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Celebrating the Silence of 16-Year-Old Boys

  16 Year Old Boys


As I scrawl this out in my notebook, I’m watching two teams of boys play basketball, though none of the boys are mine.

I’m here for my daughter, who’s taken up cheerleading this year. I’m enjoying it as much as she is – unfulfilled childhood dreams of mine, now coming to fruition through her. The short but athletic skirts, the tumbling, the hair bows (Did you know those are a thing? I did not. They’re a big thing!), the hugging, the giggling camaraderie. We’re both enjoying it all.

But this isn’t about her. This is about my son, who doesn’t play basketball. My son, who is over six feet tall now, turns 16 years old today.

I sit among the basketball parents and watch them watch their sons and I admit to harboring just a little bit of envy. I know exactly how they feel, too, as they closely watch their sons’ every move down the floor. This isn’t high level basketball, there are no recruiters here, no college scholarships on the line. This is recreational ball.

Though that changes little. Their keen eyes are focused on every stumble, every flex, every grimace, every slight smile their sons might make. I do the exact same thing myself, except my son plays ball outside on a field, not in a gym.

What I see among the parents in the stands and the boys on the court today seems universal to me. It’s a fine line between obsessively helicoptering and living through your children in an unhealthy way, and just plain enjoying the ride along with them. When they’ll let you, of course.

Because teenage boys are notoriously tight-lipped. Mine can not be the only one who mostly doesn’t give more than a grunt in response to questions and most definitely won’t let you take any pictures of him. Right?

Then again, that’s part of the charm of teenage boys. It’s immaturity, or lack of awareness, or lack of confidence, or growing pains, or whatever you want to call it.

It’s called being 16.

I try not to get too wrapped up in it, mostly because I don’t understand it. I have little frame of reference to draw on – I didn’t grow up around boys. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I spent much time around them. It’s much easier for me to go with the flow and ride it out than it is for my husband.

He has firsthand experience with 16-year-old boys, he was one himself after all. He often finds himself a little too close for comfort these days.

But it’s my son’s stoic or grim or angry or sullen silence that gives me deeper meaning and pleasure and connection at the times when he does let me in, whether through a question or a joke or an unexpected smile. I needle him about something - who knows what it is this time - and he needles me back with a twinkle in his eye.

It’s that.

It’s that twinkle that keeps us connected, it’s that spark that lets me know he’s getting what he needs from me, even when he won’t say it. And maybe, even especially, when what he needs is someone to just accept his silence.

So as I write this post today in honor of my son’s 16th birthday, it seems to be more about me than it is about him. And that’s probably exactly how he wants it, too.

I’m not positive though, I didn’t ask.

And if I did, for sure he wouldn’t tell me.

And that’s just going to have to be okay for the time being.

Happy 16th birthday, sweet boy. Love you.



Motherhood by Design: Angela Walters

Silent Sunday