Sometimes this happens. Sometimes change arrives unannounced. One moment, your life is a predictable place, and the next moment, everything is a wild carnival ride of flux. The midway is a sweet and melancholy place. You’re probably thinking that you’ll never come here, that your child will stay in the kiddie park, riding that adorable merry-go-round, forever. But you know that’s not true.
Our family arrived at the midway a few months ago. I watched my 11-year-old son get loaded into a behemoth called the Instant Rocket of Change. A switch somewhere was thrown, and when he returned, he was a gangly 12-year-old.
I don’t know if it needs to be said, but I’ll say it anyway, I wasn’t prepared. My husband, reading the thought bubble over my head saying, “What happened to the cute, sweet-smelling boy that was here a minute ago?!” suggested we go on another ride to cheer me up.
I wanted to be able to say that I wouldn’t be intimidated by change, so I did it. This ride was called the Mega. I emptied my pockets into a plastic bin and stepped inside a padded circular cage while some Buddhist disco version of “Let’s Get it On” blared through a tiny speaker. My husband shouted, “It will be over before you know it!” Then the floor dropped out and we were stuck to the wall, spinning around to a syncopated beat and the words “Let’s let it go, sugar, let’s let it go, whoo-ooh-ooh.” At one point, I tried crawling to safety, only to be flattened by the centrifugal force.
There have already been other rides to unbalance you, like the Screaming Weaning swing ride, the Great Leap to Kindergarten ride, or the Overnight Camp Separation ride. And each time there was a new shakedown. You emptied your pockets into a plastic bin. You watched your wipes, diapers, teething toys, board books — your stash of dependable mothering tools — get taken away. The midway differs only in degree and intensity: higher hills, greater loops and bigger twists.
When my son exited the Instant Rocket of Change, I knew he was transformed. It wasn’t just the way his heels hung out of his too-short sneakers, or the downy hair that had sprouted on his lip. It was the way he seemed a bit less transparent, standing there in his black jeans and turtleneck, a little less optimistic. It was as if he might, at any moment, deliver some rousing spoken-word piece about Jean Cocteau and the bourgeoisie. Instead, he draped his skinny arm around my shoulder, smiled down at me and said, “What’s going on?”
He acted like we were old pals, so I tried to act like this was OK, that our swift hurtle from infancy to puberty was No Big Deal.
Mostly, I felt useless. Before we arrived at the midway, I had a knack. I knew how to outmanoeuvre night terrors and food aversions, how to arrange playdates and make time for homework, how to kiss the bruise at the moment the bruise happened. Most of all, I knew how to read his mind. Now what? He wasn’t the same son. What was he thinking? Was he experiencing existential emptiness, a
yen for anarchism? A sudden love of surrealist painting? What tools would serve me now?
But then he smiled the same beatific smile he’s been smiling since he was a baby, and all my worries dissolved. He was the same son. He had the same farcical sense of humour. My son — fan of Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers — would laugh his way through the awkwardness of adolescence. We would laugh together at the hormonal pranks and apocalyptic heartache of it all.
When everything is in flux and whizzing by with jumpy swiftness, there’s only one thing to do: hold on and laugh.
Kyo Maclear’s latest children’s book, Mr. Flux, was released in early 2013.