As I was picking up Ben from middle school the other day, I watched two young girls as they crossed the parking lot. They were dressed exactly alike: shorts, matching shirts, tennis shoes and scarves tied around their heads to hold their very similarly colored hair out of their beautiful, young faces. In one arm they held their books. Their other arm was attached at the hand, swinging in a pendulous motion as they animatedly talked about nothing important. I soaked up their joy at being in each others’ company. True friends.
I closed my eyes and remembered my own childhood friends. Talking about nothing important. Giggling about boys. Picking out matching shirts together. Our shirts were white sprinkled with little multicolored stars. We’d call each other the night before to make sure we wore our matching shirts on the same day.
Oh, making phone calls. We had a party line. I had to monitor the phone regularly until my Chatty-Cathy neighbor decided to hang up so I could use the phone. And then it was a crap-shoot to see if my call would actually make it through to my friend… that incessant busy signal was maddening. My BFF had a Chatty-Cathy neighbor, too, and it was an Act of God if we ever got to actually speak on the phone. But once we made the connection, we made the most of it, talking for hours until somebody else cut in or our parents made us disconnect. I guess many would say these were simpler times, but I kinda enjoy having the freedom of calling whomever I wish whenever I want and having the luxury of leaving a voice mail.
I don’t remember being two and a half. I don’t really remember being eight. But I certainly remember being 12. I remember a lot about that age. I remember the insecurity I felt as I started to like boys. I remember gazing at my reflection and wondering when I would start developing like my friends (turns out I wouldn’t do this until I was nearly 17!). I remember struggling with the flood of those pre-pubescent hormones, crying one moment and laughing the next. I remember caring what everybody thought about me and wondering if I was doing anything right. Twelve was a hard age for me.
And when I think about my son’s development, my heart breaks. He was two and a half when he was diagnosed. He was eight when he relapsed. He was nearly twelve when cancer decided to make a third appearance. He doesn’t have just the normal insecurity of being a pre-pubescent boy, he has all this nonsense to deal with, too.
So, I am understanding when he wants to wear a hat to school to cover his sweet, bald head. I always thought that he was adorable as a baldy, but it makes sense to me when I put myself in that delicate 12-year-old psyche. I have to keep that in mind. My God. Life was hard when I was 12. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it is for him. Like me, he doesn’t remember being two-and-a-half. He barely remembers being eight. But he’s living as a 12-year-old. One who is painfully smaller than the rest of his peers. One who struggles with what he sees in the mirror. One who wonders when he’s going to start developing. One who simply cannot participate in the activities that his peers do because cancer is a freaking bitch.
The dismissal bell rang and I pulled myself out of my beautiful, yet painful, memories of being twelve. The girls had long since passed my car and I was anxious to get to my Ben. My beautiful son, who always puts a smile on my face. I’ve learned to let him take the lead on whether he hugs me or not when we’re first reunited. I know this age is so delicate. On this day, he put his arm around my middle and leaned into me. I leaned right back and kissed the top of his ball cap, longing to feel the soft fuzz of the newly growing hair lying beneath, but knowing that removing his cap to do so would be so embarrassing for him. A group of boys nearby were tossing a football around and it fell short right in front of Ben. He picked it up and chucked it in their general direction. It was not a stellar throw. It barely made a dent from a trajectory standpoint. The boys walked over and picked it up and Ben looked at me and said, “I know that sucked. But I felt like throwing it anyway.” It made me sad and happy all at the same time. Apparently, he doesn’t have all the insecurities that I had as a 12-year-old, despite the effects of cancer ravaging him of his pre-pubescent rights.
My son is not the typical 12-year-old. And while some of that makes me very sad, I have to say that I am also very thankful. He’s a loyal friend. He’s a compassionate soul. He’s so smart and introspective and loving and wonderful. Who gives a shit if he can’t throw a football? I don’t want him to be painfully different from his peers, but the fact of the matter is that he is different. The average 12-year-old probably isn’t going to recognize how beautiful Ben is right now, but I’m guessing they might when they’re older.
I hope Ben can see through his being twelve and recognize how awesome he is. He is a hero to so many. I can’t imagine being twelve and dealing with what he’s dealing with, but he’s navigating it, which endears him to me all the more.
I’m proud of my Ben. And while I wish he could do all the things that his peers can do just so he could feel more comfortable with himself, I recognize that it doesn’t really matter in the whole scheme of things.
He’ll get through this. Just like he gets through everything else.
And football is dumb, anyway. 🙂