My 11-year-old son — with his huge brown eyes and small frame and impossibly curly hair — looks just like a miniature version of me. And that’s where the resemblance ends.
I once took an online personality test that identified me as an organizer and a time-keeper. He, on the other hand, got thinker and philomath (someone who loves learning). In other words, I get stuff done, and he daydreams about stuff.
Our lack of commonality doesn’t end there. Back in school, I won awards for writing, but I struggled through math and science. My son, on the other hand, codes software and does multiplication for pure enjoyment — but the idea of penning a single paragraph sends him into a panic. He’s naturally intelligent with an aversion to working too hard, while it was pure grit and academic all-nighters that got me and my average IQ through grad school.
The list goes on. I love structure and despise clutter; he’s absent-minded and — well, let’s just say the floor of his room looks like a battleground from World War 6. He’s picky, and I’ll eat anything. I love camping, hiking and being out in nature. So does he — when “nature” is defined as a woodsy scene in the video game Animal Crossing.
The older my son gets, the more obvious our differences become. And, because he’s my only biological child (I have a stepdaughter too), I can’t help but feel a little sad. As young parents, we fantasize about our kids growing up to become our best friends, our partners, our sidekicks. We assume that they’ll share our interests and follow closely in our footsteps. And sleep — we fantasize about sleep. Which is yet another thing I love that my son does not.
But as they grow and mature and develop, our kids become their own people. And some of them truly become their own people, despite our efforts to expose them to everything awesome — I mean, everything we enjoy. And, as my sweet and imaginative boy enters middle school, I know this is something I’ll eventually have to make peace with. Here are a few ways I’m slowly figuring that out.
I’m trying to learn from our differences. Every day, being his mom teaches me strength, empathy and patience — oh my god, so much f***ing patience. His free-spirited, laid-back nature, and his ability to wear two different-colored socks without a care in the world, can be annoying at times. But it’s also delightful, and in the past I’ve only been able to achieve that level of Zen after drinking a few glasses of wine. I’m trying hard to appreciate the universe he lives in every day, and hope that someday a little bit of it rubs off onto me. And maybe someday he’ll say the same thing about learning from our differences. I mean, eventually he’ll learn how to not get toothpaste all over the sink, right?
I’m trying to show interest in his hobbies. Although I have zero desire to play video games or write code, once in awhile, I stop what I’m doing and ask him to show me what he’s working on. Inevitably, he tries to explain it to me and my eyes glaze over as I start thinking about what I should add to the shopping list. But I know he appreciates the effort.
I search for little things we both enjoy. There aren’t many, but occasionally, I hit on a good one. For example, we both like art projects. I like them because I’m a decent artist and can make practical items that can be worn or given as gifts. My son likes art because he gets to be creative, and, let’s face it, make a huge mess. But you gotta start somewhere.
Together we’ve tried tye-dying, watercolor painting and pencil sketching. The process itself isn’t always super-enjoyable — we’re usually arguing about who got paint on the wall (spoiler alert: it’s always him) — but art projects give us something to bond over and laugh about for years to come. (Also stains all over the carpet for years to come, but who’s counting.)
I’ll always love him for who he is — even though he’s not me. Before having kids I always looked forward to having that Lifetime-movie conversation: I’ll love you no matter what, whether you’re short or tall, straight or gay, get a PhD or become a traveling circus performer. But I never imagined that conversation would be about not liking backpacking or listening to Ed Sheeran.
Sometimes I’m bummed about the lack of commonalities I have with my son. But when I can look at him and see past our differences, I realize that while he’s far from perfect, so am I. I’d kill to be good at math, to remember the choreography to a Nicki Minaj song, and to put my dirty dishes in the sink and…just…walk away. Those are his unique gifts to the world, and they’re gifts that I’ll never be able to give.
And, when all else fails, we can bond over Dairy Queen, because everyone, from time-keeper to philomath, loves going out for Dairy Queen. (Except that Snickers Blizzards are where it’s at, yet my son always orders a banana split. Gross.)