Love, Tween Style
My twin eleven-year-old boys are swimming in a hormonal soup. The soup isn’t the same mild, somewhat prudish recipe that my fourteen year old cooked up when he was going through the same phase. Sam’s and Elliot’s soup is an altogether more sweet, spicy, energizing, hallucinatory, and addictive concoction. It keeps them awake at night, brings them shocking dreams, gives them a taste for disgusting jokes, sends them into fits of heartrending dramatics, and fills them with unquenchable sensuality, transforming them from prepubescent gentlemen into wildly passionate lust-monsters—equal parts Borat and Snoop Dogg.
As of late, girls are the number one topic of the boys’ discussion, but their relationships remain all male. This poses a problem. How do they transition from talking about girls, to talking to them, and eventually developing meaningful relationships with them? Without sisters or female cousins of a similar age to practice on, and with a sudden disinclination to confide in the genderless species they refer to as “Mom,” they often seem at a loss over how to make the leap from boy to man.
Here’s where sleepovers come in handy. Truly, when it comes to boys (I suspect the same with girls), more issues get resolved at sleepovers than at any other event.
Take last weekend. Sam and Elliot invited their best friends Chase and Morgan over. After dinner and a movie, I pulled the two futons from the upstairs closet, laid them out in the downstairs living room, and threw an armload of pillows and blankets on them. “Set up your beds,” I told them. “And lights out by midnight.” The boys procrastinated bedtime by wrestling on the beds, beating each other with pillows, and having head-standing competitions. They built forts out of the couch cushions, made music by farting with their armpits, and gave each other wedgies. Finally, at eleven thirty, they got the message from me that I’d had enough craziness; it was time to simmer down.
There followed a temporary masquerade of peace. But it soon became apparent to me, who had a bird’s eye view from our bedroom down the short flight of stairs to the living room, that there was no sleeping being done. In the bluish moonlight that silhouetted their tousled heads, they squirmed, giggled, and fought, still bubbling away in their pungent hormonal soup.
“Dude, stop touching me.”
“I’m not touching you.”
“Your leg keeps touching my butt.”
“Oh my god, dude. It’s your butt that keeps touching my leg.”
“Look where your leg is.”
“Yeah, like way over here!”
“You just moved it back. I saw you.”
“Dang, dude. You are such a homo.”
“I am so not a homo, dude.”
“Hey, homos. Are you in love?”
“Shut up, A-hole. You’re the homo. Why don’t you go have sex with yourself?”
“You shut up. You’re the one who keeps touching his butt.”
“Fine. I’m a homo.”
At that point Sam (wearing boxers) straddled the coffee table and pretended to make out with it, kissing the wood with an open mouth, his tongue running along its surface as he groaned, “Oh … oh … oh … I’m so hungry for Morgan’s titties.”
From his position across the room, Morgan threw off his blanket and stood up. “I am going to fart on you Sam! And it’s gonna stink sooooo baaaaad!” True to his word, he tackled Sam onto the floor, sat on him, and emitted gas. This caused an outbreak of laughter and renewed pillow fights, at which I was forced to issue another more threatening warning in a deeper voice.
Again, a period of peace before the whispering started up. Now the voices got quiet and the tone serious. Gone was the horsing around. Overcome by curiosity, John and I strained to hear. The subject had turned to girls, and the boys had some weighty material to cover. There was some gossip (who said what, who was good-looking, who was not), and some arguments (denials of crushes, insults, threats). There was also some good sportsmanship, as when one of the boys let another “have” a certain girl if he “wanted” her. To my surprise, I learned that Spin the Bottle is still a popular game among middle schoolers (although now they play Spin the Cell Phone)—and that Sam had joined a recent game behind the backstop of the baseball field at his school. His twin, Elliot, was equally surprised.
“What if the bottle lands on an ugly girl, Sam? Do you still have to kiss her?”
“Yeah, Elliot. You have to. Duh.”
“You have to. Idiot. No buzz-kills allowed.”
“When I played, it landed on Dylan’s sister,” said Chase.
“Did you kiss her?”
“I had to.”
“Oh my God! She’s heck-a weird, dude.”
“She’s not heck-a weird. She’s … dry.”
“What’s dry mean?”
“It means not imaginative. Like me and you are.”
“Well dry is better than talking heck-a much, like Brianna does. I chatted with Brianna on Facebook for an hour, dude. I’d say, ‘Bye,’ and she’d say, ‘Wait!’ and I’d say, ‘What?’ And she’d say, ‘Nothing.’ And I was like ‘Whatever.’”
“That’s why I don’t check my Facebook page. As soon as I check it, the girls see me there and want to chat. I hate chatting.”
“I hate chatting, too.”
“And I hate when girls send you happy kisses.”
“Yeah. I hate that, too.”
“But you have to be nice.”
