Get to Know Your Teenager in a Deeply Personal Way

Remember when you could openly and freely smother your son with hugs and kisses?  Tickle his belly?  Roll around on the floor with him?  Throw him on your hip and dance around the living room together?

You used to read stories, hang out in forts together, snuggle on the couch and spend hours in the back yard together.  You could tell when he was tired, before he even knew it himself.  You knew that when he seemed crabby for no apparent reason what-so-ever, it was snack time.  You could sense when he needed alone time and when he wanted to spend time with mom.

You were virtually inseparable.  And you knew him better than anyone else knew him.  Remember?

Hmmm….. try smothering your teenage son with hugs and kisses.  Tickle his belly?  Not a chance.  Roll around on the floor together? Never mind the weirdness of that image….he’d break your bones if you even tried to horse around with him.  And throw him on your hip to dance?  Forget it.

At some point, our kids grow up.  And grow away from us.  It happens so fast, and is so subtle.  We go from being number one in their lives to being second (or third, or fourth) best, without even noticing it at first..  Our intimate relationship is replaced with peer relationships and romantic relationships.  Friends, and sometimes even coaches and teachers, know our children better than we do.

We transition from being inseparable to barely seeing our children at all.  We go for days, weeks, sometimes, before we see them again.  We move from being their whole world to being a fleeting thought, here and there, throughout the day.  They think of us when they need something, or are in trouble; if they have to ask permission for something.  We know when they need money.  They want us at their major life events – games, concerts, banquets, prom, graduation.  But they no longer need us for their day to day survival.

It is, no doubt, sad.  Depressing.  Painful, even.  I have only boys, so I can’t pretend to know what it feels like to watch your little girl grow up.  But I can tell you, watching your little boy turn in to a man, and being replaced by other people in his life, is heartbreaking.

It is a loss.  You morn the boy you once knew.  You miss him.  And you remember all the little things you loved about him.

But I have found a little, teeny, tiny way to take a glimpse into my young man’s heart.  I have found a way to know him intimately, like I used to.  I can see parts of him that I don’t know very well, parts of him that I knew were always there, and parts of him that are still growing, developing.  I can get images, pictures, of the boy I once knew, and of the man that is yet to be.  And it is amazing.  It is powerful.  It is breathtaking.

How do I do this?

I use his music.  I am using it right now, as I write this.  But mostly, I use his playlist when I go for a run.  I happened on this little secret by chance.  I wanted music on my phone, to run to. So he put his music on my phone for me.  He warned me – I wouldn’t like all of it.  No matter.  I didn’t care.  I just wanted music.

And during my first run with his music, something amazing happened. I saw his childhood, the little boy he once was, as all of my old favorites played; songs such as Sweet Home Alabama, Turn Around Bright Eyes, Brown-Eyed Girl, We Didn’t Start the Fire and Carry On My Wayward Son.  These are songs he grew up listening to, songs we used to hang out in the basement and sing and dance to, while the multi-colored light box bounced to the beat.

I saw him as a young boy, when the song “Space Jam” played, from the movie Space Jam.  We used to watch that over and over again.  He loved it.  It is a great combination of a childhood favorite (Bugs Bunny) and a teenaged favorite (basketball).  It is a good representation of those awkward years, that weird little space between boyhood and manhood.

And I saw his teenaged years – all those country songs, such as Barefoot Blue Jean Night, Boondocks, Anywhere With You, All Summer Long, and Springsteen.  I remembered my teenaged years, and all those crazy emotions and dreams that rush through you, making everything an exciting adventure. I saw football games, basketball games, high school dances, hanging out at the mall and double dates.  And I knew him again.  I knew who he was and what his life is like at the moment.

And I saw the man he will become, with songs like Makes me Wanna Take a Back Road and Kiss a Girl.  I once thought this over-achieving, amazingly intelligent boy would leave me and pursue a prestigious career as a doctor or an astronaut.  I pictured him living in California, some big city, some place warm, making a name for himself and a place in history.  But I was wrong.  I now see him living in a small town, on some country road, with a comfortable little job and a cozy little family.

He was right – there are songs I don’t really care for.  These are the songs that represent his aggressive, forceful side.  This is a side of him I don’t know very well, but I know it exists. These are the songs he “pumps up” to in the locker room and on the bus before a football or basketball game. These are the songs he uses to connect with his friends.  These are songs such as Riot, Through Fire and Flames It’s My Life, Lose Yourself and Thunderstruck (although I do like that one).

And there are a few sad ones, as well.  Hurt, for example.  I have never heard that song in my life. And I don’t particularly like it.  I have a hard time imaging my son liking it.  But apparently he does.  It represents a part of his life that I am out of touch with.  A part of his life that will always be his, and his alone.  Moms don’t get unlimited back stage passes to their children’s every thought and waking moment.  At some point, they do become their own person, and we have to learn to let them go.  We have to learn to let them be.  They will become the person they are meant to be.

We are blessed, to be able to know them along the way. We were there, to watch them, help them and to shape them in to the person they will become.  We are there to love them, always.  We will be there as they become adults, always in the shadows, ready to extend a helping hand or a warm hug whenever the occasion arises.  It is what we do.  It is out of love.  Always, out of love.

Losing the little boy never means you have to lose the young man.

 

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