The day dawned cool, foggy then warmed up clear, blue sky, puffy white clouds in classic September-in-New-England fashion. There are things you know about certain days, like these warm September sunny skies cool off quicker than you expect. There are other things you know, like a tired child will fall apart. You may wish for a little more warmth from the sun or sunshine from the child, but not every wish comes true, don’t you know.
Take Saturday, which was Ezekiel’s fourteenth birthday. At 9:36 in the morning—the time of his birth—he was a pretty sunny guy, his birthday day dawning, he and his mama off to the farmer’s market and Studio Helix to do some Gyrotonic and Pilates together, dim sum after that, a birthday dinner at home with family friends later on.
Every parent is entitled to consider this cliché on their child’s birthday: how tiny their child was and how big their child is now; they get to wonder kind of dumbly where the time went… I definitely did that for a moment in the morning, and people did it with me all day long. Of course, within a couple of weeks after giving birth, if that, it becomes unfathomable that the growing, stretching, wriggling body could have ever fit inside one’s womb. As the days ebb to months and to years, the tininess of that baby and the giant in front of you—walking, talking, talking back—confounds, and yet is the person you live with and really doesn’t surprise you one bit—unless you stop to think about it. One of those other old saws proves true: you grow as your baby grows.
Ezekiel at fourteen has inched above me just enough to be undeniably taller than his mama, although he does not yet “tower,” is not yet “head and shoulders” above me. His dark hair is long and a little stringy on the ends (he avoids its being trimmed). His lip has a hairy shadow. His voice seems to have dropped more just this past week. His green eyes actually shine with delight (and sometimes flash with anger). Mimicking a roller coaster’s roil, he’s puberty in action. He’s Chinese and geometry, Discworld, Joni Mitchell, ballet and modern, cook-in-training. He’s about long conversations on the phone and games parties and D&D. He arrived at fourteen just in time, because he’s so, well, completely fourteen.
The day, his birthday, was going swimmingly. Friendly farmer’s market, crisp morning, Honeycrisp apples, and a hot pepper plant for Ezekiel followed by his finding three books for five bucks at the First Churches’ book sale and a quick visit to my friend Kate at her store, impish, before heading up to the studio, where we moved and received still more happy birthday wishes. Then, dim sum as requested at the Great Wall restaurant, pronounced by Ezekiel, “very tasty.” Lunch conversation between the brothers centered mostly upon the dishes.
Important information alert: on the middle school overnight trip to Camp Becket, Ezekiel slept “not at all.” During the Thursday overnight, he read and meditated and talked to friends and thought a bunch. He did not, according to his self-reporting, sleep. Friday night, he and Lucien were still chatting in Lucien and Remy’s bed at midnight (subsequently waking Remy).
You kind of know how this part of the story goes, right? Toddlers (remember, we live with one of those, too) got nothing on teenagers’ tantrums, which are loud, melodramatic, and kind of epic—and unfortunately, often mean (most often that meanness seems to be directed at the next youngest brother, whose feelings tend to get completely hurt, unfortunately). And while we knew the ingredients were there—excitement plus lack of sleep equals inevitable meltdown—I truly cannot tell you how we ended up with three kids in our bedroom on a gorgeous, bright afternoon (while the baby slept) with the oldest one screaming at us all, the middle one sobbing and the youngest of the trio trying to make everyone laugh to distract from the misery, not exactly (it just happened? The dog we don’t have ate the homework?).
Ostensibly, as I understood it, Lucien and Ezekiel had decided to make a “potato meal” for the birthday evening together. Potatoes in the risotto, and garlic-peach-ginger mashed potatoes were on the proposed menu (along with a potato-less salad). Somehow, Ezekiel changed the plan (as far as I can tell): now, he wanted to cook the meal on his own, without his brother’s assistance. Eleven year-old Lucien felt totally rejected (oh, because he was being, yup, totally rejected). The highlight? Definitely, I’d have to say it was Ezekiel’s gravelly, loud yelling, “I will never eat anything he makes!” And even though Remy, age six, could see this was quite simply a tantrum of the teenage variety, and tried to make it amusing, Lucien, age eleven and the target of Ezekiel’s irrational ire, could not.
At one point during the elongated, miserable tantrum period, dear husband and I locked eyes—and our eyes were laughing, not so much because Ezekiel was all that amusing (safe to say, he was not at all amusing)—we were sharing one of those how-did-I-get-here moments (cue, Talking Heads).
With our eyes still fixed upon one another, I said, “Fourteen.”
And there you are, rule number something of parenting a teenager: keep your sense of humor (you’ll need it).
It took some effort to drag Ezekiel away from the house with me, but I managed to get him walking toward town, where his birthday gifts awaited him. “I don’t want any presents!” he implored. We kept walking. Eventually, we were standing on the sidewalk—being seen by people we knew (“I don’t want to see anyone!” screamed Ezekiel)—and he started to kind-of-sort-of calm down. I told him that I’d partially executed my birthday plan (but not nearly completely), which was a little in-town scavenger hunt for his gifts. At which point he exclaimed, “Now, I’m guilty! I ruined that surprise and that’s a really good surprise and you’re nice and I messed it up!”
Ezekiel, that’s why there’s Plan B, I said. “I don’t want Plan B!” he screeched. Ah, sometimes, that’s what there is (the mama said to her baby and to herself). He continued screeching: “You can’t write about this!” Having offered a little parental wisdom, here’s a bit more: good parenting has pretty much everything to do with a willingness to throw out the plans and make new ones, as necessary—or, put another way, embrace Plan B.
Embrace Plan B we did. At Herrell’s, he enjoyed a peppermint ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles while I read him all my dorky clues (sample: After a chocolate, your mind wanders to your favorite activity, as natural as breathing. He knew, of course, that would lead him to the Broadside bookshop). “I like your clues,” he offered. I am so going to write about this, I told him. “You can write about this,” he replied. “I want you to.” Retrieving his gifts, I loved that when he examined his least favorite gift, the necessary-to-possibly-salvage-mother’s-morning-sanity alarm clock, he said, “It glows in the dark, cool.” I had almost gotten another alarm clock without that feature, but thought to myself that the glow in the dark model stood a slightly better chance at being tolerated. On the way home, we called far-off grandparents wanting to wish him a happy day, and we arrived as the table was being set for supper with friends, brothers, sister, papa and grandma. He praised Lucien’s risotto, made with summer squash from the morning farmer’s market trip and without potatoes (the potato meal would have to wait).
Given how late it had gotten, the apples and honey New Year’s ritual was postponed, after Arella, age two, fell apart before supper was over (it was after eight by then) and Remy fell asleep on my lap in the comfy chair a few minutes after that. By then, we were all about Plan B (Arella’s mom, Jennifer offered, “We have eight nights, till Yom Kippur, to celebrate.”) There were apples and honey in the peach-apple cobbler Jennifer made and most importantly, Ezekiel loved his party. Thus, fourteen began.
(And on Monday morning, the next round of fourteen ensued, but that’s another story…).