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Welcome to the Tweens

Luke and friends

Photo credit: My iPhone

So, my son just started middle school.

Let me rephrase: DEAR LORD, MY SON JUST STARTED MIDDLE SCHOOL.

And, just like that, everything changed.

Of course, Luke* didn’t “suddenly” grow up. The transformation from little boy to pre-man has been happening as naturally and inevitably as any other stage. What was sudden: my realization that his childhood is ending.

I have welcomed each of my kids’ steps toward independence. Each passing year brings more depth and complexity to our family, and it feels right. I always knew I’d be happier as the mother of older kids.

But I didn’t anticipate how bittersweet this particular step would feel.

Unlike Luke’s “terrible twos,” which hit us like a left hook at 14 months, his tweenhood is starting gently. He is as connected to us as ever, while taking bold steps into the world on his own. He’s curious about and, to some extent, attracted to the trappings of teen and adult life, but takes comfort in the routines and objects of a boy. He’s taller than me (and pats me on top of the head as a reminder) but still calls me “Mommy.”

“Tween” is more than a clever cultural sound bite. I’m aware we’re in a golden moment. But, as with anything beautiful and fleeting, the urge is to grasp onto it a little too hard. I need to do the opposite: I need to begin letting go.

Luke decided to return to school for 6th grade. He wants to be part of the neighborhood pack again; to find a group of friends he can see without asking Mom for a ride. From the sounds of things, he’s on his way. “The kids are warming to me,” he told me the other day.

We’ve gotten Luke a cell phone now that he’s getting himself to and from school. “For safety,” we told him, but it was more than that. It’s a tangible signal that we respect and encourage his growing independence. And texting is how the pack communicates.

These are just two of the small steps he’s taking away from us, steps he’s been taking since he started to walk. We stand on the front doorstep, cheering him on (silently, as not to embarrass him), marveling at this golden boy, missing him a little already.

* “Luke” and “Mimi” are my kids’ Internet names. I keep their actual names out of my writing mainly to hold their search engine spots open. When future employers and love interests Google their names, I want the results to be stuff they’ve created, not me.

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