On that warm summer night, as I caught a glimpse of my son, I knew.
He was standing across the yard, holding a plastic plate filled with summer party food and holding a red plastic cup. The sun hit his twelve year old hair in just a way that I could see the blonde highlights from a summer spent frolicking in the pool. His gangly Tween legs seemed to lack direction and his arms made his plate seem small. He stood alone and was wearing a look I’d never before seen on his face but I recognized the expression immediately.
I watched as he scanned the party, forlornly standing in the grass and looking around at the guests, trying to look purposeful. His awkward stance, the position of his shoulders, the look on his face. Other kids ran by him, a group of Tweens was gathered in a corner across the yard, and families laughed and joked. The summer sun cast a warm glow on that hot summer evening and, as his eyes met mine across the yard, I knew what had happened, what he was feeling.
As I walked over to him, I gently ruffled his hair and whispered, “Are you okay?” His hazel eyes looked at me with pain and confusion.
“They don’t want me to hang out with them, Mom,” he said. “They ignored me. I tried to talk to them several times but they just kind of looked at me and walked away.”
And my heart broke in two, right there, as the insects whizzed by my head and the humidity soaked my skin.
I looked across the yard to the kids in question, the kids who had deemed my precious, beautiful, gangly son not good enough for them. The ones who callously shunned him with no regard to his feelings. I saw gangly legs, awkward stances, and acned faces all grouped together, a small little gang. But, when I looked more closely, I saw the children who used to willingly play with my son in grade school, who barged into my home as children to build Legos and drink juice boxes and have snacks in my kitchen. Children who’d played with him at recess, children who’d sat next to him in class and who he considered friends.
Children who now turned their backs on him just because he wasn’t cool enough.
And my heart broke again.
As I stood there, my first instinct was to go in to Mama Bear mode. I would fix things. I would march over to the group of kids, remind them to play nicely. I’d bring my son over with me and encourage conversation, point out a toy or game they could all try together. Then, I’d walk over to their mothers and laugh about how kids can be so silly sometimes. And their mothers would call over to them to “Play nice!” and “Don’t forget to share!” and we’d all toast each other with our cocktails.
But then I remembered: he’s not a toddler anymore. Mommy can’t fix things. Mommy shouldn’t fix things.
And my heart ached.
I put my arm around him and said, “Come on. You can hang out with your father and me.” He looked at me in anguish. “Mom, seriously?”
In the thick summer air, I struggled to figure out the best course of action. Should I take him home? Should I make him face the music and suck it up because this is what Tweens do? Do I make him suffer the embarrassment of hanging out with his less than cool parents? In this moment, this space in time I’d been warned was coming, I had a choice to make.
I scanned the party for my husband and walked over to where he was making small talk. Discretely, I whispered what had happened. In hushed, quiet tones, I described my dilemma. We both looked at each other, both new to the Tween parenting game, and knew we had to do what was best for him in that moment.
We feigned excuses, gathered our things and took our sweet, gangly boy home.
When we got home, we declared an immediate Family Movie Night. I dug out one of my favorite '80s teen angst movies, Some Kind Of Wonderful, to show the kids for the first time. In the movie, the social misfit boy from the wrong side of town winds up getting the girl of his dreams, only not the one he sets out to woo. With the help of John Hughes’ storytelling magic, he gets the girl, a new social status and he becomes comfortable in his own skin all in 120 minutes.
As the movie credits rolled, I looked over at son and he gave me a lopsided grin. “I know why you showed this movie to me, Mom. Thanks.”
He stood up and, as his lanky frame gave me a hug, he whispered, “I’m going to be okay. You are taking this harder than I am, I think.” He squeezed me once more and he walked up to bed, shoulders a little higher, stance a little less awkward.
And my heart smiled.