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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

71

New Moms and Teenage Boys: More in Common Than Previously Thought

“Brah, you used to be fun.” That’s what Timmy, my husband’s 16-year-old cousin, liked to remind me during our ridiculously frequent text message exchanges.

He was right. I did used to be fun. But then I became a mom. During my daughter’s first year, most of which I was a stay-at-home mom, nothing was too small for me to obsess over. How often do I need to take her outside to encourage a healthy relationship with nature? How was I going to break it to her that she inherited my ginormous calves?  Why can’t I stop posting her pictures on Facebook? I’d fantasize about strapping my baby to my chest and wandering out into the wild. Free from the confines of “soft hands” and Hooter Hiders, I’d be able to nurture her wildly and intensely, like a mama wolf. My maternal instinct was too mighty to be hampered by a search for the world’s most perfect sippy cup. And yet, it was.

For the first year of my daughter’s life, everything I experienced was big: big love, big frustration, big anxiety, big mood swings, big me. Not since I was a teenager had I been so transfixed by my own now-shriveled navel and it seemed like the only person who could empathize with my faintly adolescent strife was Timmy, despite the age difference and familial oddness. Being a new parent is a sort of second adolescence, sharing an eruption of hormones, changing social dynamics and a whole new role in the world. In the same way that Timmy woke up one day six-foot-five and obsessed with girls, I woke up one day peeing when I sneezed and obsessed with my baby. We converged at the intersection of novelty and tedium. 

Timmy and I met when he was 9 and I was 22. We played Monopoly and he cheated, but no one called him on it until I kicked his shins under the table. He unblinkingly responded, “You realize you just kicked a child?” We’ve been “brahs” ever since. He is the little brother I never knew I needed, someone who shares my dark sense of humor and knack for irritating people. And perhaps, given that I’m a grown woman who enjoys Mario Kart a bit too much, I have a minor case of arrested development, one that I wore better as a 20-something college instructor than I did as an adult responsible for the life of an actual child.

Before I became a mom, I occasionally emailed Timmy or sent him letters at camp, but once I fell into my second adolescence (or third, depending on how we’re counting) I made hobbies of “that’s what she said” jokes, parsing out the intricacies of prep school social order, and learning things about These Kids Today that I’m going to have to forget before my daughter hits puberty. Day after day, I’d be parked in some carpeted living room watching my daughter drool on another kid’s toys, trying to hold up my end of a conversation about tedious stuff like the ideal blender speed for pureeing baby food and then, mercifully, I’d get a text from Timmy. “Sup brah.”

Ignoring the other mothers’ scorn for texting during circle time, I replied, “nm” — not much — “just learning about gluten-free substitutes for bread crumbs.”

“Dude, ur such a mom now.”

That could have been the end of the conversation, but it turns out that my new mothers‘ group in West Hollywood wasn’t all that different from his East Coast prep school. For every bit that he was preoccupied with getting into college, I was fixated on finding a preschool. Timmy and I were both non-wealthy outsiders trying to butt our way into cliques of rich people and expected to forge meaningful bonds based on the flimsiest of commonalities (grade-level and same-aged infants, respectively).

Timmy, who had yet to get a driver’s license, steady girlfriend, or GPA appropriate for a college application, understood my restlessness. Sick of the minutiae of prep school, he longed for the world he hadn’t yet explored with the same ferocity that I wished to rewind to a more innocent time, back when I saw grapes as a precursor to wine and not just a potential choking hazard. But none of that was as important as the fact that Timmy liked to discuss things that had nothing to do with babies, and I liked to be reminded that those things existed, even as I obsessively mommy blogged my way through new motherhood.

Eventually it all got a little out of hand. Seeing me at the dinner table pecking away my phone one evening, my slightly annoyed husband asked, “So what’s up with Timmy?”

“En em. Grinding in WoW, pwned some teacher in front of the class, eating Hot Pockets of the supreme pizza variety.”

“Honey, you know he’s my cousin, right?”

Not looking up from my phone I’d answer, “Mine now.”

“And that this is weird?”

“Cool story, bro.”

Strange as my relationship with Timmy was, it was mutually comforting. He reminded me that though I’d morphed into an exhausted, vomit-stained worrywart, I still had a sense of humor. And in return I listened to his unintentional Holden Caulfield impression and told him to say no to drugs. But at some point I had to stop coming up with elaborate ways to torture Timmy using his Formspring.me account and reenter the adult world. One day after venting to him about the way breastfeeding seemed to be overtaking my personhood, he responded, “Bewbz.”

