns about your firstborn becoming a teenager but instead is random, and has to do with nothing.

9-12. Purchase four gifts on Amazon Prime the night before, because you want to make sure he has something to open even though you and your husband have promised to take him to pick out a new bike.

These are:

-A 2-pack of phone chargers.


-Dr. Squatch soap in Pine Tar scent

-Name tags that wrap around cords so they cannot be stolen by family members

You know that imbuing meaning to each of these four gifts (budding privacy and individuation, increased attention to hygiene and grooming, etc.) has nothing to do with your first child turning 13 and everything to do with your natural tendency to try to make everything into some kind of poem. It’s to do with being an Enneagram 4, and is not connected to your son growing up.

13. A couple days after the party, find yourself going through old photos because your boss needs a headshot that you know you have somewhere. You stumble upon videos of the kids from 3, 5, 9 years ago. You cry not one tear as you and all three kids pile onto each other and spend an hour laughing and watching each other grow up, on video.

You do not miss holding a baby while negotiating a tantrum with a toddler.

You do not miss changing diapers in the middle of the night,

or trying to practice multiplication tables while a teething baby fitfully nurses.

Sitting here together, you are sure it has nothing to do with your oldest child turning 13 that you enjoy this so much. It is unrelated that as you lean in together, watching the younger versions of yourselves on the screen, you feel you are holding all the ages at once. It is certainly random that on this day, as you reflect on parenting for 13 years, you notice that you are in each of these videos. You are holding the camera, you are holding his hand, you are holding his baby brother while he does a flip, you get to hold it all.

And you are sure that this reverie has nothing to do with your firstborn turning 13.

It has nothing to do with that.