Ford column: Mingling through the teen years

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 21, 2008

By Emily Ford
Although Henry turned 13 nearly a month ago, my status as the mother of a teenager has just now hit me.
I’m not really sure how to parent a teen. But then again, with only sisters of my own, I didn’t really know how to parent a boy, and I figured that out.
Kind of.
When I revealed to my coworkers that I was pregnant with a boy, one reaction stunned me.
Linda told me about having her own baby boy, about rocking him and caressing his soft cheek and crying, thinking, “Someday, he might have to go to war.”
Of the many dilemmas and heartaches I’d imagined confronting as the mother of a male child, this issue had never crossed my naive mind.
I quickly dismissed it, confident in 1995 that my son would never want to go to war and certain that his country would never again require it.
Now, I’m not so sure on either count.
Henry developed an interest in the military at a young age. I kept thinking it was a phase, like his obsession with construction workers, fire trucks and police officers.
But it hasn’t passed.
Watching him grow has been fascinating, and he remains somewhat of a mystery to me even as he prepares to enter high school in less than two years.
While I can now imagine Henry as a member of JROTC, I also can see him as a jock, headbanger, band geek or redneck.
An enlightened redneck.
Or I can see him moving comfortably between all of these groups, making friends in each.
Like his mom.
Looking back on my own high school and college years, that was my modus operandi.
In high school I was a cheerleading, rock ‘n’ rolling, vintage wearing, acolyting band geek who delayed getting a driver’s license for two years so I could compete. In piano.
In college, I joined a sorority. And the newspaper.
I loved both of these very different worlds and moved between them mostly with ease but occasionally with trepidation. Sometimes they overlapped, and sometimes they collided.
The newspaper covered the Greek system aggressively, including a few not-so-flattering incidents. Slightly awkward for the editor wearing her Greek letters.
When a fraternity member threw a liquor bottle at a football game and accidentally hit me in the head, I ended up on the front page and he ended up in court.
In high school and college, I periodically felt like a jack of all trades and master of none. But my tendency toward social and academic multiple personalities has prepared me well for a career in journalism.
Reporters become temporary experts in whatever they’re covering that day.
You learn a subject inside and out, often gaining exceptional access to people and places and sometimes urging sources to tell you things they haven’t even shared with their family.The next day, you hopefully retain the knowledge you’ve gleaned and the skills you’ve honed, and you move on to the next story.
Reporters must feel comfortable with city slickers and country folk, movie stars and janitors, scientists and schoolchildren.
Although his friends are just now staking out their claims to sports, academics, music and other areas, Henry has shown a natural ability to mingle.
There’s almost no one he doesn’t get along with.
And while I’m pretty sure his teenage years will cause me anger, tears and worry, the first month has gone fairly well.
Shortly after his birthday, Henry blew up at his sister, insisting that she no longer watch any DVD that belongs to him. He yelled and threatened and stomped downstairs, where he made a towering pile of Jack Black, Star Wars and World War II flicks and carried it off to his room, leaving us in disbelief.
A few moments later, he walked slowly into the kitchen.
“I’m sorry. I over-reacted,” he said. “Eleanor, you can watch my movies.”
With that, his clear voice faltered, and I took him in my arms.That’s my boy.
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.