For years, my life was awash with girls. We worked with a thousand dance students each season, less than a handful of boys in the mix. Since my own children spent so much time at the studio, their lives entwined with dance, this skewed population was somewhat disconcerting. It made for an unbalanced life for my son and I worried that he was missing out on the typical male bonding and camaraderie men experience while growing up with peers. Most of his friends were girls and he was constantly involved in activities that are considered feminine by nature, dance competitions and performances rather than sports or camping or whatnot. His was a world of sequins rather than grit with the wrong kind of hormones raging all around him. It wasn’t a choice; it was just a result of the limitations of our lifestyle.
Now, it seems my son is hell-bent to rectify that former imbalance. He is filling his world (and mine) with males. And dirt. And noise. And a different kind of raging hormone altogether. I’ve been around kids all my life, but this is a novel experience for me, let me tell you.
Kent has dozen of friends in Georgia, good, down to earth, earnest kids who like him for who he is. He and his friends go swimming in the lake. They come home bruised and sore and laughing about foolish escapades. They go camping, tubing, play soccer, fish, argue and wrestle, make a racket playing loud, violent video games. He’s never been more at ease or happier just being a normal guy. No one here knows Kent once danced. I’m forbidden to mention it. I think that’s silly, but I respect his wishes knowing someday, with maturity, his negative connotations to dance will subside and he will understand that it’s a part of him, like all our life experiences.
The nicest thing about seeing Kent with his new friends is knowing that the speculation that once hovered over his friendships no longer exists. In the past his friendships were always questionable – he couldn’t help but wonder: “Do my friends really like me, or (because they are all dancers) are they sticking around because my parents run the school, and they think being nice to me might influence just what kind of dance experience they’ll have?”
Not that Kent’s friends in Sarasota weren’t adorable kids – only that peculiar things occurred. For example, they would all take up a collection and present him with a $200 electronic device as a birthday present (even when we didn’t throw a party to establish a reason to give a gift) but we were never asked to pitch in for a collection for one of the other kids – they were not all honored with expensive toys on their birthdays. Don’t get me wrong, the gift was generous and thoughtful – but we worried about the message that went along with it. Our kids were not celebrities or born into privilege but their lives were slightly out of balance as if they were. It is hard to raise children to have wholesome values, a normal perception of what life is all about, and humility when people are so quick to offer you special treatment.
Perhaps it was payback for how often they were ignored due to the pressing nature of our work. Perhaps people felt sorry for a boy stuck in a girl’s world and they wanted to be extra nice to compensate. There is only so much inclusion for a boy who is a constant member of a girl’s dance click, and you can’t blame the girls for trying to keep him involved. Anyway, I longed for a simple life where my kids learned true life lessons in a natural manner. I wanted them to have easygoing friendships based on mutual interests and because the kid’s personality’s click. And I wanted my son to grow up to be comfortable in his own male skin. This was obviously going to be a challenge while Kent’s entire social world was wrapped up in FLEX.
Now, Kent has this large, eclectic group of friends, and none of them are a result of his involvement in dance. He hangs out with boys primarily, but girls are always calling too. He acts annoyed that so many females like him but I think he’s delighted. For the record, he isn’t interested in any of them because he says none of the girls in Georgia can hold a candle to his former FLEX flames. Perhaps we got out just in time for other reasons – I’d hate to imagine my teen son running amuck with the hearts of our dear dancers. Talk about a sticky wicket.
Anyway, now Kent is the sort of fellow that doesn’t fit into one specific click, so he dwells on the fringe of many- a friend to all. He is very popular – I believe it is because he is so decent and laid back and truly non-judgmental of others. It doesn’t hurt that he is a straight a student, has a nice car (which he upkeeps himself with a steady job), is suddenly tall and lanky and getting muscular with adorable dimples and he’s become a talented drummer with his own rock band. Above all else, his friends love him because he’s funny. He has a bizarre sense of humor and it’s getting more defined each year. He is quick to see the humor in a situation, make light of things that might set another person off, and is a constant source of entertainment with physical humor. When he was younger – I thought he acted weird to get attention – and perhaps he did. Now, he is very much his own man and I must admit, he has a powerful wit, a quirky side and I enjoy his company more than I can describe. He is simply a “feel good’ sort of person to be around. He makes me laugh.
