Like an extraordinarily confused variety of snail, my son Sam leaves a trail of boy slime as he passes through the house. This morning, in the hour between his father’s repeated exhortations to “get up NOW” and the time his ride appeared in the driveway he left dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, my wallet open on the dining room table, a skateboard wheel on the floor near the couch, and an ice cream sandwich wrapper adhered to the top of an end table. He is thirteen, oblivious, beautiful, and moving into a part of his life in which his father and I are mere accessories rather than essential parts of his daily life. I often feel as if he is visiting royalty as I cajole him to accept the risotto, try on the new shorts, or sit and spend an hour with us in the evening.
He is working, this week, as a videographer for the Vacation Bible School sponsored by our church. Do not be confused by the use of the possessive; our relationship with the church is not one of pious lambs led by benevolent shepards. What began as induction into a flock has morphed through the years into more of a business relationship. My husband, not always sure about his faith is the head usher. I, lately turned Buddhist, am employed by the church as a cook. Sam belongs to the Youth Group and runs sound for Sunday services. We care enormously for the church’s human community, but I am content, at this moment, to let our spiritual beliefs lie in tangled disarray. Honest disarray is preferable, in my book, to disingenuous order.
But I digress. Regardless of whether Sam is feeling any religious stirrings as he canvasses the grounds of the Nature Center photographing happy campers, I know this morning that he is Good, an that I am proud of him. (Whoever he is). I know this because I have read a totally illiterate, yet incredibly moving dialogue on his Facebook page. He has strictly forbidden me to reproduce a single misspelled word from that conversation, so I will attempt to characterize it in my inadequately adult and grammatical manner.
He had a girlfriend, which means, I believe, that they texted a lot, sat together at lunch, and identified themselves as a couple. Last night he changed his Facebook status to “single” followed almost immediately by a second change to “in a relationship.” His father and I, tracking these changes in juvenile romantic topography in the living room as Sam sat upstairs in his bedroom, speculated. Had he gotten back together with the original girlfriend? Was there someone new? As he explained casually when he thundered downstairs for two double As and some cheese puffs, he had broken up with girl “A” and started a relationship with girl “B.”
In response to the news of paradise lost and regained, questions were asked on Facebook. Sam responded like a gentleman: he and girl “A” were “taking a break,” they were “still friends,” and no one, he warned sternly from his lair of dirty clothes and soda cans, should “diss” her. Despite this heartwarming chivalry, a particularly profane champion of girl “A” left comments tending to indicate that she was “looking out for her girl,” and, in a flurry of “cuz”s, “aints” and “bff”s, let it be known that she was not pleased with Sam.
Then, as if called by Charlie, the Angels began to appear. Sam’s oldest and dearest friend, Christina commented that she was Sam’s bff, that she “loved him like a sister,” and “had his back.” Jennie, a high school girl who knows Sam from church eviscerated his profane critic with a breathtaking flourish of illiterate but sound logic. She identified herself as “Sam’s bff from church.” A third female friend, Katie also joined in to say that high school girl was “awesomee!” and that Sam had done nothing wrong. Through the garbled textese, tiny hearts and “WTF”s, I saw something glitter. Not only had my son refused to say a bad word about an ex girlfriend; he was clearly a young man who had solid girl-friends. I have always believed him to be fundamentally kind, compassionate and decent, but we all know that 13-year-old boys, particularly those who are good looking, charming and popular, can be the cruelest and most self-absorbed of life forms. I know for various reasons that Christina, Jennie and Katie are not romantically interested in him, and that there was no secondary gain for any of them in rushing to his defense. They like him. They just, really, like him and feel protective of him in the way one feels about all good friends. I find that reassuring.
I still don’t know who he is, or who he’ll be when he grows up. He’s a slob, he doesn’t read books, he stays up too late and gives us hives in the morning. I’ve always known that he was smart, that he had a moral compass, and that he voluntarily consumed fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but I still worried about his relationships with women. Fairly or not, I always look at parents when I encounter a man of any age who treats women badly from a place of negligence or intention. I hoped we were raising him to be kind to girls and women, to view them as fellow humans rather than as aliens, prey or pawns, but we could do nothing besides provide the best possible example. The problem is that you can do your best and not know if it “took” until a child is old enough to have romantic relationships. What if you try really hard, and some time when you aren’t looking your kid gets poisoned by the idea that he or she is too good for your rules, too important to worry about other peoples’ feelings, too lucky to get caught? How do you know until you find out about the first casualty?
I will keep worrying about reading, sleep hygiene, sunscreen, helmets, drugs, sex, and the possibility of losing him among the piles of detritus in his bedroom. I will stop worrying that he is not a loving young man who will always treat women as well as possible, and enjoy them as friends and romantic partners. I’m proud of him.