Last week at the mall I noticed a mother reach out to put her arm around her son (who might have been Shakeel's age). The child's reaction was firstly one of brief panic, as he looked around to see who was looking. He then pulled away from his mother and tried to walk ahead of her. The mother reached to pull him back and this time aggravated his embarrassment by trying to kiss him.
"Stop it Mom. Not here," he groaned. I was quite amused by this interaction, until I saw the mother's face. Her expression was clearly pained and it was evident that she was feeling really hurt by her son's reaction.
Immediately I felt an empathetic bond with this woman. I would be heartbroken if it were Shakeel pushing me away.
Shakeel is 12 years old, but in many ways he is still a little boy. When had a few friends over earlier this year, I was astounded by how child-like Shakeel still was in comparison.
There was Caleb, the cute little boy, who spent most of lunch time on Mxit with his girlfriend. The confident little boy could not understand why I'd have a problem with Shakeel dating, saying it was natural- and he had no problem sharing his opinions with Shakeel's parents.
By lunch time I was reeling with shock at all the information I had gleaned from spending time around these boys. The topic of girls was high on the agenda. Oh my goodness, had I been so out of touch? Is this what my son was talking about at school? Was he interested in some girl about whom I had no knowledge?
From a distance I watched him interact within the group. He and his best friend at the time were comfortable as part of the group, without really engaging in the discussions. Instead they amused themselves with wrestling each other, each trying to shove an insect down the other's back.
Still I needed more information, so I did what any good mother would- okay, whatever any disgustingly shamefully paranoid mother, desperate to access information- would. I sat outside the room door and listened. Topics ranged from Playstation games (which is when Shakeel became very vocal) to teachers' quirks and yes, girls. I held my breath as I waited for Shakeel to add something to the conversation.
I was starting to feel weak (not breathing for extended periods can do that to one), but I needed to know what was happening in the room. Very very slowly I pushed open the door, which had been slightly ajar and peered in.
The boys were sitting on the bed having this very animated discussion. Shakeel and two friends were sitting slightly apart from them playing his beloved Playstation. I slowly retreated unnoticed and after sitting at the door for a while longer, left to report my findings to his horrified father (it turns out that he was not as pleased at my reconnaissance mission as I was).
I am pleased to report that subsequent intelligence-gathering missions undertaken over a period spanning a few months, have yielded similar results.
Shakeel is still physically under-developed compared to many other boys his age. Our family doctor, having examined him recently, estimated that he's only likely to hit puberty in about two years time.
Shakeel has expressed his love for dinosaurs since he could formulate words. Nothing has changed- just now he is in the process of preparing a very impressive Powerpoint presentation about the Age of the Dinosaurs. He is still determined to become a paleontologist. He recently challenged an authority figure who said that a pterodactyl had been a flying dinosaur. He interrupted the discussion (respectfully, he insists) to point out that a pterodactyl had in fact been a flying reptile, though commonly mistaken for a dinosaur. When I asked him if he might be mistaken (since the person had refused to accept my son's wisdom on the matter), he looked at me as if I'd just doubted whether the sun rises in the east.
Just to be certain, I googled it- he had been right. Never again will I doubt my son's knowledge of dinosaur trivia.
He is passionate about Dragonball Z and has been since he was just a little boy. It's probably the main reason he loves karate so much and his passionate and vigorous performance of his kata probably is merely an imitation of Goku as a super-saiyan.
I know I might be coming across as a mother in denial about her son growing up- desperately trying to convince herself of the fact that he is just an innocent little boy. But this is not so (okay, maybe just a bit).
I am in fact merely trying to capture what I can of the last few stages of my first-born's childhood before he hits dreaded puberty. I want to remember forever his first smile, him chasing the birds down the hill at our little place in Bo-Kaap. I want to hold onto our moments watching the Tellytubbies, his first fascination with dinosaurs, his love of animals, him growling like a lion (annoying an elderly lady into reprimanding him) and his loyalty to his little friends. I want to remember the joy he brought my late father and how he got my father to chase him through the waves at Camps Bay wearing jeans and shoes (about a week before my dad's unexpected death). And how he and my dad fed the birds at Hout Bay.
I want to remember him accepting his role as the big brother after Tharaa's birth. His first day of school when I cried more than he did. How he, at not-even-three years old comforted me the day I fell on my coccyx. His love for his granny, which made him cry for her every Saturday when we left her home. I want to remember him proudly sporting his hat, loose fitting shirt covering a tight white T-shirt, above-the-ankle length trousers and, most importantly, one glove; imitating his mommy's 'hero' Michael Jackson after MJ's death.
In recent years he has become so responsible- when I issue an instruction to all of them, he is usually the first to respond.
I don't want to lose our current relationship- how he still comes to me unexpectedly to plant a kiss on my cheek; how, for no reason at all, he throws his arms around me, giving me the biggest hugs, when walking past me at home.
His intelligence, his kindness, his morality, his sensitivity, his humour, his wit- I can go on and on about all his qualities which I so deeply admire about him, but I will never be able to capture in words how blessed I feel to be his mother.
And now I'm bawling.
My fear about him hitting puberty is that we will lose the bond we share. I am afraid that we won't communicate the way we do now- and that I won't be able to get through to him any longer. I fear losing my influence over him (even though that has already started happening) and him becoming unwilling/ unable to see reason (as is so common with teens). I dread the day the opinions of his peers become more appealing and influential to him than those of his parents.
Mostly, I dread the day I am replaced by some girl as the most important woman in his life.
I hope that once he reaches that stage of his life, he retains all those characteristics which I so deeply admire about him. I pray that he is guided by the values according to which he is being raised, especially when facing difficult choices and potentially harmful situations. I pray that despite the emotional turbulence he is likely to face as an adolescent, he is guided by common sense and rationality.
I hope that he does not shut me out of his life and includes me in this journey by being open about the changes he experiences. (Well, maybe not ALL the changes [shudder]).
But in the meantime, I shall be savouring every second I have with my kids before they are affected by the madness which comes with adolescence. Who knows- perhaps they will be more willing to share these experiences with me if I embrace the process instead of viewing it as impending doom. Thankfully, I still have some time to work on that.