Tag Archives: parenting preteens

Truths About Eleven

You know what I love about you, my Gabey-baby? Everything.

You’re happy, thoughtful, responsible, loving, funny, helpful, interesting, curious, earnest, silly, kind, and caring.  You are all those things, and that is the truth.

Lest I be accused of bias, though, and in order to demonstrate that I am not oblivious to your faults, I’ll tell you that you are also not a good listener, you get too easily frustrated, you like to pick on your brothers, and you have real trouble not trying to get the last word in during an argument. 

Those things are all also true, which I assume you know because your dad and I do have to say them to you fairly frequently.  (But just in case, I’m writing them here so you can read them, because…well…look at the first one on the list.)

In the balance, though, you are a pretty amazing person.  I’m so glad I get to be your mom.

You are, as I’ve said before, the person who introduced me to the way boys work.  When you were born I began this weird new journey into the mind of a little boy and I have learned some amazing things — the most important being that little boys are just as multi-faceted and varied and complex as little girls. 

I think that concept gets brushed aside a lot.  Before I had you, my eldest son, I admit that I probably had a less-than-nuanced understanding and set of beliefs about what little boys were like.  I bought the stereotypes and just assumed that little boys are these rough and tumble oblivious mess-makers who stumble through the world without much thought, slamming into things and not really paying attention.

While that can certainly be true and you’ve had your fair share of times when that description sums you up pretty well, the reality is that you are every bit as capable of being a calm, thoughtful, attentive, detail-oriented person as your sister.  The older you get, the more that becomes true.  You aren’t just one thing, you’re not a preconceived notion or a one-dimensional character.

You are sensitive.  You are empathetic and sympathetic.  You are snuggly and loving.  You’re not a risk-taker or a thrill-seeker, you prefer not to be scared.  You pay attention to people and how they feel.  You look for and find beauty and wonder in the world around you and you appreciate it, out loud, without embarrassment or hesitation.  You are expressive and emotional.

You have taught me about boys and girls and stereotypes and expectations and it has made me a better person and better parent.  Because I have you (and your sister and brothers as well) to illustrate daily the similarities and differences between boys and girls, daughters and sons, and individuals in general, I am a more understanding and complete human myself.  Thank you for showing me the truth.

Yet another truth is that you’re simply one of the coolest people I know.  You do what you love and you do it wholeheartedly, regardless of whether that thing is something people would expect from you or not.

Bridget wondered aloud the other evening why everyone always thinks “Gabe is so cool”, when, as you danced around the dining room singing, with your hair in a ponytail on the front of your head like a unicorn, it seemed very, very clear that you are not, in fact, cool at all.

That, I said, is the trick — Gabe knows in his heart that as long as he believes he’s cool, he is.  And whatever he is doing, therefore, becomes cool by default.

Bridget wasn’t thrilled with that answer, but it’s another truth, undeniably. 

You’ve discovered the key to happiness there, too, I think. 

You really do just embrace whatever you find that you love, whether that’s playing ALL THE SPORTS (which might typically be deemed cool), or tap dancing (which might not).

Whether it’s talking about movies you love like Guardians of the Galaxy (typically pretty cool) or the Sound of Music (maybe not as popular with the 11-year old boys).

Or whether it’s spending your free time playing video games and riding your skateboard and playing football (generally regarded as cool pastimes) or reading books about history and singing along to musicals with your mom (possibly not regarded as the coolest hobbies). 

And because you unapologetically do your thing, because you love what you love out loud and with passion, you MAKE IT COOL.  And you enjoy your life so much more, because you’re doing things you love and you’re happy about it.  If you can hang on to that skill, you will have a much easier time of high school and college than your dad or I ever did.  Keep on doing what you’re doing, my boy.

You are now officially a pre-teen, which is 100,000% insane to me.  I can’t quite wrap my head around the concept of a grown-up version of my Gabe.  You’ve matured so much over the course of the last two years though, and I can occasionally see glimpses of the teenager and adult you will become. 

I’m looking forward to meeting that guy; I think he’s going to be fun and funny and I will enjoy his company.  Hopefully he’ll decide that hanging out with his mom is still cool and we can still watch musicals together even when you’re 15, and 18, and all grown up. 

