The best thing about having a preteen is not the sudden displays of independence (or rebellion depending on your take) or the occasional surliness. It’s the fact that no matter what you do, for the next decade or so, you know you will never be cool. Now, no one has actually ever accused me of being all that hip – except maybe the Big Guy when I complement him on a burp – but I’ve noticed that the little bit of cool factor I may have enjoyed, has taken a nose dive as Thing1, my first born, approaches the big One-Three. This might have bothered me once upon a time, but, now, as I’m getting a lot more selective about which dragons I go chasing after, it’s actually quite liberating.
My precipitous loss of coolness (always in danger due to my uncanny knack for mastering fashion trends just as they were ending and love of all things geek) became apparent one morning as we were driving to school. Thing1 had already begged me to stop dancing in the car, regardless of our surroundings, and, well remembering the gauntlet called middle school, I respected this ‘request’. My music choices, however, stayed pretty much the same. I listen to everything, and my playlists vary with my mood. My tastes can have us listening to Pavarotti one morning, Rolling Stones another, or an eighties pop list the next. It was an eighties pop mix that first prompted Thing1, a budding music geek with firm ideas about “what’s good” that can only survive in the hothouse of adolescence, to assume the role of arbiter of musical taste on our morning school runs.
He began switching up the playlists on my iPod, and, for the most part, I acquiesced happily. That acquiescence made him happy on the drive, but when we arrived at school, he began hitting the pause button before the car stopped. After a few mornings of this I realized my acceptance of his choices was causing him to question not his taste but his own coolness.
He’s not into girls yet, so fashion – the most visible signal that a kid is trying to display their coolness – hasn’t really become an issue (boys seem to escape a lot of this anyway), but as he stops the music and climbs out of the car, everything in his demeanor says he’s still anxious to be cool. Most of the kids entering the building seem to have this same anxiety, translated through their tense postures and nervous glances at their friends.
It’s not just maternal bias when I say that, in my eyes, Thing1 has always been cool. He’s a door-holder. He can carry on a conversation with grownup. A number of his classmates are like this too. So, as I watch these pleasant, curious kids scurrying to school, wearing their self-consciousness on their sleeves, my first daily thought is how ironic it is that they should worry that they’re not cool enough. When the car door shuts and I unpause the music, my second thought is usually how exhausting it once was to worry about it.
I know Thing1 will survive this gauntlet. The Big Guy and I are fiercely protective of the inner young man full of hopes and dreams and ideas, but we also know navigating between the desire to fit in and his true north (when he discovers it) is part of the test of teenager-dom. It’s a journey we can’t take for him.
I’ve recently adopted a new exercise regimen of dancing for a 3 minute song in front of my laptop every few hours so that I can fit some movement into my day. I pretty much look like an idiotic bowl of jello for those 3 minutes, and sometimes I’m glad none of our windows look out on neighbors. But I would be dancing even if they did. That carefree dance is the reward at the end of that journey. I’ve discovered my true norths now, and, while I’ve started another part of the path, I’ll be waiting for Thing1 when he’s found his own groove.