You are fourteen, and you never stop reminding me of it. “I’m not a baby anymore,” you yell. “Oh baby,” I say, “no one would ever mistake you for a baby.”
You want independence, but you’re also terrified of it. “I’m growing up too fast,” you whisper.
Push-pull, come-here-go-away has always been your dance, but now you are stomping the steps.
At least we can laugh about it later. There is no kind of hard we can’t laugh about. A crisis will barely be over before one of us is cracking a joke. “Too soon?” we ask the other.
You have four interests in life, as far as I can tell. Basketball, girls, sneakers, and fashion. Not necessarily in that order. You won’t talk to me about girls, but I know enough about basketball to converse at least semi-intelligently with professionals, and the only forty-something mom who knows more about sneakers than I do works for the shoe design department at Nike.
You’ve got bold taste in fashion. I take a photo of your outfit every morning. You like the hoodies and track pants of other kids your age, and some days, you’re a walking advertisement for Air Jordan. But you also wear bow ties and paisley socks. You aren’t afraid of color. You think nothing of matching the pink collared shirt with the lime green polka dot bow tie and the turquoise sweater vest. Some days you dress like Urkel, and you’re not being ironic.
You carry a basketball wherever you go, including bed.
You’re worried about your height. You need to be tall to play in the NBA, and since you’re fourteen, that’s your current future career path. Your birth parents were tall, but you’ve been stuck at 5’8” for a year now. You ask every person you meet how tall they are and how tall their parents were. You love stories of unlikely growth spurts. You measure your wingspan weekly. Russell Westbrook has always been your spirit animal, and you love him even more now that you know he, too, entered ninth grade at 5’8”.
You got your first pet this year, a tiny rescue kitten you named Zorro for the mask of black over his eyes. Zorro has grown into a rough and tumble cat, perfect for a rough and tumble boy who struggles with “be gentle!” and “be careful!” and “he doesn’t bend that way!” and “oh my God use two hands when you carry him like that!”
We still read a bedtime story together every night. When you’ve having an especially teenagerish kind of day, you protest. “Mom, you’re not still going to read bedtime stories to me when I’m sixteen!” Maybe we need to start calling it something different, something that sounds teenagery, cool, because I don’t want to give it up, not even when you’re sixteen. I worry that every book we read together will be our last.
Fourteen is funny like that—for you, it’s a year of firsts, but for me, it’s also a year of lasts. The last time I was invited to basketball practice. The last time you let me drop you off at a school dance. The last time I could pick you up and carry you. The last time you got excited over a new Elephant and Piggie book.
You learned how to drive this year, although you can’t get your learner’s permit until September. You went on your first vacation. You chose California, because you were in love with Gennifer Choldenko’s middle-grade series about Moose and his sister, Natalie, and you wanted to see Alcatraz for yourself. This is the year you discovered—much to all of our surprise—that you’re a budding foodie. You pierced your ears three more times. You shaved your head and grew a Mohawk.
This is the year you discovered the pleasures of marathoning TV shows. We’ve marathoned Psych, Smallville, Scrubs, Better Off Ted, Chuck, Freaks and Geeks, and so many more. You still struggle to remember the names of your favorite shows, so we just call them after your favorite characters. Gus and Clark and J.D. feel like part of the family.
You hanker after R-rated movies, and since it’s an easy way to help you feel grown-up without actually letting you do anything, we’ve started saying yes. But when you were given your choice of movies to see at the theater last month, you still chose the Lego Batman movie. I love that about you.
You love The Voice and American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. Sometimes a song or a dance powerfully affects you, and you turn to me and say with great surprise, “I think I’m going to cry!” You never do, but it’s important to feel art that deeply.
You especially love the human interest stories on these competition shows, the hard luck stories, the misfortunes and tragedies. These stories always end in redemption, hope, leaving the abusive relationship, kicking that drug habit, reuniting with a long-lost father. You like for the world to sort itself out so neatly, so fairly.
We watch one story about a man in his mid-twenties who describes his mom as his best friend.
You lean into me.
“That’s like us,” you say. “You’re my best friend.”