Letter to My Son at 14: Slice of Life 3/31 #sol17

slice of life

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.”







21 responses to “Letter to My Son at 14: Slice of Life 3/31 #sol17”

  1. carriegelson Avatar

    You are so very lucky. This is just wow. I only know part of the journey and here, where you are, is wow. I feel a little teary.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s a hard, hard journey, but yes, also a wow. I always think of you when I’m writing these posts about my son. You’re my ideal reader!

  2. fireflytrails Avatar

    These words are such a treasure for now – and for later. And what a powerful ending. Enjoy every moment.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thank you! Maybe someday my son will actually want to read what I write about and to him!

  3. Juliana Ellington Avatar

    Beautifully written. I agree with Carrie about the ‘wow’ and the ‘teary’.

  4. Tara Smith Avatar

    The way you ended gave us such a peek into the love for you in your son’s heart. Beautiful!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I love it when he gives me just the right ending for my pieces about him!

  5. Clare and Tammy Avatar

    My son just turned 15 and a have a 17 year old son as well — I think a lot of teenage sons dance that dance, but when they say, “Mom, want to watch a show or go for a run” I drop everything and go. These moments are fleeting. We are not best friends, but we do enjoy each other’s company. I hope he loves your letter. Thank you for sharing (and reminding me that streaming is ok) !

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      How wonderful to be able to say you and your sons truly enjoy each other’s company! I feel like that’s the most important work we can do as parents–have that connected relationship and be somebody our children want to spend time with.

  6. The Logonauts (@thelogonauts) Avatar

    So, so powerful. I love all the conflicting aspects of growing up captured here (as well as thinking about them against all the memories you’ve shared in his earlier years too). A loving picture of your amazing young man.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The growing up and gaining independence and letting go is HARD. I don’t remember being so conflicted as a teen, but then I didn’t bring as much baggage into my relationship with my mom as my son brings into his relationship with me. I took that relationship totally for granted, and I don’t know if he will ever be able to do that.

  7. Akilah Avatar


    Also, yesssssssss to Psych.

    The growing up too fast but also being scared to grow up is a recurring theme at my house. I wonder when it ends…

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My son regularly cracks me up with his imitations of Gus’s walk, the finger flick across his nose, and his “You know that’s right.” I was so sad for the show to end because I’d become so fond of Shawn and Gus.

      1. Akilah Avatar

        I love Psych (and Shawn and Gus) so much. It’s one of the few shows where I have specific favorite episodes that I seek out to rewatch. The series is going on my Christmas wish list forever until I actually get it.

  8. djvichos Avatar

    I love this! Such honesty in your mother voice. Although we learn so much about your son, we also learn so much about you. Your letter really comes to life through the intersection of detail and dialogue. I loved being there, seeing and hearing. I love that you read bedtime stories (I, too, imagine reading stories to my son forever) and that you think about lasts as much as firsts.

  9. Michelle @litlearningzone Avatar
    Michelle @litlearningzone

    You know him so well, inside and out. Just a beautiful letter to your son. So personal and inspiring. Thank you for sharing with all of us. I hope he has an extra special birthday!

  10. Karen Terlecky Avatar

    What a beautiful post about a son you know and love so well.

  11. Shari Daniels Avatar

    One day your son will treasure this letter with all of his heart. Fourteen is one of the hardest ages for boys and you have done a remarkable job, Elisabeth of allowing your son to be authentic and independent, yet also hold him close. Keep those open lines flowing. I just might try writing letters to my family now. Pictures?

  12. Emily Culbertson Avatar

    My oldest of four boys is 13. This post was almost too much for me. It’s all so very true. “Stop growing,” I say. My boys tell me they can’t help it, God makes them grow.

    Thanks for sharing this intimate slice of your life.

  13. carwilc Avatar

    Such a beautiful, beautiful letter. You intersperse humor so skillfully! My favorite line is the one about the only person who knows more about tennis shoes!) It sounds like your guy is doing really well! So glad! I’ve missed reading about him!

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