01/10/2013 05:07 EST | Updated 03/12/2013 05:12 EDT

A Mother's Story: How to Love Your Angsty Pre-Teen

He sits beside me. Calm, quiet-like. In between me and his father. I have just nestled myself into a seat, in a row of black chairs connected by a small hinge along one side. We call them a pew. That's church speak. They're really just uncomfortable, black chairs with a slight cushion to ease the back on those days when time stands still.

Here we sit. The older ones remaining, as little ones have left for nursery, ready to take in the Sunday sermon. Me, a bustle of movement until this moment. And now that I've stopped, I collapse. My days and moments, leading up to this one, have in fact been peppered with much motion, activity and energy. Emotional energy, physical energy with all our familial comings and goings, events, visitations, preparations and the like. All that energy exerted. Wears me out. Add to all the business -- the stress of four kids, a messy house and a bunch of stray cats that sit meowing on my doorstep.

Hungry, as usual. Well, join the crowd.

It has been a wild few days of fear and anxiousness and uncertainty. And that's just speaking of the boy. He sits now, as still as a statue. And I feel him lean into me. He, who has uttered those dreaded words a mother fears hearing. Those words that tear a mother in two, sometimes. Words about who he is and who he is not. What he wants and what he doesn't. Words that sometimes are ill-spoken. Words that cut. And yet. We are all learning that words are just that.


And sometimes they fail us. A mother knows. He is growing up, growing into the man he intends to be. Like it or not. And he is trying to find himself. Pushing back, sometimes. Pushing away at others. But still holding on. And so am I. Holding on.

And I am still trying to hold him close.

More words were exchanged between us two just the day before. Trying to sort out the tangled web of emotions from the days prior. He, with a hoodie pulled over his face. Me, raw emotions and bundled nerves pleading for answers. Both of us feeling raw and exposed. On a road of good intentions, going nowhere fast. I concede him the victory. Whatever that means. And then I walk away, determined to let it all go. And start over.

Best decision I've made yet.

Things start to simmer down. And I feel the house let go a sigh of relief. I know I for one have heaved a weight off my aching back. And so has he. I can tell. Small things matter most. And his shoulders are more relaxed, of late.

We sit waiting for the sermon to begin, and I feel the weight of him. His 12-year old self leans in to my shoulder. I keep my eyes fixed on the speaker at the front. I dare not look to my left or to my right. I don't want to glance, in case this is not real. He wouldn't lean against his mama in public, now would he?

But I feel him. Heavier, now. It is a touch of two bodies. One I did not initiate, but will gladly accept.

And on a dare. I reach out my hand, move it down to his. And I feel for the hand he has shoved so deeply inside his Sunday best trousers. The black ones I ironed for him just last evening while we watched a family movie. A movie he opted out of watching because it was too tame. It was too childish.

And I feel his hand there.

And then. I grab onto those fingers, tentatively. And I keep my hand over his for a few uncertain moments. Waiting for the bubble to burst. All the while, training my eyes on the pulpit at the front. Only looking forward. Afraid to break that delicate bubble that has so gently appeared before me. Rising, as if an apparition.

And I know he feels it, his mother's love over top his hand. Because he draws out his rough, Man-child hand from inside the pocket of those freshly ironed pants and slips his hand into mine. Curling his fingers inside my hand. Not too tightly. For that might indicate weakness.

No. Just slack enough to prove his manliness is intact, but that his little boy-ishness is still very much alive inside him. And to say my heart swells, an understatement. Because a mother knows. That a child is still a child sometimes.

Even when they are becoming a Man.