“Can I eat dinner in my room?” Callum asks.
“What’s wrong?” I say.
“Nothing’s wrong—GOD! You’re always asking me what’s wrong. I just don’t want to hang out with my parents,” he says, showing off some virtuosic eyerolling.
An hour later, Matthew and I are about to sit down to watch two episodes of Cougar Town (once you get past the name, you realize it’s a supremely well-written show full of quotable lines). “I’m watching, too,” Callum says. “Sit by me for both episodes,” he instructs me. Matthew makes a sad face. I tell them I’ll sit by each boy for one episode. “But I came out of you! I’m more important and I love you more!” Callum whines. He is joking, but also not.
He doesn’t want to suffer through dinner with us. He desperately wants me to be within an inch of him at all times. He screams that he hates me and stomps off. We have to talk in therapy about our separation issues (meaning that he needs to learn to separate from me better and not be so obsessed with my every reaction and thought).
When Matthew and I worked together at Barnes and Noble, way back in the beginning of Us, there was a popular parenting teens book that we sold a lot called Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? Whenever Callum swings from one emotion to another, inevitably one of us will mutter this title to the other. (A classic example of this is at some point toward the end of the school year, when we asked him about a field trip he’d been on and he snapped, “Why are you always trying to know everything about my life?” then asked if I’d take him to Target.)
It’s so complicated being 12. And I know things will only get more complicated. I feel like I spend most of my days now just observing him, studying what he’s going through and guessing at what he’s thinking (though, to be fair, there’s not much guessing yet—he continues to have no filter and tell us every thought that crosses his mind). I watch him float around the lazy river at the pool, in a tube with his best friend, a lovely girl who does not put up with any of his crap, both of them giggling and chattering. They wave to me every time they pass by my chair and I marvel that they’re still willing to acknowledge me in public. Callum will often hold my hand when we walk, or, more recently, throw his arm around me and squish me or put me in a headlock. I have one inch on him, but I will probably lose that advantage before summer ends, and soon he will tower over me. He has endless sleepovers with friends and is always looking for the next fun thing to do, but also still spends an inordinate amount of time with us. Matthew easily logs 80 hours a week of work, so I’m the primary parent, but despite how much time Callum and I spend together, he will still ask for “Callum and Mom” time—maybe we go get coffee or go swim. I’ll hear him on his phone laughing and talking and it’s just as likely that it’s with my mom as it is with his buddies. He is a little kid and an almost-teen. He’s cutting and nasty and also the sweetest kid with the best heart.
On the days that my brain feels like idealizing things, I look at Callum and think, What a fun time ahead of you, and I don’t even mean it sarcastically. There was always so much drama and excitement and just interesting things happening when I was a teenager. It’s when I became who I am. On the days my brain is being more realistic, I think, Hang on, kiddo, it’s going to be a long and rough ride. I remember what it was all like so well. It’s rather bizarre to now watch my own kid start to navigate this stuff. I feel like the more I study him, the less I actually know about him or know what I’m doing.
Someday he won’t tell me everything anymore. He won’t want to hang out, or wave to me in public, or drape all over me when we watch tv. And that’s good—it’s normal and necessary. And maybe one day I’ll stop constantly studying him, stop marveling at how he’s changing and who he’s becoming. (Our therapist is not wrong to address separation issues.) Someday I will have to set aside my two favorite hobbies, spying on people and eavesdropping, to let him be his own person, to give him space, to allow myself some level of ignorance of what is going on in his life (I have a feeling I will need it). He just always seems on the brink right now of really growing into himself, of becoming the person he will continue to be. It’s exciting and terrifying. I just hope I have the emotional fortitude to withstand it.
All of this is to say, isn’t it weird raising children? And weird being parents? And weird that anyone survives adolescence? And weird that anyone survives parenting?