Living In The Season Of Boy-Men

by Christy Heitger-Ewing
Originally Published: 
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I wonder if the creator of the Twilight Zone had 11-year-old boys in mind when the show was conceived–because that’s precisely where male adolescents live during this awkward, confounding, precarious stage of life when they are gingerly, and other times clumsily, walking the bridge between boyhood and manhood. During this transitional time, they have feet in both worlds, which—let’s face it—can be tricky (and mildly unnerving for their moms).

The fluctuation between the worlds of boy and manhood can be stark and random as our children jump between them within the same week or day, even. Case in point: one recent evening my sixth-grader pummeled me with a barrage of sex-ed type questions, determined to learn, right then and there, precisely how babies are made. He wanted specific details about the process, which I was happy to provide given that the info he’d heard from his peers was way off base.

But then the following day, he hit me with at least as many questions about the magical nature of elves.

Another week, he begged me to let him see the movie The Maze Runner (rated PG-13), a flick filled with action-packed, testosterone-laden fun. He loved it—especially the part where synthesized spiders the size of tanks terrorize the characters. He adored the intensity, the fear and the carnage. Two hours after viewing The Maze Runner, however, I found him curled next to his 5-year-old brother binge-watching back-to-back episodes of The Berenstain Bears (rated negative G, I presume?).

I find the dichotomy of it all so fascinating. On the one hand, my son thinks he’s mature enough to stay home alone. On the other hand, he can’t hang up a wet bathroom towel to save his life. He relishes eating fancy meals like beef stroganoff (hey, it’s fancy to me), but he still insists I cut the crusts off his peanut butter sandwiches. He can mow the lawn without any assistance, but he needs help opening a can of Spaghetti-os. He can do complicated math problems, yet his yogurt lids and cheese-and-cracker wrappers never make their way to the trash can. He can perform impressive athletic feats without incident, yet he can’t rinse a plate before placing in the dishwasher.

I have to remind him daily to apply deodorant, finish his homework and not spit his gum into wicker wastebaskets. Still, somehow, he thinks he’s old enough to have a girlfriend. Of course, I use that term loosely:

“How did you meet?”

“I see her at recess.”

[Scratching head] “So, you…what? Play tag together or something?”

“Kinda. She ran up to me and asked if I wanted to go out. At first, I said no, but she looked sad, so I changed my answer.”

“Then what?”

“Then she ran off.”

Sixth-grade dating plays remarkably like a country western song, which, quite frankly, I kinda dig. There are no rules or responsibilities. You don’t even have to hang out together to be a couple. As far as I can tell, the only requirement is that both parties be hovering on the cusp of puberty.

Speaking of puberty, my son is stoked for it to kick in. He can’t wait for his voice to deepen and for chin stubble to sprout. He’s also obsessed with surpassing me in height (he still has three inches to go, though he’ll insist it’s two).

And yet, he still wants to cuddle. He actually seeks me out and asks if we can snuggle on the couch and watch So You Think You Can Dance. Together we’ll ooh and ahh over the crazy talented dancers (though I’m guessing there’s a part of him that’s also drawn to the contestants’ sparkly costumes).

But my baby boy (who’s no longer a baby) has the kindest heart that enables him to pick up on nuances in other’s moods. For instance, one morning I had an appointment I was dreading going to later that day, and while I was making school lunches, he asked, “Mom, are you okay? You don’t seem like yourself today.” He’s always the first in the family to offer a hug or extend an apology. He also constantly tells me that he loves me. He even lets me hug him goodbye before boarding the bus.

He’ll make a great husband one day, because he’s affectionate, protective and sensitive. I just think his future wife would be wise to steer clear of wicker wastebaskets.

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