Right now, my 14-year-old son’s room smells like a giant chicken nugget and I cannot find the source of the smell. At this point in motherhood, I’m just not going searching for it. That’s what air freshener is for.
When parenting teen boys, there comes a time in every mother’s life when you wonder whether they will ever care about their personal and environmental hygiene. Do they not mind sleeping on their old pizza boxes? Is smelling the shirt they find on the floor just a clever variation on doing laundry? What kind of man am I raising? Will I one day visit him and his family to find an entire bathroom filled with old toilet paper rolls because he is too lazy to change the roll?
At those moments, I take a breath. Because it is in those moments that I remember that I have to watch.
I watch for the moments when my heart swells, and I know okay, he won’t smell like chicken nuggets forever.
I watch for how he is around his little cousins or nieces or nephews—or a new baby. The gentle smile he gives, or the way he lets the younger kids chase him around. He is already showing what kind of dad he might be, not that I am in any sort of rush! But I see how he gets down on one knee so he is eye to eye with them. I see him play peek-a-boo, or how he carries them, a mixture of pride and love on his face.
I watch for the way he loves on the family dogs and cat. He gently pulls ticks from our thick-coated Aussie in spring and works on the “down” command with our rescue pit bull until she gets it, no matter how many times she tries to wriggle and jump up. Somehow, this kid who will wrestle with his best friends until they are quite literally crashing into the walls of my den, will be the gentlest giant with our pets.
Capable of being oh-so-careful with furry friends? Check. Not a total mutant.
I watch when I am very sick with the flu, how he comes in occasionally to check that I am still breathing. I know part of it is that he’s worried about who will feed him and do his laundry if I drop dead. Nonetheless, the fact that he came in twice during my last bout of flu and asked, “Should you go to the hospital?” shows me he does, actually, care if I survive.
I watch how he cooks his own ramen—or whatever meal he now knows how to make. I am confident that he can manage, should the need arise, to make himself some sort of sustenance. In fact, he is becoming handy enough with both tools and cooking that should the zombie apocalypse happen, I want him around.
I watch when he speaks to an elderly person with a polite, “Yes, ma’am” or “Yes, sir.” Manners! Something I have nagged him about has actually penetrated into his reptilian brain. He says please and thank you—unprompted—too!
It can seem, sometimes, like I am raising a Neanderthal. It’s enough to make a mama worry.
But then I watch. And I am certain he’s becoming a man I admire, one I’m almost ready to turn loose on the world—air freshener included.