I've never really been itching to do the preteen years. I remember college discussions about what age group we catechetics majors would prefer to work with and my instinct was always toward the tiny little kids or the teenagers. None of those popularity-minded, angsty, awkwardly self-conscious in-betweens, thank you very much. I could only remember who I was back then, the environment and peers that surrounded me during those years and I only knew that I did NOT want that. I didn't want those ones.
I was so wrong.
I have one now. And while yes, there may be some growing pains and shifting moods and tense moments, thus far we've been mostly spared. (Thank you, blessedly sanguine personality inherited not at all from me.) I don't take for granted that future preteens in this home with vastly different temperaments may not behave similarly. Nor do I think this is necessarily an accurate forecast of what the teen years will bring. I'm not that naive. But there are so many good moments that the preteen years bring. So many. So many I didn't have or maybe that I just don't remember, the memories shrouded by the confusion and hormones and peer pressure and desperate need to be accepted saturating those years as I swam in the midst of all the other hurting, drowning kids.
But his years are different. Far away from the pressure to fit in, he is finding who he really is. There is no question whether he belongs. Of course he does. He's one of us. Confident that he is accepted here as he really is allows for the beautiful though sadly rare freedom to be that to the absolute fullest. Separated from the scrutiny of the pack, he can ask questions, discuss, learn, and make mistakes without fear. The natural and creeping self-awareness and the growing understanding of the complexities of the world are met with acceptance, love, dialogue, reason, and truth. It is good. So so good.
There is so much to love about this new phase of parenting. So much I wasn't expecting. Like when you can have a real conversation about politics or religion or social policy or sexuality and you can see them figuring things out and putting pieces together and forming their own opinions. Like when they can make you laugh until your sides hurt because their jokes are actually getting pretty funny now. Like when you see them choosing to play with their baby brother with unabashed and genuine delight. Like when they begin to challenge themselves a little more and you see them wrestle with temptation and choose the good. The preteen years are different from what came before and they are different than what I thought they would be. I'm so glad to have been wrong.
He's becoming a person that I truly like to hang out with. I love the deeper discussions we get to have and how he is figuring life out. I love the probing questions he asks and the nuance he now can understand. I love the silliness he brings and the desire to learn everything about anything. I love the simultaneous glimpse of both child and young man. I love that this is the age when passions become ignited for justice and politics and truth and virtue. I love seeing him begin to step slowly into ownership of his education and faith and interests. I love that he is growing in wisdom but is yet unscathed by cynicism. I love that he is genuinely helpful and so very quick to forgive. I love that I can see the man that he is becoming and he's amazing.
I don't want the preteen (or even teen) years to be something that just need to be endured, teeth gritted and knuckles clenched. I want to fight that tendency to see them as a curse, something to lament to the stranger in the grocery store, "Just wait..." It is profoundly depressing to have that expectation of the next few decades of life and I admit to having hope for much better. I don't at all doubt that there will be new challenges, new struggles, new crosses, and the mother's suffering that comes along with them. But I also have tremendous confidence that there will be new joys, new laughs, new triumphs, and a mother's heart that continues to expand and grow and delight in and love through it all. I will continue to hope and I will choose to rejoice in them and cling to the promise of a Father who loves them infinitely more than I do, a Father who designed it all in the first place, and a Father who has poured down upon husband and wife the sacramental grace we need for those times that stretch us far. I want to be fully present in these amazing and powerful years and be truly grateful for them. I want to see them as a gift, something to be loved and embraced, a time of unparalleled formation that I don't want to miss. I want to truly see these years as part of the perfect design of God for these little people we've been given. I want to continue to prove myself wrong.