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'He loves me but he hates me too.' On parenting a pre-teen.

In the last 12 months my son has changed. A year ago he would grab my hand faux-casual-like and tell me stuff unbidden.

Fifty-two weeks ago he answered my questions with a complete sentence.

Today, on the brink of 13, he regards me as an embarrassment and tells me to stop talking so loudly in the street. Currently carousing with Oedipus, my son is trying to kill me off.

Occasionally he will look directly at me, like when I ask if he has lost his PE uniform again or if he has the change from the two pairs of psychedelic skate socks he just bought.

Elly Varrenti and her son. Image: supplied.

Other times we play this little game where he chases me around the house and when he catches me - and he always does -manoeuvres me to the ground and looks into my eyes and says,

‘Gotcha Mum!’

What does he see, I wonder?

His nose is like a man’s nose now and the expression in his green eyes is new - amused, flirtatious, defiant.

He slumps past me in the hallway examining the lines in the floorboards. He trudges towards the train station, his heavy school bag slung across his almost-manly shoulders. His head is in a book. His focus is on a screen. He stares at his body side on in a mirror. He is chatting online to friends. When he sleeps, he is longer than the bed now and when he mumbles goodnight from under the covers, he presses his body up against the wall like he is trying to merge with its stony coolness.

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These days I am an embarrassment. My top is too low and my hair is too frizzy. My lips are too red and what’s for dinner. He is becoming a man, that’s for sure.

I am going to do some teaching at his school next term and he tells me: ‘Mum, don’t be too strict or too friendly. Just be normal, okay.’

If he hears me singing along with Bob Dylan he asks me not to, so I lower my voice and whisper-sing: "she aches just like a woman but she breaks just like a little girl".

He's a completely different person around his friends. Image: iStock.

"I wish I had a brother," he laments, when I drag him home from his best friend’s house after an entire weekend living in someone else’s bigger, noisier and ‘funner’ family.

"I wish I could live there," he says, staring out of the passenger seat window.

"Well you can’t," I say. "You already have a home. And by the way, the only way you will ever have a brother is if I get involved with some man who’s got kids."

"So why can’t you then?" he says, making faces in the side mirror now. "How come Dad’s got someone and you don’t?"

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My almost 13-year-old son wants me to do online dating but I tell him that I tried it once and hated it.

"It’s horrible. It’s not real."

"Nothing’s real," he says. He is not being philosophical or clever; he is just of that generation who experience the world virtually, so it’s no big deal.

My son is right of course. I mean he is right in wanting his mother to find another man apart from him. He is right in trying, however ambivalently, to kill me off, figuratively speaking, because lately my maternal presence is just too big for him. I am needy and he knows it. He loves me but he hates me too. He wants me available but invisible. He needs me reliable, loving but shtum. He likes me to keep my distance, but to acknowledge his every want.

Teenage boys are a strange breed. Image: Tumblr.

Maybe these days what he needs is different to what I think he needs. The best times are when he is doing his thing and I am doing mine but we are under the same roof and only calling distance apart.

"You want a smoothie?"

"Yeah."

"What are you doing? You need some help? You know I used to teach Year 7 English."

"No, I’m fine Mum."

"What are you reading this term?"

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"I don’t know."

Last try. "I hope you’re not playing computer games?"

"I’m doing English revision."

Revision? I didn’t know how to revise until I was 28 and in my third go at university.

The grammar of my son’s and my relationship has changed. I use questions and imperatives while he employs monosyllables and closed statements.

I am trying to teach him to ask other people about what they do and how their day’s been because it’s polite and empathetic.

"I’m marking stories," I call.

Nothing.

"You want to read one a first year student has written about zombies?"

"Yeah, okay." He comes out of his room and I meet him halfway at the entrance to our kitchen. I have been working at the kitchen table. I have a study and a desk but it’s friendlier in the kitchen.

I am standing in front of him now. He is almost a head taller than I am and for a flicker of a moment I see him at 40.

"So where’s the story?" he asks. "Are they vampires or zombies, you get them mixed up remember?"

"Vampires. I think."

He reads the first page, grins and then hands it back to me.

Author, Elly Varrenti.

"It’s not that bad. You just don’t get it," he says. "We got any of that good bread, not the one with all the seeds?"

He recently got dual Australian-German citizenship, so now he’s got another identity I can’t know. He scares me a bit. He is so other. He has become an exotic blonde with whom I cannot speak and for whom I can never do, or be, enough.

"Hey Mum!" he calls from his room.

"Yes."

"Come here."

"What is it?" I am at his door. He’s got his iPad in one hand and a sheet of questions in the other. He’s still on the English revision.

"What’s character development?" he asks.

I sit down next to him. Now this is something I can help him with.

This post originally appeared on Elly's blog and was republished here with full permission. You can listen to Elly read this post here.

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