I now have a collection of teenage boys hanging around – boys from Kent’s school band, boys from Kent’s rock band, boys from Kent’s job, and boys who don’t fit into any category other than the fact that Kent met them at school and they’ve become fast friends.
The other day, I had six strapping male teenagers sleeping downstairs. I crept down in the morning to wake Neva and they were sprawled out on the couches, beds, and floor. Males certainly take up more space than females and they are far less fussy. They sleep where they land, chests exposed while wearing day old jeans.
They left the next day for various responsibilities– some went to work – others went to see the high school graduation. Band members had to play at the ceremony. At dusk, they convened again. Apparently, they had not finished their web game or finished talking about girls and cars and music and whatever. More food was needed – we were getting down to grilled cheese sandwiches now. As I explained to my son, I need more than a ten minute warning if he wants me to entertain his friends in the banquet style to which my family is accustomed.
“We are fine,” Kent insisted, reaching for the last box of hot pockets from the freezer. “You don’t need to take care of us.” He says this with a smile, of course, because he knows it’s impossible for his mother to resist any opportunity to feed people.
Yesterday, the boys decided on a moments notice to go camping (outdoor recreation is a popular, common pastime here in the mountains.) I zipped together a cooler filled with drinks and candy and a bag of salty snacks – throwing in marshmallows of course, (I believe in being prepared for all eating emergencies and my pantry is kept like an independent grocery store – people kid me about it.) I received a big hug from Dylan. He said, “You’re like . . . perfect.”
Yes, these boys are easy to impress. They can be bought with marshmallows. Love that.
They happen to be useful too. I never cease to find a chore for them to do. This weekend they moved a huge tabletop from one room to another for me. Been wanting to get that heavy glass top moved for ages but Mark couldn’t do it alone. It took several muscled sets of hands – but no problem-o when Kent’s friends are around.
I am far more comfortable with my son under roof than off who-knows-where – and I like having the chance to really get to know the young people he’s spending time with. I adore boys – they are fun to watch, fun to listen to, and ultimately they can’t help but be flattering. I’m told I’m their favorite mom – I can “smoke Dylan’s mom in the kitchen” (This is apparently quite a feat because his mom does cook, meaning this is a compliment and not commentary on how well-done I make my hamburgers). I’m told I’m interesting, as moms go, not because I am intelligent or talented or have a colorful gamut of interests, mind you, but explicably because I make wine. That is a cool Mom hobby to a teenager from the Bible belt, ya know. One boy (I call him Muppet because he looks like one) is impressed because he never met anyone with a library in their house. He is referring to my office which is a far cry from a library, but does contain a few walls of books. Ha. No one will ever accuse these boys of being intellectual – at least not for a few years.
I worried that when we left FLEX I’d grow old quickly – like leaving a time capsule and having all that preserved time you held off by living in that controlled environment suddenly hitting you at once- aging you double time. Kids keep you young, and I couldn’t imagine my life without teenagers challenging me to keep up with what was “in” and “cool”. Not that I’m cool, ‘cause lord knows, I’m not. The kids at FLEX always had a heyday pointing out how clueless I was about what was “in”. I’m the last to recognize new music, understand high tech gadgets or to follow pop culture fads. But I was considered cool for my own unique reasons – primarily because I could move in a unique way. So, even if I’m not “cool” in a conventional pop culture way, I’m not boring either and I gel with young minds easily. I think it’s because I’ve retained that veracious lust for life that is common to the young- I’m still interested in adventures, so I’m not stodgy. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and it just feels that way. Does any stodgy person really see themselves as such? I’m probably a delusional, certifiable old fart.
Nevertheless, it’s nice to keep up my teen-relationship skills with my own kid’s friends. It’s a comfortable place for me to be, drowning in kids, answering questions, philosophizing, laughing with them. And it can be done without dance. Who knew?
Lucky me, I have another child coming up to the teen ranks soon, so my practice field won’t fade anytime soon. I’ll even get to circle back to the world of girls soon. Of course, these girls don’t dance and teen girls don’t eat so much, so I won’t have my current secret weapon to win their hearts.
But all girls love horses…. (Grin)
I’m in like Flynn.