Who solves a Rubik’s cube in under a minute, yet can’t figure out how to turn his clothes right-side out before they go in the hamper?

Who takes 3 showers a day but can’t remember to grab a towel before he goes in?

Who smells like feet and used car salesmen?

My son. My son does.

He’s been wearing men’s antiperspirant since he was eleven, because he needed it.  Today, we spent an hour sampling body sprays with names like Wolfthorne and Proximity. Anarchy. Obsession. Dark Temptation.

They all sound like felonies or extras from the Twilight series. Not things that my son should be spraying all over himself.

Where is Responsibility? Wakes Up Before Noon? Did the Dishes? Do these scent-mongers not care about the message they are sending to my impressionable boy?

I suppose I should be glad he actually wants to smell good, because historically, that has not been the case. His funk used to be a source of pride for him – so much so that it was a talking point in every parent-teacher conference.

Me: So, he’s still doing that. During class.
Teacher: (pointedly) Yes.
Me: Do I just make this check out to “Teacher Appreciation Fund”?

I feel like we are in a period of limbo, where he is realizing that it is time to let some parts of his childhood go, like the joy of Trick or Treating, or looking for the hidden stash of presents before Christmas.

He’s trying on emotions like oversized shirts. Music, movies, games and social media send messages bound to confuse how kids and young adults feel about sex, relationships, and themselves. It’s hard for a mother’s voice to be heard over that soundtrack.

Right now, he’s a great kid. He’s funny, thoughtful and kind. He asks me all sorts of uncomfortable questions, and sometimes he listens to the answers. So while my opinion still matters, these are the things I want him to hear:

  1. Feelings are important. Love. Be angry, be sad, be excited and happy. Empathy is gained by understanding your own emotions, and empathy is what makes us human.
  2. You will never be ready for your first heartbreak. Your first loss or betrayal by someone you love feels like nothing else before or since. It will be so painful it is hard to contain – but it will pass. It will.
  3. You are responsible for your actions. Feelings are good – but they are just that – feelings. When you translate them into action, you are wholly responsible for the consequences.
  4. Masculinity is not a competition. Your worth is not measured by how hard you punch, how intimidating you are, or by how many girlfriends you’ve had.
  5. Consent is more than just a word. It is body language, it is expression. It should be important to you that your partner is into it too. That means you have to know them, to pay attention. It means you have to think before, during and after. Consent is not something that can be assumed, transferred, or owned. You need it each and every time.
  6. That goes for yourself, too. You have the right to be treated with respect, and the same right to say no as anyone else. Being a man does not mean that you are always ready and willing. You have nothing to prove.
  7. Take care of yourself. Practice some kind of physical fitness routine. Learn to cook (maybe not from me), and do your own laundry. Read, travel, make music, if that is what makes you happy.
  8. Be careful with your trust. Don’t trust everyone – but trust someone. Heartbreak and betrayal will make you cynical, but everyone needs people who always have your back.
  9. You can always ask your mom. I will always listen, and I will always answer. I will always come get you. I will also hold you accountable, but it doesn’t mean I love you any less.

Some of that seems pretty heavy to say to a kid that is still having trouble with the “less is more” approach to body spray. (We chose “Anarchy” by the way – he is mother’s son, after all.) I think you choose your moments – just make sure that you actually choose them.

Because if we don’t raise our sons ourselves, the world certainly will.