It was a dark and freezing night. So icy, in fact, that my normal four-trip Tuesday to and from the JCC for swimming and basketball practice was abbreviated (the only benefit, in my eyes, of winter). I was home with my two boys. While heating up some dinner for my older son, my younger one asked if I could come downstairs and see him. This usually means there’s a complaint or an injury brewing. When Blue and his dinner were all set, I walked downstairs and was surprised to see a goofy smile on Dimples’s face. I said, “you look happy,” and sat down eager to hear what caused this unnatural condition. He came right out with it. I have a girlfriend. You do? I asked, incredulous, desperately curious and acutely aware that a milestone was in my midst, maybe a double-milestone; not only was my twelve year old involved in a romance, but he was offering me the scoop.
I acted completely supportive as he talked, though I was doing multiple gut checks as to whether that was the right reaction or it would have been better to put the kabash on this. Just when I’d mastered having my kids shower unassisted and put their dirty clothes in the hamper (well, sometimes), here was a completely uncharted area of mothering. Of course, my first question was, who is this girlfriend? Do I know her? I recently worked at my kids’ school, so I know a lot of the other kids there. This one I didn’t. Dimples immediately opened his Instagram account and showed me several pictures of the lucky lady. Adorable. Being that my son can recite the explicit lyrics of Eminem, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z songs (yeah, I know), I wondered – was scared to death about – what having a girlfriend meant in his world. Was I going to have to talk about condoms? Disease? Would I have to meet her parents? I asked if he’d want to start inviting her over and vice versa. He didn’t know. What about going out to places like the movies? He didn’t know. I asked if they seemed to “like” each other in “that way,” and he said, absolutely deadpan, “Mom, I’m getting her a stuffed animal for New Year’s Eve,” like I’m a total moron, after which he told me that they now sit together in music and that when he sees her in the hall, his heart “feels all weird.”
I said that my main concern about him being a boyfriend is that if his or her feelings change, not that he could imagine that now, of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Sometimes relationships end, I said, and while I had a good vibe about his, I wanted that possible eventuality to be handled with the utmost sensitivity. He said he understood. I talked about continuing our open communication he had instigated and encouraged him to talk to me whenever he had questions or new feelings or just to keep me posted on boyfriend life. I asked how things became official, and he said he texted her the previous night before asking her out. Spotting a teaching moment, I assured him that the fewer texts and the more in-person interactions in a romance, the better. After about ten minutes of this downright delectable discussion, he said he didn’t know about me, but that this talk was getting awkward for him, at which point I said, let’s stop, trying to take a page from less is more; walk away elated with the gem he gave me.
As if this wasn’t enough, he called me from his Dad’s house the next night and said he wanted to talk. My mind went to his usual menu: someone’s being unfair or something hurts. It was the former. He said he didn’t think it was fair that his Dad reads all of his text messages. What about his privacy? His freedom to say what he wants? His budding relationship? A self-professed resistor of technological progress, I found this just too good. I told him that when I was a girl, back in the Neolothic Era, there was no such thing as a cell phone, a text or an email, and that as a result, if we were lucky enough to have a boyfriend, we had to look him in the eye and speak our souls or even more bizarrely, we could put our thoughts in a handwritten note. I suggested that this was the best way to retain some privacy. No one was going to monitor his face-to-face interaction or his lined paper with drawn hearts. No one was going to pull records of the spoken compliments he gave to his girlfriend unlike what could be dug up from the words and icons he typed. I made the juicier point that having a cell phone with texting capability is a privilege and that with such privilege comes the high price of being consistently monitored (his father, apparently, being much more consistent). I tried to strike a firm-sympathetic balance when I told him that nothing he types in a text can ever be considered private. It’s unfair, I was reminded, many times, as if the twentieth recitation of the word would make me see the light. Maybe so, I told him, but this is what comes with technology that arguably shouldn’t be in the hands of twelve year old people who, quite appropriately, want to express their affection through a stuffed hippo.
The next time I take a look at my son’s girlfriend, probably on Oovoo or Instagram, I’ll wonder if she has any idea how important she is to us. She might not be the only one he’s got, but she’ll always be his first and she’ll always be the reason he opened up to me in a real live conversation about his heart and its wonderful weirdness.
This is an original post for JerseyMomsBlog by Liz Kingsley.