Our cockapoo has been stationed outside the medicine closet crying for two days straight. When I finally opened the door, I discovered a stack of uncooked hot dogs, piled like a meaty Tinker Toys, right next to the Hydrogen Peroxide. Let me just say, a pile of uncooked hot dogs, situated particularly close to the First-Aid box, will make you flinch. And then – shortly after – gag.
“Why are the hot dogs in the medicine closet?” I asked my 14-year-old son, who was consumed with a screen full of imaginary combat.
“Oh, that’s where they went,” he replies without looking away from the battle.
“Ummm…were you aware they were missing?” I ask.
“Well, I was going to grill my own lunch, but then, I guess, I got distracted. Don’t worry, Mom, I just made a grilled cheese sandwich instead,” he explains. Combat continues.
“Phew- I was worried something was strange there for a minute. Well, as long as you didn’t starve to death….” He does not notice my sarcasm, or perhaps he simply, doesn’t care to acknowledge it.
As is much of life is for a 14 year old – summer exists somewhere in between childhood and maturity. It’s unpredictable, a little spacey and a lot of awkward. A 14 year old boy would tell you he is:
Too old for camp.
Too young for a job.
Too old for a babysitter.
Too young to drive.
Too busy to mow the lawn.
Too bored to continue living in this house.
Too deprived of recreational sports vehicles.
At 14, nothing seems to fit very well. It’s like he wakes up with one identity and by noon it already itches, like the outgrown seams on his favorite t-shirt. They may understand enough about the world to crave independence, but the lack of development in their frontal cortex threatens constant disaster. And mold.
Anything on YouTube seems reasonable and attainable to a 14 year old. Anything described in a bound book is assumed outdated (or it would be on YouTube).
And at a time when voices crack, chin whiskers are scarce and hygiene is imperative, kids need a good friend more than ever. But, even relationships are ambiguous at this tender age. When I was fourteen, I walked to my neighborhood friend’s house and waited on her front porch until she was excused from dinner. We played “Ghost in the Graveyard” and dared each other to hide in the tube slide with the neighborhood boys. Friend groups were generally determined by who was in biking distance from your house or had the most lenient parents.
But, my son’s generation, defined by Instagram followers and Snapchat streaks, connects in much less tangible ways. Their connections are often made through chance, without any conversation or exchange at all. I worry, someday, he may find it difficult to differentiate between authentic and fabricated relationships.
For example, my son asked if he could contribute to “Make Every Cast Count,” a fundraiser for his fishing friend, Justin, who is fighting a brain tumor.
“Yes, of course! How horrible – is he in your grade?” I asked.
“No, he’s 33. He’s the Lake Fork Guy – famous YouTuber with over 750,000 followers. Super nice guy, Mom. You would like him. I’m worried about him.”
Well, I guess I won’t have to call his mother and ask if he can stay for dinner…
But, his worry is genuine. I can’t fault him for connecting with Justin’s story in a personal way as storytelling has always been the backbone of human connection. However, as his mother, I wish Justin lived down the street and was available to fish every afternoon …in person. And was about twenty years younger.
This world is tough to navigate, especially if large segments of your “community” exist online. Think peer pressure was hard for us? Try weathering a social media storm where every mistake made can be saved, shared and photo shopped for viral entertainment. And we wonder why kids suffer from anxiety in this country…
As a parent, I’m trying to let my instincts lead the way, and hence, have decided to kick him out of the nest. All the way to Canada.
This week, I will send him with his Grandpa and a fishing pole up to a Canadian shoreline that promises no reception and little regulation. His responsibilities are to be kind, helpful and awake to the beauty of this world. For a few weeks, I want him to feel steady on his feet, confident in his cast, and the achingly beautiful experience of being both lost and found in great big world.
Like a puzzle piece, I pray he will feel his own corners fit into the silhouette of trees at sunset and the pebble edges of the shore, washed by nothing more than the will of wilderness and wind. Here, where all of life is in between, I hope he is reminded, that he “fits” perfectly, as is.
Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.