13 years old. A teenager. It doesn't seem possible.
Will has always enjoyed school and done well academically, and this year is no exception. He takes a full load of challenging core classes, plays the cello in orchestra, and added Spanish as an elective. However where I used to check in with him daily about every aspect of school, this year I have taken a significant step back. I keep tabs on and touch base with him regarding his test schedule, but I completely removed myself from the equation when it comes to everything else. It feels new.
Will has always loved competitive sports, and this year is no exception. He continues to play club soccer, and added middle school sports - cross country now, followed by tennis, basketball, and track down the road - to his schedule. Just as with academics, I have stepped back when it comes to Will's athletic activities. I still attend nearly every game and meet (about 90% of them - Tom covers the other 10% for me while I'm handling dance), drive him to and from practices, and even watch practice from time to time. But he handles his own gear and water, is responsible for replacing - with his own money - anything he loses, is responsible for keeping up with everything he misses in his other classes while traveling for school sports, and keeps track of team meetings, rules, and requirements. It feels new.
Suddenly there are football and volleyball games at which to be dropped off. There are pep rallies and dances to attend. There is more time with friends and less time at home. It feels new.
Even more suddenly, some of his friends are dating. Will is not...yet...but I know that day is coming. It feels new.
There are hard decisions and hard consequences and hard conversations happening almost every evening. Boundaries are being nudged and pushed and broken. There is defiance. And there are SO. MANY. HORMONES. It feels new.
Will's birthday always sneaks up on me. First we're wrapping up summer and getting ready for the new school year, and then we're settling to new schools, learning new school sports and programs, and adjusting to new dance and soccer schedules. September always passes in a dizzying blur and before I know it, October arrives, giving me just 72 hours of warning.
But this one really snuck up on me. I mean, I knew it was coming - last week I accidentally told someone Will was already 13 years old. And I know that when we transition from 11:59pm on October 3rd to 12:01am on October 4th, nothing really changes...except that this year, it feels like EVERYTHING changes, because right now, everything feels new.
All but one thing: Will is such a good kid. He is a confident leader. He is - when it comes to academics and athletics - a responsible, determined, hard-working perfectionist. (He is NOT a perfectionist when it comes to household chores and personal hygiene.) He is independent and self-sufficient, and strives to make his teachers, coaches, and parents proud. He is kind, friendly, and funny, especially in his interactions with younger children. He loves big, and isn't afraid to show his emotions.
Will is not perfect, of course. (I feel the need to acknowledge this because even though I doubt anyone would fault me for only focusing on the positive in his birthday post, I believe the true picture is important.) He is too hard on himself. He takes games and competitions and arguments too far, and has trouble determining when to "fight" and when to walk away. What starts out as leadership occasionally takes a sharp turn toward controlling and commanding. He has made mistakes - some small, some big - and I know that additional mistakes await us as all that feels new becomes our new normal.
I recently read an article about how parents should, when preparing to send children out into the real world after high school, "let them go before they're gone". I want to believe the author has it all wrong...that I can and should literally and figuratively hold on to my kids until Tom pries them from my death grip on the steps of their college dorm. But if I'm honest with myself, I recognize that she speaks the truth; she knows - probably from first-hand experience - that letting them go before they're gone is the best way to survive our children's eventual departure. And that's why they leave us a little bit at a time, long before the day they graduate from high school. They turn 13, and start spending more time with their friends. They turn 14, and start dating. They turn 15, and become more involved in school sports and activities. They turn 16, and start driving.
Each new development is a tiny step away from us...but also a tiny step toward becoming a happy, healthy, well-adjusted, independent, and successful adult. I've chosen - out of necessity - to think about all of this "new" as a gift from Will. He's helping me adjust, one Spanish test, one football game, one school dance at a time, so that final farewell doesn't break me completely. Thanks, Willie. You're the absolute best, in every way possible.
Happy 13th birthday, Will. I love you to the moon and back plus infinity times a million with a cherry on top.