Sons don’t come with instruction manuals – I have four of them, and I’m still waiting on some guidance. But even if they did, there’d be no manual comprehensive enough to address all the dudely demeanors you encounter throughout the years. And just when you think maybe you’re getting the hang of things, they turn into tweens, ushering in a whole new era of things that leave you scratching your head. There are a whole bunch of tween boy behaviors I’ll never understand, like:
1. Their strange aversion to brushes.
Whether it’s a hairbrush or a toothbrush, good luck getting a tween boy to use one unprompted. You may as well just wave one in his general direction – you’ll get the same results.
2. And to clippers.
Nail clippers, hair clippers … their manes and talons can grow to scraggly, scratchy, dirty-looking lengths, but if you try to shorten either one, they act like you’re trying to snip off the family jewels rather than practice simple grooming.
3. Their pungent smell.
They don’t look like hairy man-beasts (at this point), and yet they’re starting to smell like the used hay at the petting zoo. The used, wet hay. This fact is made even more baffling by …
4. Their disregard for personal hygiene.
Even if they smell like the love child of an onion and a moldy wedge of Parmesan, they don’t seem to notice, nor care. They are happy to marinate in their own filth until they are literally forced into the bathtub, and even then, they think that shampoo and soap are optional. Like if they just dampen their hair and pass a wet hand across their pits, they’re good to go.
5. Their fascination with watching other people play games.
I tell my sons, “You’ve played enough Fortnite for today,” and they ask if they can watch a video instead. When I tell them yes, they proceed to look up videos of other people playing Fortnite. WTF.
6. Their complete and utter refusal to show that much interest in anything academic.
Heaven forbid they tackle a school paper or science project with a quarter of the intensity they reserve for gaming or sports-ing or coming up with “roasts” to tease their siblings and friends.
7. Their hot-and-cold behavior.
Sometimes tween boys will sweetly throw their arms around you for a hug, sinking into your side, reminiscent of when you were the center of their universe. But then just as quickly, they’re rolling their eyes so hard you’re afraid they might actually get stuck, and if they’re not outright sassing, they’re shooting side-eye in your direction or huffing in a loaded way. Who knew one breath could hold that much attitude?
8. Their bottomless stomachs.
The same kid who once subsisted on oxygen and Goldfish crackers for days on end is suddenly making up for it, sucking up the contents of the fridge and pantry with reckless abandon. They’ll ask for a snack directly after dinner, when in fact they’ve never really quit snacking. All. Damn. Day. Then they’ll complain bitterly that there’s “nothing to eat” until you scream, “BECAUSE YOU ALREADY ATE IT!” Oh, and they’ll leave the empty boxes behind, then gripe that you didn’t replenish the supply of whatever snack food they’ve annihilated. Maybe because, I don’t know, there was still a box in the pantry?
9. Their questionable palates.
What’s more, they will turn up their noses at the dinner you worked hard to make, but inhale stale chips left in their room for weeks like it’s ambrosia from the gods.
10. Their selective memories.
They’ll “forget” to hang their wet towels up, do their homework, feed the dog, and turn in school permission slips, but they seem to have no problem remembering complicated video game sequences, computer user names, and that time eight months ago you “promised” they could have a laser tag birthday party with thirty of their closest friends (when you remember it as more of a “maybe,” if at all). How convenient.
11. Their inability to see clutter.
Wrappers on the floor, boogers on the wall, dishes growing some sort of funk, socks that could stand up and walk out on their own – these are conditions that would make most people cringe. But tween boys aren’t most people. The bedroom of a typical tween boy harbors more bacterial specimens than a lab full of petri dishes, and they don’t give a shit about … well, any of that shit. Probably not even if it were literal shit.
12. Their continued inability to aim at the toilet.
Oh, you thought those wayward pee sprinkles were due to their relative inexperience at aiming? Like maybe they were just too young, and as they got older they’d get it under control? Heh. Think again.
13. Their wardrobe weirdness.
They ask for a specific brand of shirt that’s cool these days – creating the illusion that they might finally be conscious of how they look – but then don’t care if they’re wearing it with mismatched plaid shorts that have a spaghetti sauce stain splashed across the thigh.
Yes, tween boys can be mysterious (and malodorous) creatures, but despite it all, there are definite upsides. No butts to wipe, no food to cut up and blow on, no more complete disregard for privacy. Plus, in the blink of an eye, they’ll be towering man-children with bigger fish to fry, like driving and dating and college/career readiness and (gulp) sex – so in the grand scheme of things, I’ll overlook a few crusty dishes and ripe pits, and savor the last couple years of my boys’ relative innocence.
But maybe from a bit of a distance. Because pee-yew.