This is our last year in England, and I know you’re both excited and sad about that.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the time we’ve had here has been awesome for you from beginning to end.  I don’t know that you’d have a single negative thing to say about it.  (Maybe that there’s no baseball.  But that might be it.)  You’ve thrived here.

I think though — I hope — that the happiness and positivity and openness and willingness to try new things you have now is something that you would have grown into no matter where we lived, that it’s just part of who you are.  Whether that’s true or not, though, I hope that now you know that no matter where we live, you will make friends, find things you love, and have fun.  Now you’ve just got the added bonus of being able to do those things in either an American OR an English accent.  So cool.

So on your 11th birthday, I want to finish up by telling you the biggest truth I know: I am so proud of who you are and who you’re becoming as a person, and I am so, so filled with gratitude on a daily basis that I have the privilege to be your mother. 

Happy birthday to you, my Gabey-baby!







Do Hard Things (Even When You Don’t Want To)

Bridget running

Of all the things that amaze me about parenting, nothing is quite so awe-inspiring as watching your child do something you had no idea they were capable of doing.  Watching my daughter run fills me with admiration and undeserved pride — I did nothing to make her so fast and so willing to just keep going, and yet my heart fills up so proud and huge I can hardly contain it.  How did this tiny little girl get so strong, so determined, and so self-assured?  It comes from her, all of it.  Especially the speed.

In her new school, all the kids run cross-country every week as part of P.E.  She’s been coming home and reporting her times, and she’s done really well and improved just about every week.  In October they had a school cross-country meet and she came in 10th out of about 100 girls in her grade and the grade above. 

run like Bridget

She’s done so well at school that she was invited to run with the school team in the district meet last week.  She didn’t tell Matt and I at first, because she actually didn’t want to run in the meet.  She doesn’t even really like running.  She’s just good at it.  When she finally did tell us, we insisted, obviously, that she run.  She knew we would.  Reluctantly, she emailed the teacher back and said she could participate in the meet.

“I’m so mad at you for making me do this,” she told me. 

“I know,” I said. 

Despite her opposition to the whole thing, she ran really, really well and came in 10th again, qualifying to move up to the next level and run in the county meet next month.  Her face at the finish line when they handed her the paper saying she’d made it to the next round was a comical mixture of pride and distress.  She really would not have been sad if she hadn’t made the cut-off, but she couldn’t help feeling proud that she had.

B in tracksuit

Now that she has made it, even though she sort of dreads actually doing it, she wants to do well.  She’s little, but she’s strong.  She’s willing to push herself even when it’s uncomfortable.  She feels terrible during the actual event, she says — she doesn’t know how to breathe properly and her legs get so tired — but she pushes through the pain.  She may not love the actual running, but she does like the winning. 

Matt and I talked about whether we’re doing the right thing by basically forcing her to run in the meets.  She may end up resenting that we make her keep going.  Maybe it will backfire and she won’t want to run at all anymore.  I hope not. 

Instead we’re hoping that by making her do something she doesn’t really want to do but she is good at, she’ll learn some important lessons.

She’s getting better every time, proving to herself that hard work pays off.  She’s figuring out a lot about her own strength and ability.  She’s representing her school at something she’s good at, and having her talents reflect back on a place she really loves.  She’s learning that she CAN do hard things, even when she doesn’t want to. 

As always with this parenting gig, it’s a bit of a guessing game.  We’re doing what we think is best, and hoping that in the end she’ll appreciate it.  And we’re standing on the sidelines cheering loudly as she runs by.

Also, there was the time Matt and I ran the Army Ten Miler, and some other lessons I’ve learned about parenting a pre-teen.


Old and Young, All At Once

Mom and BAt ten years old (almost eleven, she would remind me), she wants to dip-dye the tips of her hair.  She wants to wear make-up, and not just at home playing around.  She wants a phone. And a FB page, and SnapChat, and a YouTube channel.  She wants to wear high heels and get her nails done.  She wants to be grown-up.

