My son started junior high today. Yes, junior high, the place where incoming 7th graders begin breaking free from the shackles of childhood to begin the arduous journey of self-discovery. As my boy walked the long walk from the car to the campus, I stopped to consider the many emotions he might experience on his first day: Would he get frustrated at his locker? Would he panic trying to make it to each class on time? Would his heart awaken at the sight of a pretty new girl who has hair that smells of coconuts? Would he even tell me if it did?
Sure, it's been 25+ years since I braved the hallways of my junior high in acid-washed Guess jeans, but I remember it well. I remember how within a few short weeks, boys and girls coupled up. I remember slow dancing to Boys II Men and hand-holding on the roller skating rink. I remember boys who would kiss and tell and the girls who did all the kissing. But what I remember most of all was not feeling ready for any of it.
And that’s where my son is right now – not ready. He’s still a kid who watches SpongeBob and plays Connect Four with his little brother. He rides bikes, builds Legos and turns every possible shade of crimson when lovers kiss during movies. He's young and naïve and while I expect that girls are on his radar, he's wildly shy when it comes to matters of the heart. And why shouldn’t he be? He’s 11. So why do strangers insist on asking him if he has a girlfriend?
Sure, he’s a cutie with a great personality and a gorgeous head of swoon-worthy hair. Hell, he’s even finished with braces (million-dollar smile!) and his mama dresses him well, but so what? Like so many incoming 7th grade boys, he has yet to take inventory of his lady charms (I hope) or work them to his advantage, and I wish folks would ease up on the sexualization of my kid – or any kid for that matter.
"How do you not have a girlfriend?! I know a young lady down the street who you would love!" well-meaning neighbors say with a nudge, nudge and a wink. "Watch out, Mom!" they tell me with a smirk, "You're going to have to beat the girls off with a stick!"
You know what? I will watch out. I’ll watch out for folks interrogating my kid on his imaginary love life. I'll watch out for sexual messaging brought into my home and I’ll continue being the protector of my son's innocence for as long as I am able. My kid isn’t 11 going on 20; he’s 11 going on 12.
"Mom, why do people always say stuff like that to me?" my son asks, "It's so embarrassing!" It is embarrassing, and frankly, misguided. Why aren't people asking him about his interests or personal passions? Why aren't they inquiring about school or friends or even musical preferences? Our kids are so much more than the sum of their multiplying hormones. They're young people developing under a microscope, fielding heckles and jabs from adults who should know better hell bent on embarrassing them. There must be a better use of our collective energies.
Now listen, I’ve long assumed comments like, "If I was your age, I would have had a huge crush on you in school!" and "Aren’t you a hearbreaker?" were intended as compliments, but shouldn't we spare the tender young hearts the anguish of it all? Shouldn't we let them be kids?
World, time is on my son’s side. He’s got his whole life to fall in love, play the fool, kiss til he’s dizzy, break up, make up, and become a young man with genuine love to give. He doesn't need a girlfriend today and he doesn't need one tomorrow. Puppy love will find him when he's ready, so please, for the love of God, STOP. ASKING.
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Photo: Lori Garcia