Dear Sam,

Suddenly, you're a teenager. I feel like a captain navigating a whole new ocean. I'm simultaneously terrified at the prospect of everything new that’s headed our way and excited at the opportunity to help shape your adulthood.

You're in 7th grade this year, and middle school has had its challenges, but remains so much better for you than elementary school ever was. Your grades have improved and you get excited about learning because you get to do things that are more interesting to you. This year your very favorite classes are art (of course) and STEM. We pulled you out of PE this year because it just wasn't a good fit for you - too many people, too loud, too much physical work.  Instead, you take private swimming lessons with your brother ever weekend, and we try to encourage you to walk - Pokemon Go has been a good motivator for that.

I think a lot about how my experience of teen-hood will color my parenting and how I relate to you as your hormones change, and you become a young adult. I would not say I enjoyed my teen years. When I got a little older and began attending Running Start, things definitely improved. But 7th grade through 9th grade were probably my most challenging years as a school-aged kid. That is definitely not the case for you.

I look at you and I see someone who cares a lot less about what people think of him than I did at your age. You know what you're interested in, and though you still struggles with writing assignments, in other areas you seems to have a confidence in your ability to do your work.

You go to bed yourself every night now, you watch Pokemon and lately you've been asking if you can stay up for 10 or 15 minutes extra to read. I always say yes, because I love that you love books and it seems like a good way to wind down for bed. Then you come give me a hug. I don't usually see you before work anymore, and you sleep in until 9 or later on the weekends sometimes. 

One of my favorite changes that's happened this year is that you will talk to me about school. If I ask you what you did at school today, instead of "nothing" or "I don't remember," you will literally give me a rundown of what you worked on in each class period. I love it. I like knowing what you're working on and the parts you're enjoying and the parts you don't enjoy.

Grandma Edie has started picking you up from the bus on Wednesdays so you don't have to go to Danny's piano lesson, and she likes to ask you if "Did anyone act like a fool at school today?"  We love hearing your stories.

My parenting style is equal parts empowerment and disregard for even trying to be tactful. Occasionally as we sit around in the evening before bedtime, I’ll blurt out “do you have hair in your armpits yet?” It makes you laugh, and catches you off guard, but that also means we have an authentic interaction with a positive spin.

I’ve been known to ask my kids out of the blue if you and your brother know what masturbation is or whether you remember what consent means. I want you to be comfortable coming to me about anything, whether it’s “embarrassing” or “silly” or something other people don’t want to talk about. I try at every turn to give you the tools to know that you can count on your family to be there for you no matter what.

In some ways, parenting a teenager is turning out quite differently than I expected. You and your brother haven't been very interested in play-dates in recent years, you play together a lot since we implemented screen time limits two years ago, or seek attention from one of us. You love to read, and the way you devour book after book reminds me so much of what I was like at your age.  That’s what you usually do on weekend mornings. When I was 13, my life was already centered around when I could be with my best friend, writing in my diary about boys, sleepovers, and trips to the mall.

As a parent, you hear all the time about how difficult it is to parent a teenager, but part of me wonders how it could be so much more difficult than all of the other stages I’ve already experienced. I think maybe it’s possible that it’s just difficult in different ways. Instead of worrying about meltdowns and tantrums, I worry that if things get tough, you won’t tell me about it. You've had a little bit of trouble with bullying in the past, and your attitude about children bothering you has largely been that if you talk about it, it will just drag on for longer. Frustration at outbursts and too-strong reactions morphs into fear that I will somehow miss something, that I won’t know when I need to dig deeper. The idea of you ever feeling alone or hopeless breaks my heart.

You seem to be changing all the time, yet still staying the same Sam I know. I don’t feel ready for your voice to change, and I don’t want you to lose the childlike part of yourself that keeps self-consciousness at bay.

You didn't want a birthday party with friends this year, but you knew exactly what you wanted on your birthday. We picked up a cookie-dough froyo cake from Menchies, then went to Round Table pizza.  Everyone was there - Grandma Edie & Grandpa Paul, me and Scott and Danny, Megan & Emily, and Grandpa Bill who happened to be in town. You got a ton of books and Pokemon toys, and ate pizza and ice cream to your heart's content.

I almost never feel like I “know what I’m doing” as a parent. Despite all of the unsure feelings and not knowing yet what I don’t know, I think I feel okay about heading into 13. If there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that you are a good kid. I cannot imagine you ever being cruel, and when you gets in trouble at school or at home, it’s for very minor things that I’ve felt were easily teachable and reconcilable.

I think I'm probably going to screw up some in the next few years.  I am sure there will be times I'll do things then wish I'd done them differently. But I hope that I will be able to navigate these waters, if not with grace, at least with love and togetherness.



Favorite Book: You're really into dystopian YA right now. You read The Hunger Games and loved it, and got Delirium in your Easter Basket. You got a couple more box sets for your birthday and I'm sure you'll be through them in no time.
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Song: Bad Blood by Taylor Swift
Favorite Board Game:  Fluxx, Unstable Unicorns
Favorite Video Game:  Pokemon DS Games, Let's Go Eevee, Pokemon Go, Trials
Favorite TV Show:  Fresh Off the Boat, Pokemon
Favorite YouTubers: Failboat
Favorite Food:  Pizza, mac & cheese, beans & rice, hummus
Favorite Dessert: Cake
Favorite Thing to Do Outside the House:  Pokemon Go, Coding Club
Favorite Subject at School: Art
Best Friend: Andrew & Addison

Birth Story