Aidan will be turning thirteen in a few days.
This is the age where we should be talking to him about his changing body and teaching him that privacy and modesty matter and haven’t been modeled well in our naked household. We should be telling him there’s plenty of time to have a girlfriend later and how he’d probably end up breaking her heart anyway and have no idea why, so why rush it? We should talk about the birds and the bees and maybe even bust out the condoms and bananas in a silly attempt to be the cool parents who are easy to talk to.
We should be giving our teenager words to say “no” and words to affirm others and ears and eyes to notice bullying. We should warn him that yes, teachers will notice who he hangs out with and he will be pegged as being part of whichever crowd he chooses. We should tell him how much we love him no matter what, while recognizing the fact that his peers will become more important to him now.
For the first several years of Aidan’s life, on his birthday I read through the cards and emails we sent and received during his NICU stay and first year of life. It was a great reflection on how far he’d come. While in the beginning we knew nothing of Aidan’s prognosis, over time we were able to say that he’s moving forward, making progress. We celebrated each hard won little milestone.
This year I just can’t seem to read through those cards. The victories feel too small, too far away from what other thirteen year olds are achieving.
Over the years, the difference between Aidan and his peers has become more distinct, more painful really. Yes, he loves school and he’s busy and learning. But he’s not learning long division and he’s not reading Harry Potter. He can’t throw spitballs or give the substitute teacher a hard time. He doesn’t have to make that hard choice between baseball, which mommy can’t stand, and lacrosse, which mommy would joyfully support.
It’s hard to teach him about modesty when we, his parents, and other caregivers have to attend to him in such a personal manner. I wouldn’t mind giving up the girlfriend talk if I believed he could have friends, real friends. One’s he’s able to interact with and who want to spend time with him and that maybe text him too much. Friends who teach him the importance of “bros before hos” so I have to intervene and teach him how to speak respectfully about girls but to also validate that you shouldn’t let a girl come between you and your bestie. (Do boys have besties?)
This not his reality and it breaks my heart. Even in the midst of all of the good things in life Aidan will experience and even in the midst of parenting another teenager and wanting to bypass all the hard stuff, I’d take it gladly for Aidan.
He won’t have words of affirmation or strong words of refusal because his words are limited primarily to making requests, ones that we put in front of him. Without all of his words, there so much we don’t know about Aidan. Without all of his words, he will always be separated from his peers.
So Aidan will be turning thirteen in a few days and I’m having a party. A pity party. Just a little tiny one. To recognize the fact that celebration and grief sometimes exist together in my world.
And damnit, there will be cupcakes.