This is the question foremost on my mind because overnight, my children have crossed the threshold from well, children to full-fledged tweens. I wrote about this in a prior post, "Fragments of A Life." But here I am writing about the same subject because it's almost as if last week's words spawned amorphous little people whose behaviors are strikingly unfamiliar.
"Who are you, exactly?" I asked my 11-year-old son Casey the other day. We were exploring a cycling camp at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins. Casey's a biker and wanted badly to attend this weekend camp. "Have you signed me up yet, Mom?" he'd ask again and again. I played it cool until the day before registration ended because I've been in this position before -- the one where tough talk ends in tears (not to mention deposits being lost). Up until now, Casey resisted sleep away camp of any sort. It was only yesterday, it seemed, he looped two skinny arms around my neck and said, "I'll never leave you." But now all he wants to do is leave. Rush off on his bike. Visit friends. Get lost in the hyper-stimulating world of cyber-land. And to think, he doesn't even own a cell phone yet.
Let me be clear: this surge of freedom is a good thing, a sign of real maturity, of normal pre-adolescent independence. It's just that such nonchalance on his part is new for me.
"Who are you, exactly?"
Casey made it to bike camp after all. He was assigned a roommate, and while Steve and I left before meeting the roommate, we made sure to help our son unpack his duffel bag, sort his clothes, hang his bath towel and make his bed. We also made certain he memorized his dorm room number and promised to keep his key around his neck so he wouldn't lose it (he's a little absent-minded -- even he would agree).
The check-in process at CSU was chaotic, but I felt slightly better that a responsible teenager from Casey's bike team also happened to be at the camp and agreed to wake Casey at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast and the day's ride. "See Joey if you need anything," I said, attempting to hug Casey goodbye for the weekend. "I'M FINE MOM. AND DO NOT HUG ME IN PUBLIC. GOSH."
My sweet boy does a Houdini trick and is gone from my arms before I can stop him.
Joey texts me later to say that all's well. And he texts the next morning to confirm that Casey's up and ready for the ride. But then I don't hear from him.
So I have to trust that Casey has not been run over somewhere in Fort Collins, that his bike hasn't been stolen and that he is having fun. Just like he's supposed to be doing.
His twin sister, Rebecca, has meanwhile decided that she'd like to be an only child. She basks in the attention from Mom and Dad, even though she secretly misses squabbling with her brother. This is obvious when it's time to pick Casey up and she practically flies out of the car to get him. I run after her and wince at the way my son has "manned up." He doesn't embrace her in a silly hug like usual. He pats her protectively on the shoulder. I barely get a hello.
"Hi honey, how was it?" I say, relieved to see him looking so well.
"Good, it was fine."
And that's it. Silence.
"Well what else can you tell me?"
"I ate three desserts last night. Don't let me have any sweets today, okay?"
I'm shocked and pleased by his honesty.
"So you had a great time?" I ask, trying to elicit more details, any details.
No sooner do the three of us settle in our car than I tell Casey I'm proud of him. "Really, Case-man, good for you."
"Mom, stop making such a big deal. Next thing I know you're going to have a party for me or something." The thought crosses my mind. Who are you, exactly?
With all these sudden changes into adolescence, it's a question I need to ask myself as well.