I won’t pretend raising kids is easy. There was that day last week at the beach, after the sunblock, after the reminders about rip tides and swimming alongside the shore if needed, when suddenly my eleven year old son thought it would be hilarious to yell, “Shark, shark, shark” at the top of his lungs. I could not get to him fast enough, thinking, actually, about holding him underwater. Make mental note to add, “We don’t yell SHARK while swimming at the ocean unless there is, in fact, a shark. Luckily, no one else was swimming and lifeguards hadn’t started working yet. However, I’ll be honest when I say this might be the first summer of their young lives when I haven’t actually looked forward to returning to school at the end of summer because parenting is harder than teaching high school English.
There was also the night this summer our ten year old daughter was able to hum a truly horrible noise for 30 minutes, barely taking breaths, on the way home from dinner with friends who had rented a lake house. I turned to my husband while driving, whispering, “She can’t possibly keep that up the whole way home.” Guess what. She sure could and certainly did, which sent her brother into tears, her absolute goal. This one is willing to take whatever punishment is handed to her knowing that having control over her brother while trapped in a moving vehicle is totally worth it. Having been sent straight to bed upon her arrival home, she had recovered herself in the morning, explaining quite rationally how he had upset her much earlier in the day, and she knew she could really “get to him” in the car on the way home. With that, she returned to her easel painting happily as if the previous devil child had not existed.
But these were rare moments of difficulty, truly, and while witnessing some younger kiddos and older teenagers throughout the summer, I realized what cool and special ages 10 and 11 are, perhaps even the sweet spot of childhood. There will undoubtedly be really awesome moments and trips and experiences as they get older, but they also, likely, will be accompanied by hormonal mood swings, better ideas, acne, friendship stress, and family conflict. Right now, this summer has been that magical brink, mostly, of childhood awesomeness on the very precipice of adolescence, when they very much still want to be with us, their parents, but the cold front is coming. I can feel it. Maybe not a total cold front, but there will storms and high winds that comes with establishing independence. We had our first successful sleepover in the next state, too far to come home at 9 if they couldn’t fall asleep. They wanted to go together, which was cute, and the overnight might not have happened had one not been brave enough to go without the other.
Our daughter picked out some fake nails as she had seen some others sporting them. On her little fingers they lasted about an hour, and she disappointed in herself for feeling compelled to remove them one by one, despite her dad helping her to glue them on. Yet, five minutes later she was under her covers exclaiming dramatically, “Now this is really cool,” forgetting that her pajamas glowed in the dark. Even at 46, I still think her glow in the dark pajamas are exceptional.
She still cracks up giggling when we see someone wearing a crop top, and I silently mouth the words, “CROP TOP” to her and she does it back to me. Sooner than later, that might not be that funny when she tries to wear one to school, and instead of “CROP TOP,” I say, “TRY AGAIN.” To be clear, I am very aware of body shaming and appreciate the confidence young women have who rock those shirts. But this began when she was really little wanting to know where the rest of the shirt went, and it totally makes me laugh. Still does. I know, I know; crops tops are stylish, but I didn’t wear them the first time around as a teenager so it’s hard for me to accept when we are not at the beach. And it won’t be easy having one’s mom in the same building eventually, but others before them and me have survived, and so will we.
Our son is about to enter middle school and although he believes he knows everything he needs to know about puberty, he knows very little about the world beyond fish, frogs, birds of prey, soccer, skiing, and downhill mountain biking. He is passionate about what he loves, and while I’ve always been able to write about the funny things he says or does, I feel like I’m on the edge of no longer being able to do so, at least for the next decade, given the risk of him reading them– or worse– his friends reading them and being embarrassed. There are so many moments this summer where he has flip flopped between 8 years old and 14, all within seconds of each other. My favorite though surround bedtime when he still asks for me to sit on the edge of his bed just for a few minutes. No doubt those bedtimes are limited these days. He wears an 8.5 shoe and adult medium shirt but still needs to be reminded to use soap in the shower, or shower altogether. “It’s okay, Mom, if I’m the stinky kid at school. People will still be my friend” is an exact statement that passed his lips. While I appreciate this confidence in his friendships, I do still care very deeply about his establishing some good hygiene routines.
So, I’m acutely aware of the transition about to really happen with their ages, and it’s okay because we’ve really made the most of each season, especially this one, Mom’s favorite: summer. Also, it should be noted and shared that the reason no one else was swimming that day at the beach is because there was a sign posted we had missed. It was not at the life guard stand or even where we paid for parking. Rather, the sign, which none of us noticed for several hours, and only after “full send” swimming, was posted in an obscure spot reading, “Water Currently Not Suitable for Swimming: high levels of fecal and E-coli bacteria.” Not to worry, none of us got sick, but it is a reminder of parenthood. Just when you think you are getting the hang of it, they grow and change so quickly and sometimes we miss the signage altogether.