Hello, little boy. Where did you go? (iStock)

I swore I’d never forget.

But I did.

I look at my son’s face now and see a teenager, one  who can be frustrating, amazing and strangely unknowable. He is a bit of mystery with his strong, broad body, beautiful maturing features and one word answers. I marvel how he doesn’t notice his hair standing up on end or the book he’s been searching for right in front of him.

Seeing him on the ball field making a great play or curled up in bed reading a good book fills me with pride. Yet even though he has grown in so many ways, amazingly he still can’t pick his clothes up from the floor or turn his attention from his screen when I’m speaking. At 13, he displays both amazingly responsibility and irresponsibility almost simultaneously.

Since he is my oldest I expect certain things from him, like not to tease his younger brothers (too much) or brag when he beats them, to eat chocolate without getting it all over his face and to not playfully throw his little cousins around like toys. I expect him to act appropriately, which really often means to stop acting like such a baby and just grow up.

In these moments, I have completely forgotten that he is the same child who used to mischievously crinkle up his nose every time I took a picture, who snuggled in bed with me at 7:00 every morning to watch Sesame Street, and most importantly, who cried almost every birthday since he was 4 because he didn’t want to grow up, somehow internally knowing that this precious time was fleeting and that he could only be a baby for so long.

With the crazy of life and schedules, bar mitzvahs and middle school, it’s easy to forget that baby is the same young man stretched out on the couch, the stink of his feet reaching me across the room. But when I look, it’s so obvious it’s heartbreaking. There you are, baby, toddler, little boy, young man, you’re all right in front of me, one in the same. What has happened over these years that I ever could forget that? Even for a moment.

At 13, the most confusing emotional and physical time in a person’s life where everything is changing, acting your age should mean doing the best you can;  which is why he deserves an apology from me for rolling my eyes a little bit the other night when he pulled out a discarded magic set that he got when he was 8 to proudly show me a trick he had just taught himself, or for getting frustrated when he once again decided to stay home and build forts with his little brothers instead of hanging out with his age-appropriate friends.

I have never been in a rush for him to grow up, ironically just the opposite. I’m thrilled that he is not interested in social media, snarky comebacks or girls. Yet still I find myself worried about him being socially left behind, that he doesn’t care enough about his appearance or connecting with his friends. But I realize that these are my insecurities, not his. My son is cool just being him – a smart, funny, athletic and sweet boy who in so many ways is still little but struggling so hard to be big.

The outside world can be a demanding, intolerant place and the scales in life are not equal – not developmentally, physically, academically or financially.

Everyone has their own unique skills and challenges and everyone grows at their own pace. There’s nothing wrong with clinging to the comforts of childhood and home, to a place he can be himself without feeling pressured or self-conscious. After all, he is still a child. So I need to remember every time I’m frustrated by his immaturity and ready to snap at him to just ‘grow up,’ that he is trying, and that he is.

Alisa Schindler is a freelance writer and SAHM of three boys. Between schlepping to the ball fields and burning cupcakes, she chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her blog Icescreammama.com.

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