With boys you always know where you stand. Right in the path of a hurricane.
– Erma Bombeck, American humorist
Up until this summer, I felt as if I had done all right as a mom. A few bumps here and there, lessons to be learned for sure, and pleasant surprises along the way to bolster my confidence. But as my son, who turned 13 in June, marches down the path of adolescence, I find myself at a loss and with a distinct disadvantage. Having grown up with two older sisters, I have no reference, no touchstone to guide me during these volatile years. Through their preschool and elementary school years, I have witnessed the vast differences between boys and girls, but male adolescence is foreign to me, which naturally increases my apprehension.
Earlier this summer, upon my suggestion, we went to see The Kings of Summer. He and his friend Sawyer sat several seats behind me and my friend Kelly, Sawyer’s mom, in the theater. I thought it was time to add coming-of-age boy movies to his repertoire. But I also wanted to watch the film to gather clues about how teenaged boys think, what motivates them, what’s on their minds, and so on. Strangely, for the first time, I saw this genre from a different perspective. I absorbed the parents’ words and actions from the boys’ point of view. I cringed in my seat; did I say embarrassing things like those parents did? And did my son react the way the two boys in the film reacted? After we shared our opinions of The Kings of Summer, which was more like pulling teeth on his part, he picked up on my discomfort of the parents’ behavior and later joked that I gave him a rash like the mom did to her son Patrick. I laughed, uncertainly.
Today, a group of his friends and baseball teammates and a couple of us moms went to see The Way, Way Back, another coming-of-age summer movie about a 14-year-old boy named Duncan, forced to spend summer vacation with his divorced mom, her boyfriend who clearly doesn’t like him, and the boyfriend’s teenaged daughter who looks down on him for the nerd that he is. Once again, I wondered how our boys assessed the adults, given that most of them, if not all, were flawed. Shy and awkward, Duncan nonetheless fought to find a way and a place to shine. What was poignant to me was how perceptive Duncan was and how he was able to dig deep within to find his voice and his bravery. He really loved his mom; he felt her pain and he wanted to protect her, all the while struggling to gain his independence and establish his point of view. I admit that I swiped at my eyes several times while the credits rolled.
The boys filed out to grab something to eat in the food court outside the movie theater, while we three moms sat in our seats enjoying the soundtrack and trying to find out where the movie was filmed – somewhere in Massachusetts. (There was something very evocative and nostalgic about spending vacation at a summer-house by the beach that made me yearn for such a time and setting.) I was also composing myself in my seat. Deep breaths. I thought about the wide range of emotions my son has displayed these past several months. Misinterpreting a simple question for an interrogation. Snapping back at me. Me coming down hard and using the icy-and-controlled-yet-ready-to-erupt-like-a-volcano voice that my mother used on me – though I use mine sparingly for maximum effect. Tears and retreating to his bedroom without saying goodnight. The awkward hug out of the blue when he isn’t fishing for something. Looks of concern on his face when I’m quiet or unresponsive or tired. The flash of a smile from a mouth full of metal. An eruption of deep-belly laughter around the dinner table. The pensive look on his face, which I observe from afar, undetected, and try to decipher.
I thought to myself as I watched him goof around with his friends at our appointed meeting place after eating and some free time, there’s a Duncan in my son. There’s a Duncan in all of his friends, who are great kids. This whole transition from boy to young man is still uncharted territory for me, and while I recognize that we will continue to face more battles and lose battles and force more tears from one another, seeing this film eased my fears somewhat, made me breathe a little easier, and made my heart swell….swipe, swipe.