Bryce was an easy child. He was never colicky, and he slept through the night at three months. Throughout elementary school, Bryce woke with a smile and got ready for school quickly. He’d wear whatever clean T-shirt was at the top of drawer. His golden curls never needed combing.
I assumed adolescence would be easy too, until, at about twelve and a half, Bryce transformed from an even-keeled kid to a moody almost stranger who is either bouncing off the walls or crashed on the couch. Despite having drawers full of clothes, he only regularly wears two T-shirts (both West Coast colleges, at least) and two pairs of pants. Most mornings, after a ten-minute rant about having nothing to wear; he fishes his day’s outfit out of the dirty laundry hamper. Then he still has to make his lunch and find his homework
Bryce’s hair now causes ceaseless despair. The new shampoo and blow-dryer I bought him can’t conquer his curls. “My hair is too long” he moans for a couple weeks, until I finally take him for a $15 haircut. As he sucks his post-cut lollipop, he says, “The stupid haircut lady cut it too short,” which he continues to say for a several days. Then, a few weeks later, he again complains that his hair it too long.
At dinner last week, Bryce announced that his band teacher told him that he played the saxophone so well that he was invited to go nationals in New York City. My husband and I lavished him with congratulations.
“Hah, you are so easy to fool!” Bryce said. “The characters in Glee are going to nationals in New York City. You two are so gullible.”
“As a family, we are supposed to trust each other. I assume what you tell me is not a lie.” I said. “I guess I shouldn’t anymore.”
I am also surprised at how easily Bryce can resuscitate my own teenage self-consciousness.
“I hate it when you put your tongue in your lower lip,” said Bryce as we went on our Sunday family hike. “I’m going to count every time you do it.” He paused. “You seem to do it more when you are stressed.” For the next half hour, Bryce gave me an ever-increasing tally. Now, even when Bryce isn’t around, I notice my tongue tick. Bryce has also reminded me of a hum I do when I feel stressed, and, to round out my new self-doubt, he repeatedly suggests that I ask for Botox for Christmas to fix the furrow in my forehead. Sometimes, I point out his mispronunciations or new pimple, to remind him what it feels like to be criticized, and as form of immature retaliation. It never goes well. He either becomes despondent or furious.
Bryce and I used to love singing together in the car. We’d belt out verse after verse of “The Wheels on the Bus.” Yesterday, as I drove Bryce to school, a classic disco hit by Gloria Gaynor came on the radio. I had to sing along.
“At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side …”
“Shh. You are embarrassing me!” hissed Bryce.
I explained that the windows were shut, and no one could hear us. Bryce explained, in that condescending voice only a preteen can use, that people in other cars could see me singing. As we approached his school, Bryce lurched to turn off the radio, so that kids in the parking lot would not hear my uncool music as he exited the car. Bryce cringed as I tried to kiss him goodbye, and didn’t look back at me before heading to class. I shut the door, and returned to sing with Gloria Gaynor.
“It took all the strength I had not to fall apart; kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart.”
My voice cracked, not, as Bryce would suggest, from my lack of musical ability. It felt a lot later than 7:30 a.m.
Gloria’s song had new meaning. I know it was intended to describe a woman’s escape from her no-good boyfriend, but it is also an ode for a mother whose son is growing up. The three-year-old boy who called me “This Mama” as he locked his arms around my neck was letting go. At times, he doesn’t seem to like me. I can’t even count on him to watch Star Trek reruns with me anymore, especially if I imitate the energizer or make Vulcan peace signs.
Worst of all, when Bryce lies to me, makes the dog yelp, and points out my nervous ticks, I don’t want to spend time with him either.
Bryce has become aware of himself, and he also has to create an identity separate from his parents. I miss basking in his childlike devotion, but we both need to move on. Gloria reminds me that I will continue to have love in my life, and that I should enjoy singing alone.
“I’ve got all my life to live,
I’ve got all my love to give, and I’ll survive,
I will survive. Hey. Hey …”