The boys reflected on their shared information for several minutes and, I have to confess, I did too. What must it be like to have to kiss a girl you don’t like? To be subjected to “dry” imaginations and substanceless on-line chats? As an eleven year old in Catholic school, I was too sheltered to know what Spin the Bottle was. And Facebook? On Elliot’s page are the words: “During the last 24 hours you were compared by your friends 5 times. They assigned you 1 win in ‘who is more entertaining.’” No wonder Sam and Elliot live in terror of girls. They are being scored by them on a world stage at a staggering rate of five times per day. What ever happened to passing notes in class?
I was somewhat relieved when the conversation reverted to what I was used to hearing:
“Have you ever farted on a cracker?”
“Dang, dude. How stupid is that?”
“It’s not stupid. It’s just weird.”
“Know what I hate? I hate it when you have diarrhea and it splashes back … ”
“I know. And if you leave it there it becomes booty-crust.”
“Yuck!” “Aah!” “Snap!” “Gross!”
“Are you tired, Elliot?”
“Well shut up, dude, ‘cause I’m going to sleep.”
“Okay. I’ll watch you sleep.”
“Don’t, or I’ll stay awake.”
“Know what’s scary? Three out of two is scary. It’s like wizardry or something.”
“Shut up and go to sleep, dude.”
“I can’t. Chase keeps sniffing.”
“Hey Sniff-Man. Stop sniffing, man.”
“I can’t. I’ve got allergies.”
“Okay. But what if I can’t stop?”
“Think of a way.”
“How about every time I sniff, you punch me as hard as you can. Then maybe I’ll stop.”
What makes sleepovers so helpful is that the boys can be vulgar and offensive without fear of parental disapproval, yet they generally come to the same conclusions had I been lecturing them. I do admit to cringing moments when I can’t bear what they’re saying and feel morally obligated to step in. But I find that if I hold back, for just a minute or two, their moral sensibilities kick in as if by default, and that is a wonderful thing to witness, as I have always believed that a single lesson arrived at independently is worth a hundred freebies. Anyway, imagine how much fun the sleepover would be if my husband John and I were camped out in the living room with the boys like uninvited moral overseers.
Elliot: “Sam. Dude, you are such a homo.”
Me: “Elliot. Homo is a hurtful word when you use it in a disparaging way like that. Now you apologize to Sam at once, and don’t let me hear you name-call again.”
Elliot: “But he is a homo.”
Sam: “I am not!”
Me: “It doesn’t matter if he’s homosexual. There is nothing wrong with being gay. And it’s not something to make jokes about, either.”
The first thing that occurs to me is the lack of humor that I would bring to an otherwise rather humorous if completely un-PC situation. The second is the nullifying effect my lecture would have on the kids’ minds.
Elliot: “What if the bottle lands on an ugly girl? Do you still have to kiss her?”
John: “Elliot. Every girl is beautiful on the inside. I married your mother. And look at her.
Elliot: “You’re joking, right Daddy?”
(Unlike me, John does bring a sense of humor to the table.)
What also makes sleepovers so helpful is that not only do the boys learn what feels right by examining their biases in a role-playing situation, they get to laugh. And life is really funny when you think about it. Especially when you’re eleven years old and farts are involved. And John and I are never far away when they get lost in the labyrinth of right and wrong.
That’s why when the following note came into my possession (I was putting clothes in the washing machine and found it in Sam’s pocket ) I didn’t run to Sam waving my discovery and shouting a dozen questions but returned it to his pocket, and when I judged the timing right asked him if he’d like to have Chase and Morgan over for another sleepover.
OMG how could you forget! I just told you something very important to me, that I have been hiding for a will now. U R so unsentimental!
I have a Crush on you
(Do not tell anyone!)
Chase and Morgan arrived around 6:00 p.m. with their sleeping bags, and after the typical pillow fights, wedgies, and wet willies, the boys curled into their flannel bags to get down to business. Again John and I left our bedroom door open, the better to eavesdrop. Without any sign of shyness, Sam explained Bethany’s crush on him and her complaint that he was “unsentimental.” With equal readiness, his brother and friends assessed the problem.
“Bethany is cool.”
“Yeah, Sam. She’s not, like, hard work or anything.”
“I don’t know, Dude. She’s scary.”
“How is she scary?”
“She’s heck-a smart, Dude. When we got our history quizzes back yesterday, she looked at her grade and said, ‘Nooooooooooooo!’ And I said, ‘What did you get? An F?’ And she said, ‘No. An A minus.’”
“She cared that much about her grade?”
“What did you get?”
“I got a C.”
(Long, long pause).
“So you guys want to go to movies on Sunday with Bethany and her friends?”
“Can I come?” (That was Elliot).
“Dude. No offense, but no way. The girls won’t want you to.”
“Come on. Why not?”
“Elliot, I’m not kidding. Like, I want you to come. But if I made a suck list of the suckiest people I know, you’d be at the top of the list. No offense.”