“That’s helpful. Thanks, kiddo.”

He rebutted, “What do you expect a 16-year-old to tell you about breastfeeding?” A salient point. To borrow Timmy’s term, it was time for me to sack up and make some age-appropriate friends. Three years later, he’s still my “brah,” but he doesn’t update me every time he eats a Hot Pocket.

Besides, we don’t have as much time now that he has a driver’s license and I have a second child, a son, who we did not name after Timmy despite numerous texts requesting otherwise. I considered it though. After all, we grew up together.

In between texting Timmy and chasing her two toddlers around Los Angeles, JJ Keith writes stuff, including a memoir about being an underemployed barista in the throes of a quarter-life crisis called "Behind the Green Apron."

Illustration by Megan Piontkowski.



71 Comments / Post A Comment

Louise van Terheijden@facebook

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melis

@Louise van Terheijden@facebook You're not the real Louise van Terheijden@facebook; I am! You're nothing but an imposter! HERE'S THE REAL LINK:

melis

My god, the link has been cloaked. How did you access our link-cloaking technology - look out! Behind you! She has a blaster!

melis

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melis

DON'T SHOOT ME SHOOT HER CAN'T YOU TELL THE DIFF -

melis

Which is the real Louise van Terheijden@facebook, and which the copy? How will you know, boy? How can you aim your blaster and shoot the face off of the woman you may love? You can't. And you know you can't. You'll never know if you killed the right one, boy. Now stand aside and give me the link.

crookedlegs

I loved this. When I was 14 and my older-brother-type-family-friend was 24, we struck up a vigorous IM friendship. He was working on oil rigs in Alberta for weeks at a time, or doing pretty much nothing with his time off in between rigs, and I was in junior high and doing pretty much nothing with my time as well. I was too old for my age, and he was maybe a touch too young. For a couple of years, we did a lot of growing together. He introduced me to awesome music, and I got him hooked on the OC. He listened to me whine about mean girls and older boys, and I listened to him talk about finding a real job that wouldn’t have him so isolated, so he could start his real life. The age difference was often a point of comedy, but never felt weird or inappropiate. Nowadays we don’t talk so much, but he checks in every now and then, mostly to remind me that I’m still the same awkward kid I was in junior high school, and that maybe he’s still a touch too young for his age. It’s one of my most treasured friendships, and I’ve never had another quite like it.

redheaded&crazy

I wish I connected with any of my extended family like this.

Cat named Virtute

@redheaded&crazie Me too, friend. I like most of them well enough, but no one in my family ever texts like this.

Bittersweet

@Cat named Virtute: No one in my family does either, and I'm kinda glad, because all those abbreviations make my brain hurt.

*yells at kids to get off lawn*

discombobulated

@redheaded&crazie Me too. I have a 13-year-old sister, and she is the best! But I could have used an older cousin when I was Timmy's age. Oh well, guess I should have paid more attention to my cool aunts.

yarabollocks

@redheaded&crazie
I have a 19 year old sister (I'm 31) who apparently finds me just as incomprehensible as I find her, and is likely embarrassed by me (going by the fact that she deletes any FB comment I make on her page). The age gap = harder when you're close I think. Too difficult to see someone as an adult when you changed their diapers and saw them go through an awkward Japanese-emo-teen-rock phase...

fabel

@redheaded&crazie
Word.

Lily Rowan

This really makes me want to be friends with my high school aged cousin!

Ellie

This is so nice!

Reginal T. Squirge

He's gotta stop going by "Timmy".

beanie

@ReginalTSquirge@twitter mom? How did you get on here?

ps. I agree.

Chesty LaRue

@ReginalTSquirge@twitter He maybe has, but his family doesn't give up? I have a cousin Krissy who, when we were old enough to start running into each other at high school bush parties (Canadian prairies), people would always be like "How do you know Kristina"/I'd talk about my cousin Krissy and they'd be like, "Uh, Kristina???

JJ Keith@facebook

@ReginalTSquirge@twitter Don't worry. He has. I cling to the nickname as he clings to calling me by my full first name, Jodie (instead of JJ, what everyone else calls me).

Reginal T. Squirge

@JJ Keith@facebook Fair enough! Sorry, having a bad day so I'm being occasionally shitty here in the comments.

