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I started warning you about middle school a long time ago. Heights are awkward, bodies are changing, skin is uncooperative, voices are unpredictable, and fashion . . . well, fashion is pretty much nonexistent. I showed you pictures of my own middle school years, and oh, the laughs we shared. We laughed as I tried to prepare you for flirting, gossip, deodorant, and body hair. The time when you’d finally get to join band or athletics, switch classes, maybe even get a cell phone. We talked about the temptations, the changes, the dynamics.

We talked a lot about what awaited you from the outside, we talked a lot about the changes you’d experience on the outside, but I didn’t prepare you for what would happen on the inside.

I wasn’t prepared for what happens on the inside.

Middle school is the time when childhood bleeds into manhood, when you’re just enough and not enough of both to know just where you stand.

I’ve watched you grow taller, marveling and bragging at how big and handsome you are, yet I’m at a loss as to how to help you pilot this new body, how to make sense of the man inside you trying to push through the boy who remains.

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I’ve rolled my eyes and raised my voice. I’ve punished and debated. We’ve snuggled and we’ve argued. I’ve pushed and I’ve stood back. I’ve allowed myself to take this storm of hormones personally, viewed this journey you’re on as a deliberate one.

I’ve been so lost in this sea of changing tides and moods I’ve forgotten you’re in it with me, that you’re in as much control of it as I am.

I’ve sat dumbfounded, offended, hurt, angry. I’ve sat proud, tired, accomplished, content. In it all, no matter which mood your body has decided to put you in, whether I was angered by your attitude or astonished at your absurdity, the one consistent thing I have felt has been that of helplessness.

I don’t know how to help you curb these hormones.

I don’t know how to make your changing body cooperate.

I don’t know why what worked yesterday won’t work today.

I have prepared you with the science of what is happening, can explain what is going on. We share the common understanding of what is changing, but between us also lies the hurt and confusion of two people who are fighting with futility to stay the same.

I’m not ready for you to be a man.

You’re not ready for you to be a man.

Your body whispers that you are a man, but your heart cries out that you’re still a boy.

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The deodorant on the counter is for a man, but the toys on the table are for a boy.

The independence that bubbles up inside of you is that of a man, but the way you rest your head on my shoulder is with the innocence of a boy.

You’re a sapling, growing, hinting at what you will be, but not quite steady enough to cast a shade.

I don’t always know when to hold on and when to hold back. You don’t always know when to speak up and when to quiet down.

We’re both in new roles, you and I, neither of us always certain of what those roles are.

It’s tough. I feel as though I’m being replaced, resented. You feel as though you’re being stifled, stunted. Together we both want what’s best for you, both know you’ll reach that point someday. It’s your job to get there, and part of mine is repeatedly telling you “not yet!”. We have battling roles with a common outcometo see you reach manhood. They are seemingly incompatible yet also highly dependent upon one another.

So in this time of tumult, during this disorienting dance between man and boy, when I don’t know what to expect or how to always handle it all, I can only make you this promise:

I will still love you on the other side.

I love you now, in the middle, don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved you through cries and colic, through potty training and Minecraft obsessions. I loved you when your little feet were still chubby on top and I’ll love you when your little mouth gets fuzzy on top.

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I’ve loved you through every time you took your diaper off during a nap, and I’ll love you through every time your mouth shoots off during an argument.

I’ll love you through this change, this time, this journey, this discovery. I’ll love you through the mood swings and the voice cracks, the wrestling for independence and the very real need for support. I’ll love you through this hard time, this weird time, this getting-to-know-you-again time, and I will love you on the other side.

I’ll love you through your embarrassment of me, your ridicule of me, your annoyance at me, and the inevitable running back to me. I’ll love you through your wee voice, your changing voice, and someday soon, your deep voice. I’ll say goodbye to the voice that called me “mama” and get to know the one that will call me “mom.” I’ll someday put my head on your chest when we hug and smell your cologne, not your shampoo.

I’ll mourn the future as though it changes our past, then I’ll remember our past and look forward to your future.

I’ve seen glimpses of who you’ll be, of the man peeking out. I’m getting to know his humor, his passions, his compass. He’s not quite steady, but he doesn’t have to be. Not yet. He’ll make it out, eventually, and I already know I’ll love him. Because he’s you, you’re him, and I know I’ll love you on the other side.

Previously published on the author’s blog

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Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.

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