In the past month I’ve had the honor and pleasure of having reconnected with three young men, who I’ve known since they were boys. All three are friends of my son Middle Man’s, and I got to catch up with each of them over a meal. Each occasion was uniquely special, but what struck me most was the transformation that has occurred in the three short years, since they each graduated from high school.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that all of them still seem like boys to me. Maybe it’s a reflection of my age; maybe it’s indicative of the now prevailing belief that the teens have extended into the twenties, developmentally; or maybe I’ll just always see them as boys— because I’ll always see them first, as youthful. The why doesn’t matter in the long run; while each of them has grown up so much, I still see the impish grins, the mischievous sparkle in their eyes, the boy that’s still in there.
To sit and have lunch or dinner with someone I’ve always known through my son, is an interesting transition. Without Middle Man there, we talk about different things. The mood was different, for me. The fact that we met, independently, and had a meal ahead of us, lead to an entirely different pacing and connection. The hectic comings and goings that are involved when Middle Man is home, and he and his friends are in then out then in again— always on their way to another party or outing, hasn’t allowed for a lot of in depth chatting. Having my son present, also limits what I feel I can comfortably say or ask. Our kids are our kids, first; we probably will always seem awkward and embarrassing to them. I can’t really ask what so and so really wants to do after school, when my boy is listening in and shooting me looks. “Mom, so and so doesn’t want to hang out and talk about the future with you…” I can hear my son now.
Interestingly, they do want to hang out with me and talk about the future. In two of the cases I met alone with two of these friends, and another brought is wonderful girlfriend. Sure, there was a brief moment of awkwardness with each of them. What do we talk about without your parents (one of the boys and his family are long time friends) or my son there? But at the core, there is my interest place: these guys have each been a significant part of my own son’s life. I have seen them, or known them, since they too were little. My love of Middle Man extends out to the people who are important to him, and I care about these three guys. I want to know that they are pursuing their passions, that they are happy. I enjoy hearing about what they are doing. I care.
With one of them, we joked about how I spent years making sure there were snacks that he liked in my house, knowing that he’d come breezing in and check the snack drawer (a magical thing in my kitchen, which every kid loves), and then say hi. We joked about the fact that I had his cell phone number on hand at all times, so I could track down my own kid—when he didn’t answer his own phone. We laughed about the escapades they got into and how his parents and we had to constantly be on our toes. “Remember when you dragged us down to apologize for making donuts on that lawn?” Uh, yeah. I remember. It seems a little more amusing now, than it did then. It was great to hear that he loves school now, loves where he’s living, and he’s excited about his future. We laughed a lot and we hugged goodbye.
With another, we talked about how close our families have been for nearly 25 years now. We are family to each other. I knew his parents before he or his sister were born; back when I babysat his older brother. His mother is one of my dearest friends. We laughed about trips we’ve taken together, where each of the kids has gone and how the parents (us) are aging. We talked about how much he’s enjoying college, and how excited he is about the graduate programs he’s already looking into. He was visiting Vancouver for spring break, and I drove up for lunch. I was impressed by the planning he and his friends had done to go see someplace new, and touched that those plans included seeing me. I was impressed by how solid he is, as a person, and how much I enjoyed talking to him. I was impressed by how easy and sweet it was to talk with him. Getting to know a boy I’ve always loved, on his terms. We laughed a lot, and we hugged goodbye.
With the final guy, we met for lunch with his girlfriend. I haven’t known him as long, because for a long time I didn’t really want my kid hanging out with him. I told him this, as we ate. I was clear about that: it wasn’t that I thought he would drag my good kid into trouble, it was that my kid was already in his own trouble at the time, and I wanted Middle Man to be with kids headed in the distinctly opposite direction. He nodded his head and smiled, with understanding. A lot’s changed since then. He took time off after high school; he traveled; he worked. Now, he’s off in the navy studying nuclear sub technology and I love this “kid.” He figured out his own path and he’s one of the nicest, most respectful, thoughtful and grounded people I know. He’s a gentleman, and treats his girlfriend in a way that you rarely see anymore in young men. I’m thrilled to see him at my house, when Middle Man is home, and I’m grateful they’re friends. We talked about all of that, as well as what he’s doing, how he and his girlfriend are navigating a long distance relationship, and his views on lots of interesting things. We laughed a lot, and we hugged goodbye.
All three of these meetings were really special. They all involved change: change in them and change in me, and consequently a new relationship that was not possible a few years ago. Each of them knows that I’m not getting together to snag my son in something. I’m not trying to catch anyone, and there’s nothing to hide anymore. They’re each 21 year old young men now. They are looking at the world from very different glasses, and so am I. There was an ease and delight in just chatting, that I think they felt just as much as I did. When we laughed we laughed at the same things, not different interpretations of things— with inside jokes, implied or hidden agendas… when they were younger, I was the “enemy.” A basically nice enemy, who never gave any of them much shit, but someone none the less who they had to work around. They knew I had my eye on them, that little would get by. We both know that some things did in fact slide by, but that’s how it’s meant to be. It doesn’t matter how cool you are, or how much your kids’ friends like you, for a few years, you are the enemy.
Now, the playing field is leveler. It’s not level, but getting closer. My interest in visiting with any one of them has everything to do with how they are doing, and what they are doing with their lives, and nothing to do with how that affects me or my kid. I don’t really care what they do at parties, or who they hang out with. I don’t care if they drink, or smoke. We share a history that is tied to my son, but we also have a history of our own now. They each know that I stood witness to their youths. I was a part of that, just as they were each a part of my life, when my boy was young. That’s a special thing in life. Each year, it becomes a little more special, as we all grow and change in our lives, and that allows me to have a lunch with each one of them and just enjoy the boys I care about. It allows me to laugh a little freer, to hug a lot more sincerely. Hell, when I was the enemy, a hug was not in the equation… But we’ve all grown, and the hugs and the laughs are all part of it now. It’s all good, though they’ll always be boys… to me.