I barely remember myself at 13. I was in 7th grade which was a year of significant change for me. I moved in with my father after the first semester of 7th grade so that I would be eligible to attend Sumner Academy. I didn't want to leave my mother and felt that I barely knew my father in many ways but I knew that I needed to go to Sumner. Even at that young age, I had this sense that my future depended on it. I don't know if that was true but I moved and switched schools and I got through the transition on that belief alone. When I started my new school after winter break, I couldn't find the cafeteria and was too afraid to ask anyone for directions. On the first day, I wandered the building for the entire lunch period. On the second day, I decided to follow another student I was certain would lead me to the promised land but that kid had lunch at a different time than I did and I ended up following him to an art class. On the third day, I ate my lunch in the stairwell because I was embarrassed.
I was shy and awkward and I knew that being afraid to ask someone for directions was ridiculous yet I just couldn't do it. I might very well have eaten lunch in the stairwell for an entire semester had I not had a meeting with the guidance counselor one day right before lunch and, after our meeting, she said, "Can I walk with you to the cafeteria?" I played it cool and shrugged, "I guess."
So what I do remember of 13 is painful.
I thought of this again today as we looked for a Christmas tree. Miguel is always drawn to the ones he believes no one else will pick - the small ones, the ones with gaping holes in one side, the crooked ones. He ran from tree to tree joyously (and loudly) declaring his allegiance to the imperfect trees.
He is a different 13 than I was, without the self-consciousness that immobilized me so much of the time. He has an understanding of who he is that took me years to figure out.
One night a few weeks ago, he was chatting with us while he did his homework and he said, "I'm surprised I have friends. I mean, I am so weird." But there wasn't any angst in the statement. He went on to talk about the ways in which he is different but then talked about all the things that people like about him and it was such a beautiful and accurate picture of who he is that I just sat there in awe.
He is impulsive and argumentative and his emotions move in and out like summer storms but he continues to surprise me with his kindness and compassion. He is exhausting and inspiring.
But one of the gifts of parenting is that you get to see each age again and differently - in some we may see glimpses of ourselves, in others it is a completely new version altogether.
This time around, I'm seeing just how beautiful 13 can be.