Now That He's a High School Junior

Parenting a teenager is a learning experience—the experience is a lot of fun for both my son D. and I, but the learning is mostly for me.

D. does all the expected any verifiable teen male should do. He never listens to me. He says, “I knooooow, Mom,” to everything I say, even if I tell him that the square root of 24,336 is 156. He has close to a half case of empty water bottles under his bed and seems to have an aversion to putting dirty clothes in a laundry basket. He doesn’t understand the value of doing all of his homework assignments, so he picks and chooses what appeals to him. And wants to buy expensive things when he has little source of income. The perfect teenage boy!

The most frustrating part about D. is that he is very, very clear about who he is, what he wants, and what he doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t do anything to impress anyone. (“Why would I go to a semi-formal dance, Mom? I hate those things.”) If it weren’t important to his girlfriend, he would even skip the prom. (The prom? I went three times in high school, and still remember every dress I wore and where we went to eat beforehand.)

When I was in high school, I did what was acceptable, responsible, practical. I ricocheted along a college-application-building path (ballet, piano, clarinet, chorus, Girl Scouts, student council, emerging leader, honors program, BA, MFA, small job, bigger job, biggest job, oh my is this job too big for my soul?). But daily, I was left full of angst about being productive enough and about what I was not doing. (Oh yeah, I still do some of that last part.)

D., on the other hand, has refused to follow my perfect agenda. I wanted him to be a Boy Scout, because my brother was, and my sister and I were both Girl Scouts, and my mother was president of the Girl Scout council. But D. lasted only two meetings as a Tiger Cub: “Who wants to sit around in a circle and talk, and make houses out of popsicle sticks?” He wasn’t even impressed when they went on a field trip to the local police station, or about the idea of going camping. I encouraged him to go to sleep away camp because it would help shape him into a young leader. “Nope,” he insisted. “No interest.”

He was very athletic, so after one Little League season, I asked, “Don’t you want to try out for All-Star baseball?” and he’d say “Nah, I don’t think so. I think I need a break.” And after three years of intense travel hockey, as I was saying, “I know you don’t want to play 3 on 3, but you have to keep your edge as a goalie,” he was hanging up his skates, saying, “It’s just not fun anymore, Mom.”

I have tried my best to get him to be a joiner, but he’s not. Join the yearbook club, join INTERACT, volunteer at Back to School night, do something that will make people realize you are well-rounded. But to him, being seen as well-rounded was not on his agenda. Why would he want to do that?

He does play football every fall, and loves that—he knows his job, and he does it, blending in with the pack. And, he just got his first job, teaching tennis—so that’s good—he’s becoming a productive member of society, which is what I tell him is his only requirement after he finishes high school next year. When I say, “You won’t be able to just sit around and play Xbox all day,” he said, “I told you I am going to sell my Xbox and buy a high-powered computer for PC games.”

While I had a lot of angst for many years about him getting into a good college, I’ve been thinking lately that heading off into the great beyond might not be the best plan a year from now. D. isn’t quite sure what he wants to do or where he wants to be yet (if you need any good articles about why boys aren’t ready at 18 to go off to college, let me know—I’m your girl!). We’ve been talking to him about options for a gap year, or that he could always work and take some classes to figure out what he is interested in, and then go to a college that is a good match for his interests.

But I think he’s also trying to figure out what is possible, what he is capable of. He said to me yesterday, “Want to know something weird? In my Driver’s Ed class, I was considered the smartest kid there.”

And I said, “Why is that weird?”  

He said, “I just didn’t expect it, that’s all.”

(And, of course, I used this opening to point out that if he chose to do all his homework assignments and pay attention in all of his classes, he just might be the smartest kid in every class. To which he responded, “I like all of my classes now except Spanish, so that’s a no-go.”)

Someone told me recently that D. is like a lotus flower. Lotus flowers can live for a thousand years, and revive into activity after years of being in stasis. While I am fretting over his quarterly report card, he’s just being who he is. D. is not worried about his college applications—not because he doesn’t plan to go—but because he is not worried about it.

He is busy taking in the world, quietly getting the nutrients that he needs from this great lake. It may not look like much now because his roots are all under the surface of the water. But he is already bending toward the sun.

And when he blossoms, probably even he won’t even recognize himself.