I’m a mama to a boy. Since I grew up penis-less I never thought about the changes male bodies go through, as boys become teenagers and eventually, men. When I was a preteen, I had enough worries figuring out tampons and training bras. I had no interest in what was happening to boys physically. I only cared about who was cute that week and if I had a date for the teacher-chaperoned dance, not what stage of puberty the shy boy in my science class was at.
The first conversation my son and I had about puberty started over weekend pancake brunch. I’ve been a single mom almost since his birth and we’re exceptionally close and talk about everything. We were still in our pajamas after binge-watching Full House. I hadn’t yet consumed my required dose of caffeine when his high-pitched voice piped up: “Mommy, what’s puberty?” I stared at him. I literally felt my heart ache at this question. (No! No! Not yet! You’re still my baby!) But the reality is he’s growing up. My nine-year-old is rapidly gaining in height and seriously catching up to me. His baby face is becoming more handsome than cute (but still squishy). This year he got really strong playing hockey and I feel a difference in his sloppy hugs. We laugh when I still manage to beat him in arm wrestling, but joke that it won’t be for much longer.
I should have known he was going to ask about the big “P” sooner or later. He’s well educated about the birds and the bees. When he was younger, I read him a book about where babies come from, complete with cartoon drawings for extra emphasis. There was no mistaking the story of the sperm and the egg and how they—ahem—meet up. He asked tricky questions (“You actually did that??”) and I answered them as best as I could with as straight a face as possible. Over the next few years more complex questions arose and I cleared up confusion from broken-telephone bits and pieces he overheard at school.
But discussing how babies are made was about as relevant as what college he will attend. All stuff for the future. Yes, it’s important for him to be informed about relationships and sex, but it wasn’t like he was going to put any of it into action anytime soon. But this puberty thing, that’s going to start happening way before the other stuff. It seems like only yesterday I was figuring out how to put a diaper on in way that I didn’t get peed on.
As a writer, I’m a firm believer in researching facts. So the next day I head to the bookstore. I grab all the male puberty books off the shelf and sit on a tiny blue stool in the kids' section. I’m surrounded by gigantic Lego boxes, stuffed animals with big plastic eyes, a colourful puppy with a spinning head, dolls that look like kids, the whole Frozen gang and everything Star Wars. I look down at the puberty books and a cartoon penis stares back at me, taunting me to turn the page to read about how my little boy is going to turn into a smelly, pimply teenager. I’m not ready. Are mamas ever ready?
I spread five books out in front of me on the Thomas Train table. It's ironically, the same table he spent hours playing with only five years ago—he loved those overpriced wooden trains with human names. I get down to business. I immediately don’t like what I’m reading. Testosterone, wide shoulders, genital changes, "morning surprises" (eek), body hair, vocal chords, sweat glands, acne, and on and on. I don’t want to know any more facts about male puberty, but I can’t stop reading. It’s like an accident at the side of the road—I can’t look away.
My son’s adorable face with the smooth skin is going to get prickly with stubble. I love his uneven toothy grin covered in chocolate after licking the cookie-dough bowl. His sweet little voice is going to become deep and manly. One day it will no longer be suitable for us to rub noses until one of us snort-laughs. And the most heartwrenching thought I simply cannot fathom (yet) is that our bedtime cuddles will be considered inappropriate and will become only a memory. And so it goes. It’s a privilege to grow older and I’m lucky to be a mama forever, but that doesn’t make this emotional parenting journey any easier.
As parents, our roles constantly evolve and we need to support our kids in every stage of their lives. I bought several books about male puberty that day and promised to always support my little guy, no matter how big and smelly he gets.
But I have a confession. I think I might be the mother in Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. So if you see me driving across town in 20 years, crawling along the floor of my son’s house with the lights out, picking him up, and rocking him to sleep with cuddles, please don’t call the police. I might just be missing my baby.