Barry Grant

@ReginalTSquirge@twitter

Do you like gladiator movies Timmy?

Ellie

@Chesty LaRue My best friend is a musician and literally everyone in New York calls her by her stage name/made-up name she has people call her, NOT ME

Nicole Cliffe

AH! No, not only is this great, but I have always thought that pregnant/new moms and teen boys should be united in our thick hormonal soup which destroys our decision making. I think that new moms and teen boys are just more...purely mammalian?...than anyone else. It's all overblown instinct and desire. Solidarity, my frantically-masturbating brothers!

iceberg

@Nicole Cliffe Unless it's your 18 year old nephew whose Facebook feed (mainly of bewb pics) terrifies and yet mesmerizes you.

siniichulok

This story makes me want to have a teenaged boy (or teenaged kid in general), though I have to become a mother first. My husband even has a "Timmy" kind of cousin, though his cousin just got married and may even reproduce before we do due to local cultural norms.

MerelyGoodExpectations

Ah, this was such a nice read. I have a much younger brother (he started kindergarten the day I started college) and this captures something about our dynamic as well.

mouthalmighty

Teenage boys are fascinating, when they're not being teenage boys. Or, maybe, especially when they are. Either way, I loved this. Thanks for the nice read.

KK@twitter

So, I'm happy you and your cousin got along, but was I the only one who was concerned that it wasn't appropriate? You aren't blood related to him therefore its entirely probably he had an attachment to you that wasn't just familial friendliness.

I guess I'd like to give the writer the benefit of the doubt. She obviously has the best intentions and wanted a mutually beneficial relationship but that still doesn't mean her cousin is capable of understanding the limitations of their relationship. His response of "bewbz" simply illustrates that. I give the author credit for recognizing in that moment that it was inappropriate to discuss her breasts with a teenage boy. But that still doesn't change the tone of this piece which is reflected in all the comments saying "aw I wish i had a cousin in highschool to text" like this was a positive thing. It actually sounds pretty inappropriate.

If this was an adult male texting his wife's teenage niece, would it be as cute? Not at all. Even if the adult male was a well adjusted, thoughtful person, it would still be inappropriate.

thefigtreelives

@KK@twitter Totally my reaction. I currently know a too-young fellow who has a bit of a crush on me, and in the course of figuring out how to act well have thought back to all of the too-old fellows that I got myself involved with back when. Just because the author would never consider her husband's nephew in 'that way' doesn't mean that the same goes for him. It's important to remember when dealing with younger people that just having direct & honest relations with someone of their preferred sex is often a new thing and something that can feel really special to them. I'm assuming that it all played out well here, but I definitely still feel it's strange and inappropriate for an adult to use a child as an emotional confidant.

melis

MY GOD they made a copy of KK@twitter too! Where will this perfidy end?

melis

THEY'RE BACK

melis

*PEW PEW PEW*

*PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW*

*PEW*

melis

I think that's the last of -

melis

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melis

Which is the real Louise van Terheijden@facebook, and which the copy? How will you know, boy? How can you aim your blaster and shoot the face off of the woman you may love? You can't. And you know you can't. You'll never know if you killed the right one, boy. Now stand aside and give me the link.

JoanTition

@KK@twitter
ADULTS MUST NEVER SPEAK TO THE CHILDRENS.
INAPPROPRIATE!
CHILDREN-> TALK TO YOURSELVES.
ADULTS-> WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!

sceps yarx

@JoanTition @melis I love you guys so much.

cheeseandcrackers

When I was 12 I made friends with a young man in his early 20s. It was a real treasure of a friendship, nothing inappropriate whatsoever, just a little weird. We were friends for nearly 10 years before drifting apart. Other people might get eyebrow-raisy about this but in my lived experience, friendships between teenagers and adults are entirely possible if everyone drops their socialized hang ups.

HeyMatilda

@cheeseandcrackers This is a similar story for me. Met my 30 year old band instructor when I was 15 and we didn't have an inappropriate relationship whatsoever. He did serve as a great friend/mentor during the roughest period of my adolescence (he also had a knack for making me feel awesome despite the existence of the awful teenage boys in my life at the time) although we have grown apart since he's had a kid, moved away, etc.

I do still text occasionally just to get reassurance I need-in some cases, it's nice to have an outside person's older life wisdom.

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