(Very long cringe moment as John and I swore in whispers that we’d discreetly help Elliot get off the “suck list.”)
That Sunday, as planned over the phone and Facebook, Bethany and her friends Jamaica and Sophie came to our house and I drove them all (including Elliot) to the cinema to see High School Musical (even though the boys had out-voted them in favor of Max Payne). When the boys came home, the conversation in the car went like this:
“Dude. You know how you feel your testicles when you watch a James Bond movie?”
“I couldn’t feel my testicles when I watched that movie.”
“I know. I could only feel ovaries when I watched it.”
“Why did Sophie sit two seats behind you?”
“Because she wanted a different seat.”
“Bethany talked the whole time and then threw up on my shoe.”
“I know! I said to her, ‘Dang! What the heck!’”
The car was silent then for a few moments while the boys examined the color and texture of Sam’s shoe.
“Snap, dude, it’s pink.”
“Yeah. Strawberry gummy worms.”
“Some of it soaked through. My sock is squishy.”
(Silence. More pondering.)
“I threw up on you once.” (This was from Morgan, who has been Sam’s best friend since kindergarten).
“And you didn’t care.”
“I did a little.”
“Yeah, but you laughed.”
“I peed on you in the bathtub when I was two.” (This was from his brother).
“Gross! That’s sick, dude!” (Chase and Morgan).
“I’m going to pee on you next time you’re in the bath.” (Sam to Elliot).
“Sam, you will do nothing of the sort.” (This came from the driver, who they had probably forgotten was there).
“Hey. I shot a wet goober at you. Remember?” (Morgan again).
“And you got revenge with cheesy farts.”
I sighed. Clearly the gummy-worm-vomit-incident was a potential deal-breaker, and as the boys mulled the problem over I carefully prepared my ethical argument, choosing age-appropriate syllogisms and rhetoric. As usual, however, given a little time the democratic process prevailed.
Morgan was the first to cast his vote.
“Sam, I say you bust a move.”
(I recoiled. Bust a move?)
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
(How does an eleven year old bust a move?)
“Yeah, Dude. Just make her a friendship bracelet,” Chase said.
“Or give her your rabbit foot keychain,” said Elliot.
“Are you crazy, dude? I need that for good luck.”
(All minds worked to tackle the problem).
“I guess I could give her the snowball,” Sam eventually said.
(This was a cherished paperweight he bought during a visit to his grandparents in Scotland. It features a small castle on a hill).
“Hey, I want that,” Elliot said. “Give it to me.”
“No, Elliot!” they all shouted.
“How big is it?” Chase asked skeptically.
Sam demonstrated with cupped hands.
“I guess that’s big enough.”
“And the snow lasts a long time,” Sam said.
“Like how long?”
“Like … long.”
“And the castle looks real.”
“Heck-a real,” Elliot attested.
“And I don’t really need a paperweight,” Sam said.
“Not really,” the others murmured.
“Except for maybe sometimes.”
“When it’s windy.”
“But you could use a rock instead.”
“Yeah.” “Yeah.” “Yeah.”
And a consensus was reached, and all was well. But later that night as Sam and Elliot lingered over the dinner table I took pains to deliver the speech I’d prepared in the car, just for good measure. I talked about the meaning of love, and how no person in the world is without faults, and how Bethany only threw up out of nervousness and anyone can sympathize with that, and how one of the things I found attractive about their daddy when I met him was that he had lost two fingers (a childhood accident) and was not ashamed of his hand but had grown stronger because of it, and how the most important thing a person can give to someone he loves is respect, and so on and so on. The boys were politely attentive, but bored (they knew it all, you see), and soon asked to go to bed, and after a hug from each I shooed them off.
Ironically, Sam never got the chance to bust a move on Bethany because a few days later Bethany “broke up” with him over irreconcilable differences the likes of which was anyone’s guess, and Sam was back to being a freewheeling bachelor—the only evidence of the relationship being a pink stain on his shoe. And while this came as a relief to me, I wasn’t sure about Sam, so later that day I took him aside and asked him if he was hurt or upset by the break-up. His answer was cryptic. “I’m okay,” he said.
I paused, searching his face. “Want to talk about it?”
“Nah.” Another pause.
“Can I at least give you my opinion?” He shrugged, but met my eyes. “Eleven is too young for a serious commitment.” I smiled. “I’d wait until I was at least twelve.”
He nodded. “Because someday,” I said, taking a deep breath as I prepared to impart wisdom, “someday—and you have plenty of time ahead of you for this—you’ll meet someone who you’ll fall in love with and maybe want to start a family with, and—”
He held up his hand to stop me. “I know, Mom. I know. I don’t need a lecture.”
Causes Veronica Chater Supports
Sierra Club; Public Library; Public Schools; Crowden Music Center; Women's Cancer Resource Center; Democratic Party