"Eleven is hard," my friend said as we sat across from each other at a picnic table at the park. "Nobody talks about eleven."
We both gazed thoughtfully at our boys playing. Except they weren't playing, not really. They were walking and talking, the previously coveted play structures forgotten. Occasionally, they would take a seat on the swings to continue their conversation.
Meanwhile, my friend and I continued our own conversation. This is my first time having an eleven-year-old. Her son is her fourth and youngest, so she's definitely a veteran to my naivete. We were discussing the recent changes in our boys, who've been friends since first grade and were going into sixth together. The conversation reassured me. I'm not alone. It was also a good reminder that the changes in my eleven-year-old, some amusing, some bewildering, and some down right irritating, are a normal part of development. She was right, though. We don't really talk about eleven as being a transitional year. Oh, sure, it's a big deal to start middle school, although our boys are homeschooled and attend a k-12 coop twice per week, making the transition less arduous. But while everyone shares the drama and ups and downs of the teenage years, eleven gets lost in the shuffle. Even talk about preteen years is more general, focusing on a wide period of time in which many changes happen. Then there's the topic of puberty. But, eleven itself? Nobody talks about eleven.
Let's talk about eleven. Eleven is shrugged off hugs and slammed doors. Eleven is holing up in a bedroom and shunning family time. Eleven is deep philosophical conversations one minute and stomping and whining the next. Eleven is a preference for friends over parents and siblings, and often in our current climate, a preference for online interaction. Elven is still needing Mom to snuggle you to sleep, but finding her utterly annoying by day. Eleven is the internal struggle between childhood and young adulthood. It's a desire to shed immaturity but also a longing for the simpler days of early childhood. Eleven is vacillating on whether or not to dress up for Halloween, and wanting to make sure the potential costume is cool and not babyish.
My eleven-year-old still enjoys building with blocks and pretend play, but he probably won't tell you that. He used to ask me to play with him constantly (see: I want to Murder Mrs. Antbottom ). I thought those days would never end, and they haven't entirely. We still play Mrs. Antbottom, but not every day, and not even every week. When we do play, it's less than an hour before he wants to head back to his room and see if his friends are online. Mere months ago he enjoyed and even asked to play family board games. Now board games involve much eye rolling. Family movie night is now boring. He spends a lot more time in his room and often responds to a knock with a dramatic sigh and an annoyed, "WHAT?" He has taken to staying up way too late and sleeping the morning away.
Yet, when night comes we say prayers and do our devotional together. I think he values this quiet time together as much as I do. I still read to him and sometimes he does not want me to leave his room until he's asleep. Eleven is nothing if not a paradox. At night, we have our talks and he shares whatever is bothering him. A disagreement with friends can have him down for weeks. Yet he also jokes a lot. Laughter and happy screaming flows from his room when he plays games with friends. He can teach himself coding and video editing, yet he acts helpless when he's asked to write a paper about a topic that doesn't interest him. When it comes to matters of politics, controversy, and what's going on in the world, he has informed opinions and he doesn't care who disagrees with him. Unlike some middle schoolers, he feels no need to fit in. He's also become more aware of his body. He feels showers are optional, yet he will exercise and make healthy food choices without prompting.
This new stage is a little confusing, inconsistent, and bittersweet. I love watching him grow and explore, and find his own identity and independence. I feel a little bit of loss, though. I miss that chubby little hand always searching for mine. I miss the unprompted hugs and sticky kisses. I even miss the endless sometimes exhausting chorus of, "Mom, can you play with me?" But I know these changes are all necessary for his development. We've entered uncharted territory. In many places - friendships, for example - I used to be a moderator where I am now an observer. Still, he asks for my advice. I think he values at least some of my opinions. He's still my little boy, though I can't say that to him without his face turning crimson. This is new. This is scary. This is exciting. This is eleven.