Christian will be twelve tomorrow. It hardly seems possible that he has been a part of our lives for so many years, and yet, it is difficult to remember life without him.
I must confess: I was very worried about this whole adolescence thing at one time. I thought he might turn into a creature I didn’t know or understand overnight once he entered middle school. The thought that we wouldn’t speak the same language anymore crossed my mind more than once. But it hasn’t happened in any significant or negative ways – at least not yet. He has, instead, grown up in such delightful ways – the kinds of ways that create the desire to keep company with him even more than before. He is curious, conversational, and (not least of all) thoughtful. Yes, sometimes he can be annoying like all early adolescents. But for the most part, he’s a fantastic kid, and I want to know and understand the young man that is emerging.
Apparently some of the language of early adolescents is still the same as in the time of my youth. Christian told me the other day that one of the things that separates middle school from elementary is that whenever someone is called to the office (for whatever reason), the whole class intones, “Oooo! Busted!” It could simply be to pick up the peanut butter and jelly sandwich one forgot at home, but the response is always the same. Some things never change, or at the very least, change slowly. The individuation and formation of identity apart from the world of “Children Dependent on Adults” begins in earnest during this time and is a necessary component in healthy development. It still leaves a parent with some pangs though.
I enjoy Christian’s sense of humor more and more now, too. He has a love for the absurd that is shared by his friends at school, and I love it when he tells me about the ridiculous things they do or talk about. The latest is the “Dorks R Us” club, which doesn’t sound terribly absurd and even gave me cause for worry at first that he would identify himself in what I would consider a demeaning way. As it turns out, however, half of the sixth grade boys are involved and they hold such ridiculous offices as “Janitor”, “Body Guard”, “Calculator”, “Dictionary That Spells But Doesn’t Define”, and other positions that reflect the toilet humor (clean, if that makes sense) of early adolescent boys. Christian has the distinct privilege of holding the offices of both “Calculator” and “Dictionary That Spells…” They all get “paid” for their positions, but no one knows quite why, and this makes it all the funnier to Christian.
I finished a book (Gilead) the other day in which a dying father writes a long letter to his young son. This father, at one point, says,
“In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable – which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between.”
I know that I don’t really know my son in any real sense. I don’t know what thoughts whisper to him in the quiet of his mind, and I don’t truly understand the person he is becoming – for that matter, neither does he. It is the way with adolescents. Adolescence, if done right, is all about discovery of oneself. But I hope that along the way and afterward there will be enough “fortuitous resemblances” to create a feeling of understanding and healthy companionship, making the spaces between us less vast and daunting.
And so this year my “Happy Birthday” for Christian carries with it the wish for a successful journey and the reassurance that there will always be a safe place to stop and rest along the way.