It’s been, what? Six weeks since Matt started middle school? But Matt, being Matt, has thrown himself into this new stage of his life: he is middle school and middle school is he.
Now he is very grown up, whereas before he was not. The delineation between now and before is quite clear.
The night before the start of sixth grade, Matt was annoyed with Riley about how long Ri had been sitting next to me; it was his turn to smoosh up against me on the couch, and only fair and right that Ri shove off. Only twenty hours later, Matt walked in the door from his first day of middle school and was disgusted and confused by my kiss on his head. Why would I DO that? He made clear to me that there will no longer be any tolerance of maternal affection, because it is gross and a violation of his manly boundaries.
Middle school Matt has been curious to watch.
As he sits at the kitchen table after school, he chatters on about his day.
“And Andre called Bethany a ‘B’ !”
A “B,” blogosphere! He called her a ‘B!”
“Oh no!” I say, “Was she upset?”
“No. Bethany says Andre in an ‘A.’ She just ignores him.”
There is something endearing about him swinging his legs and eating cookies while telling me, matter-of-factly and yet in code, about the use of profanity on the bus. Something very young, and yet trying to be big; a poignant straddling of what came before and what comes next.
He wonders if he should start shaving, and tells me knock-knock jokes. When I order pizza, he offers to pay for it. He’s frustrated and angry to realize he needs help with his math homework, and then practices burping the sentence, “I just farted.” My cuddliest child no longer allows affection, but the ban on affection clearly corresponds with him becoming grumpier and grumpier. Grumpier with me, grumpier with his brother, grumpier with the cat and the dog. Everything is an insult to him, everything is frustrating.
I desperately want to gather him in my arms and gentle his spirit, and yet to attempt to do so would be disrespectful.
In the mornings I’ve always woken Riley, first. I rub Ri’s back until he wakes, and then head in to do the same for Matt. Since school started and affection is no longer allowed, Matt has been awake enough when I come to him to assure me he needs no waking.
The past two weeks I’ve switched it up. I’ve set my alarm a bit earlier, and quietly gone in to Matt, first. As the mattress sinks under my weight, he instinctively turns to cuddle up to me, just as he always has. I kiss his head and rub his freckled cheeks until he wakes. Having momentarily forgotten that warmth is verboten, he wakes as the sweet Matt he’s always been, spouting questions as he’s always done.
“Hey Mom? Do you think I’ll get into the Ping-Pong Club? Did you sign my reading log? So, can I stay after school for the football game on Thursday?” Silence, and then, “Ha! I just farted on you!”
With one last kiss on his head, I disentangle myself and move away before he realizes I’ve committed the felony of affection.