It just hit me tonight like a ton of bricks: my oldest child, Dalton, turns 11 tomorrow. "So what?" you say, "eleven is like six or three or ten." But no it's not. I know it's not. Eleven should be called eleven-teen because that is essentially what it is-teenagehood.
Why do we pretend that they are still itty bitty? I think we want to fool ourselves. We want to pretend that until they are 16, 17, or 18 they are really just our little ones. But I think it's a crock. I think that a friend of mine was being honest when she said, "You think that you have them till they are 18. That they are really yours. But what no one tells you is that when they get to about the age of 15, they leave emotionally. Their whole world becomes their friends and their school and their sports or other activities. And you are there to support them and make sure there is food in the house. But to be honest, they've checked out. Which is normal...but you just don't realize that you lose them much sooner than you bargained for.
I can't handle it. I know it's true. I know because the neighbor and friend who told me that they grow up faster than you think has three boys. They are these darling little shits (pardon my french) who live down the street from me. Three of them. All male, all teenagers, and all brothers in the same family. When we first moved on to our street we heard about these boys. They were "wild"... with their blaring music on the weekends, and their air soft wars with kids ducking and diving, with bullets flying every which way. And their goofiness, with their wrestling and sparing- showing off or vying for the place of top dog among the pack. And their millions of teenage friends always hanging out on their front lawn, or in their cars in front of the house, or in the street playing football, blocking the street as you try to get by in your car.
With these boys there was always a lot of laughter, and adrenaline. There would be stuff hooked up to the back of their cars, being dragged down the street at lightning speed, sometimes with one of the boys hanging on for dear life. When the junk collection weeks would come up in our neighborhood, you'd see an old lazy boy that someone had left out on the street get picked up by these clever punks, who would turn it in to the latest version of the show "Jackass" where I swore I'd see a head rolling down the street at any second. I'd threaten to castrate them and shake my finger at them while I berated them about how awful they'd feel when they ran over one of my children. They'd somberly nod and then turn around, I am sure praying to God that they would never turn out as lame as I was.
On the weekends their house would get toilet papered, their vehicles covered in shaving cream, with a message scrawled on their back window, inviting one of them to a school dance or declaring a proclamation of the coolness that admiring girls felt these brothers possessed. Sometimes I'd see their Mom...usually their Mom, come out of the house at some early morning hour, and turn the car radio off so the sub woofers would stop waking every sleeping baby in the neighborhood. I'd see her chasten the boys for leaving their gear out all over the place, so that their lawn looked like a sports equipment yard sale.
But even when she threatened or chastened, there was love behind it. It was as if she knew that she had to discipline them because that was her role, when all she really wanted to do was hug them and freeze time before they got any bigger. The years have passed. It's been six years in this house for our family. And her teenage boys have grown up. Like the boy in the book, "I'll Love You Forever" they went from acting like they were living in a zoo, to acting like young men.
While I am happy for them and for their mother-it's obvious that she did a great job parenting, I am secretly sad that they are growing up. Because my son is taking their place. My big boy Dalton is turning in to that teenager, who more than anything just wants to spread his wings, and explore all that life has to offer. He is so excited about the adventures that he knows he will have, and the mischief and fun that he will certainly experience with his band of local, neighborhood friends.
But now that I know how that story ends-that the air soft battles, and sleep-overs, and prank phone calls, and loud video games, and burping contests don't end with a reversal of age, where the kids turn back in to toddlers, but instead they grow up- forget it! What a rip off. I want this story to be paused...or just slow way WAY down. I don't want the ending that I know comes after the wild rumpus.
And to be honest, sometimes I feel like I am watching three movies at the same time. Dalton, Shelby and Garrett. I wish that I could pause two of them at all times, so that I don't miss a minute while I am on film number three. But the school day ends and I didn't get to hear about every adventure in their classes. And they come home from Spanish lessons, and I don't know the funny jokes in Spanish that were told. And I pick one up from a friends and I am busy turning a movie on for Garrett so I miss, I miss, I miss.
I want to be his friend. I don't want his world to close up and not include me in just a few years. I want to hear about what he thinks and feels. I want to be in on it all. Does that ever happen and turn out well? So, I sit here on my couch with a bag full of Chex muddy buddies, and I mourn for the sand that quickly pours through this hourglass of life. I am sad. To be honest, I am just sad for reality.
I will not show it though, Dalton. I have balloons at the table for when you wake up in the morning, with outlawed Dr. Pepper and candy, and cards. One of the cards is from me. It says that you get to pick out a new air soft gun with Dad tomorrow, up to $100 in value. You will use this for your birthday party this weekend that is down at your Grandparent's ranch, where you will battle with your buddies, stay up way too late playing video games, and think that you are already 15 years old.
You will think that I am so happy that you are turning eleven. We'll sing happy birthday to you. You'll open up the card that Shelby stressed over making for you with the eleven dollars that she put in there, to go towards your air soft bullets. She wanted to put in her entire allowance, which is around forty dollars, but I put my foot down. She was teary over it, she so wanted to give you everything that she has.
Garrett will give you his homemade card, that he worked on next to Shelby at the dinner table tonight. He penned it and I helped him write it. Something to the effect of, "Dear Dalton, Happy Bird-day. Are you sick? No! You are a nice guy and helpful. Love Garrett"
I have to have faith that it is all going to work out. My guy will stay mine for a long time still. And if I am honest, and consistent, and loving to him, maybe he will want me around after he gets his driver's license. Maybe we can beat the odds, and still exist together.