By M. M. De Voe
My son turns thirteen in two weeks. Over the last year, I have been watching him develop; watched him outgrow me (no small feat: I’m 5’7″), watched his tastes mature from cartoons to anime. I have been congratulating myself for raising such a fine example of humanity—the kid shows manners towards adults, he offers to help at school when there’s need, he is sincerely pleased when his little sister presents him with a glittery sticker she thinks he will like. Oh, I’ve done well, I tell myself over a cup of chamomile tea. He’s going to be a great teen.
Mothers like me are the reason the phrase “don’t count your chickens before they are hatched” remains in the lexicon.
Last night, an hour past his bedtime, almost-13 looks me blankly in the eye and lets me know he has a huge project due tomorrow which is 90% of his math grade.
“But it’s nothing,” he shrugs. “I only have to get a 45 to pass the class. “
Pass the class? What about maintaining a B+ average?
“Don’t need to anymore. Just need to pass. The planning and stuff on this is 25 points and then there’s the design, that’s another 25 so that’s enough. I don’t have to do any math.”
“You just did more math in your head than it would take to finish the project! You can’t sabotage yourself like this.”
“Mom, relax. Why are you trying to stress me out?”
I cemented him in front of a laptop until the project was done. With the math.
He laughed when he saw the clock. It was well after midnight.
“Guess I really did pull an all-nighter.”
Why is this funny?
I sent him to bed, with the caution that it would be hard for him to wake up in the morning but school was short and he could nap in the afternoon.
“Whatever, Mom. You worry too much.”
This may be true.
In the morning, I went to wake him, expecting a struggle. What I did not expect was the complete immobility of a hairy man-leg. I spoke gently, bracing for the typical grousing, and was surprised when the leg kicked out with the full force developed during a semester running track.
“Get away from me unless you want to die. I’m not kidding.”
I let the kid snooze three minutes then tickled the leg with a (long) feather. The feather was kicked out of my hand.
“I said, get away!”
Teenager. There was a teenager in my son’s bed. I tried rapping on the wood bed frame in a very annoying manner.
“I don’t care. It’s my life! Leave me alone!”
What was going on? Where was the eye-rolling, groaning tween who eventually did what had to be done? Who was this vicious teenager in my son’s bed?
I visited the monster a few more times, each time expressing more urgency. My insistence only made him angrier. He threw a pillow, hard. It missed me and hit a lamp. He didn’t care. Finally, it was time to go. Not time to get up, but time to leave the house if he wanted to make it to school by the first bell.
I sprayed him with a fine mist of water. It was like waking a dragon.
“What?! Get out! I told you to go away! I will hurt you!”
“You have school,” I interrupted. “Get up. Get ready. Get going. Do not be late. It’s on you. I’m leaving to take your sister to school.”
I stalked away but froze just past the doorway. “Uh. And also: Have a good day.”
Never has a conquering knight felt less potent.
That evening I got the robo-call informing me that my son had been late for school. A note was required to explain his tardiness. My pen hovered over paper. What could I say? My son became a teen overnight and I can’t control him? That would be the truth. Three cups of chamomile and no calm was forthcoming.
Then I got an email reminding us of the dress code for his induction into the National Junior Honor Society, and the tea kicked in. Things will go as they go. We dress up for the good times and keep the spray bottle around for the rest. It’s not easy to get to adulthood, just as it’s not easy to be the adult.
But we will do it.
M.M. Devoe is a NYC-based author whose fiction has won or been shortlisted for 23 literary prizes. She is anthologized alongside Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood, and has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Pen Parentis and is a Columbia University Writing Fellow and MFA. Find her at www.mmdevoe.com and Twitter @mmdevoe.