But just the other night, tired and worn-out after a long day of swimming and playing, she asked me to sing her a lullaby.  I sat by her bed, held her hand, and sang the songs she used to request nightly when she was little.  She still crawls in my lap, all long, skinny arms and legs, and curls up like the baby she used to be.  She still holds my hand when we’re walking.

Some days she’s my little baby girl, and I love those days.  Other days, she’s this amazing, fun, witty, smart, sassy, preteen and I love those days too.

I don’t always know who she’s going to be from one minute to the next, and I don’t think she always knows either.  This age isn’t easy, but she’s becoming this amazing person I love hanging out with.  Letting go of the baby and embracing the girl she’s becoming is a work in progress for both of us, but we’ll get there together.

Awk. Ward.

me and BI thought “Family Life Education” was bad enough when I had to sit through it in fifth grade, but it turns out it’s EVEN WORSE to hear about your kid’s experience sitting through it.

Oh. Mah. Gawd.  There have been more awkward conversations in this family in the last week than…ever.  Ever.

On Wednesday, B got in the car and announced that they saw a photo of a mom nursing a baby WITH NO COVER ON in school that day.  G’s eyeballs nearly popped out of his head.  He was spluttering and stuttering and asking many, many oddly worded clarifying questions.  He was motioning to where breasts would be on his body and gasping that they would have SEEN…YOU KNOW.

B confirmed his aghast suspicion.  They saw boobs in school.

Wasn’t that inappropriate, he wanted to know.

I tried to explain that it’s part of nature.  It’s not weird, it’s not gross, and everyone has to learn about it and understand it.

Then B said they had to learn about the male body and how it “stiffens”.  None of the boys knew what that meant, but they wanted to.  (What a gross word, by the way.  It’s like “moist”.  There’s no good reason to ever say it.) 

I contemplated just driving my car off the road to distract them all.  It seemed like a less painful solution than answering the ensuing questions and quieting the outbursts of disbelief.  ( I did not fully explain that one.  I basically left B hanging out to dry trying to answer those questions.  Maybe that was mean, but she brought it up.)

When we got home, B and I had a chat about how they learn this stuff in 5th grade because before that, they are not mature enough to handle it.  It was, I think, a tactful way for me to explain to her that if she talked about this stuff in front of her brothers again, I was going to kill her.

Every night at bedtime, all week long, she and I chatted about the discoveries they were making in class.  God, 5th grade is awkward.  So, so awkward. 

She tried to explain to me that they learned about sex without actually saying the word sex.  She called it “the process”.  I feel like I should get an award for not laughing. 

But the highlight of the week was Friday evening, when she told me that they were instructed that they had to practice abstinence so they wouldn’t get HIV/AIDS.  That was bad enough (I think you may have misinterpreted that statement, B…you’re not wrong, but you’re not exactly RIGHT), but then she delivered this one:

B: But that is fine with me, because I am always practicing that.

Me: Um, what?  What do you mean?

B: I am going to practice abstinence forever.  I am NEVER doing that.

Me: …

And here’s the problem: all my responses were inappropriate. Every last thing I wanted to say was not AT ALL okay to say to my ten year old daughter.  Like, not okay at all.  I had no good response.

First thought: “Well, unless you learn to talk to boys like normal human beings, I don’t think we have to worry about that.” (Discard.  Obviously not helpful.  And it will probably save me some heartache in her teenage years if she just never talks to boys.)

Second thought: “You’ll change your mind eventually.” (Discard–do not encourage 10-year old daughter to entertain thoughts of “the process”.)

Third thought: “But I want grandkids!” (Discard.  I do want grandkids, but I do not want teen pregnancy, so let’s leave this for another 15 years down the road.)

Final thought: “Is it too early for a glass of wine?” (No.  No, it is not.)

And so I said nothing.  I just stared at my daughter who had just declared her lifelong celibacy.  And she stared at me.  It was awkward.  And then:

B: Are you telling me I shouldn’t do that? 

Me: (Finally, I think I know this one!) Nope.  That’s a good plan.  Stick with that.

And I poured myself a glass of wine.

Matt is totally in charge of having all these conversations with the boys.  There is not enough wine in the world to get me through those.

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