Thirteen

Let’s just start this off by saying this is not entirely a birthday post. Because, come on, what 13 year old wants his mother talking about him publicly?

This is more of a peek back at what looks like another life. I was re-reading the blog post from the first time I wrote about one of my kids’ birthdays (the now-13-year-old was turning four), and it was like opening some crazy time capsule. Our 2011 lives are unrecognizable in a lot of respects — a four year-old and an almost two year-old (and no third child yet), new to the suburbs, navigating toddler years, spending hours baking elaborately themed yet horribly executed cakes. It was light years ago.

Here we are, an additional kid, nine years and a pandemic later, staring down the teenage era of parenthood.

As part of our current stay-at-home lives, we recently spent an entire day finally tackling a project whose incompletion I have been cursing for about a year — cleaning out our basement. It required focus, dedication and, apparently, stiff mimosas (hold the orange juice). Always know your motivating factors.

I emptied out entire bins of old toys, mismatched parts, and orphaned Lego pieces. I was in purge mode, and nobody was going to stop me from the diligence of donating all of these things that had gone unused and unloved for so long. My kids, groaning about the injustice of participating in this clean-out, contributed very little to the effort as I re-lived some key phases of their childhoods.

After getting the cold shoulder of indifference from my ten year-old daughter about the bin of Frozen accessories — the same kid who sang Let It Go on a repeat loop while switching from Anna and Elsa’s gowns intermittently all day, every day — I could see that maybe my nostalgia would not be shared. I reminded her wistfully how she always preferred Anna, and she responded by telling me she had a Zoom call to join soon.

And then I found the cars and trains.

It could have been the champagne going to my head. Or the build up of the pandemic emotions. But when my two boys passed over the Lightning McQueens and Thomas trains with complete non-chalance, it was my undoing.

I pointed out the many, many variations of McQueen they had accumulated and treasured. My six year-old, who legitimately thinks he’s a fully formed adult, shrugged me off. I could not believe my eyes. He was a borderline McQueen stalker in his Cars prime.

And there was Mater. How we all loved Mater.

No response from my sons — except to ask how much longer this would all take.

Do not even get me started on Thomas, Percy, and their franchise-dominant and morally questionable co-inhabitors of Sodor. Not even a blink from the two boys who, each from the ages of two through four, were unable to walk from one room to another without carrying fistfuls of trains at all times. Because of their age difference, these characters held a very prominent place in my home for nearly a decade.

As I boxed them all up and prepared to give them away, my oldest picked up on the Toy Story-esque moment I was having by myself.

His acknowledgement was understated — almost imperceptible, even — and came with an age-appropriate mumble and nod in my direction, while his eyes never left his phone.

“Yeah, that’s the OG McQueen, that one there with the yellow flame on the paint job.”

He remembered. But it hit me hard that time fucking flies.

If you had told me on that fourth birthday, as I prepared that awful dinosaur-resembles-an-armadillo cake, that we would celebrate his 13th birthday under a stay-at-home-order, avoiding grocery stores, wearing face masks in rare public outings, wondering where my purse and car keys are and if I’ll ever need them again, sharing memes about distance learning, hoping we can score more toilet paper, and watching the world basically come to a standstill to avoid the spread of a global deadly virus — I would have, to put it mildly, considered it dystopian fiction.

But here we are. And today we will watch a video montage of birthday greetings we’ve gathered, wonder if the Amazon Prime gifts will arrive sometime this week, and eat ice cream for dinner that we can pick up curbside with our masks and gloves in place. It will be memorable, but not in any of the ways he expected.

This 13 year-old with his encyclopedia-like retention of facts reminds me that we’re living through history, his very favorite subject that he wants to incorporate into a career someday. He has a lot to say about the pandemic and how it compares to plagues of the past, and what it means for health care. As he hits 13, he also has a soft spot for dogs of all kinds, a well executed meme, and injustice on any level, as well as the conviction to tell you his position on any topic at all times. There is no lack of opinion, no middle ground (we’re working on it — also: see genetics).

And I as I’ve come to the slow yet jarring realization that we’ve somehow surpassed most of the little kids phase of parenting, I think this will be the last of the birthday posts about him — this tenth one — because the rest of his story belongs more to him than to me. So much remains to unfold, to be told, and I think the trajectory will surprise us all.

Instead of writing about it for him, I can’t wait for the family historian himself to document it for all of us in his own way.

And with that, a mini-parenting era closes. Happy 13th birthday to the boy who teaches me more about humanity on most days than I could possibly impart to him.

 

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