On a day when my 12-year-old Gabriel* is texting with girls on his iPhone, I am reminded of the mushy cheeked boy who sat on my lap at The Wiggles concert, too shy to run up on stage with the other toddlers. Wasn’t that, like, five minutes ago? What happened to Woody and Buzz, Lego Batman and Harry Potter? When did those obsessions become replaced with group chats and late night Face-Timing?
I should have seen this coming last year when Gabriel started wearing all black. Every day. Specifically, a black motorcycle jacket and Greek fisherman’s cap he got as a souvenir at The Beatles’ Love show in Las Vegas. Then he and a bunch of other kids formed a band, with Gabe on lead guitar. A few girls joined as back-up singers and he made a point to complain about how annoying they were.
Fast forward to the first middle school dance. Gabriel can’t go because we’ll be out of town at his cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. He is seriously bummed. The night before we leave, there is an art gallery at school. A cute blonde who he swears is “just a friend” comes to see his exhibit and hangs around till the cheese and crackers are put away. They text the whole time we’re gone; when we get back she messages him, “we should hang out”.
We’ve already planned to see a movie together and I suggest that he invite her along. Next thing I know the girl’s dad, whom I’ve only met in passing, joins us. Afterward, I suggest that Gabriel and his friend have lunch by themselves at the food court while we shop. But the only plan her dad finds acceptable is to take him back to his house. Gabriel awkwardly hugs me goodbye. I can’t pretend he’s just on a play date; an invisible line has been crossed. As we roam around the mall it feels weird not to have the fourth member of our team with us.
“Remember Teagan?” my husband Andrew says. Teagan was Gabriel’s first preschool crush. She was the kid who could never sit still during circle time, who needed a daily talking-to from the teachers. We had a birthday party where everyone came in costume. Gabriel was Batman. Teagan, with messy blonde hair and red lipstick, was the sexiest five-year-old Wonder Woman around. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Her mom was a tough talking muscular brunette with a white-blonde streak of hair who had built her big guns by working as a grip on Hollywood movie sets.
At least I still have one boy who hasn’t hit puberty. I turn to my 9-year-old son, Sage. “Do you think Gabe likes this girl as a girlfriend, or just a friend?”
“I’m not getting involved in that,” Sage says. A week later he’ll complain that his brother spends too much time on his phone talking to girls, but today he just wants to go home and ride his bike.
Back at the house, our Jack Russell terrier has gotten into some chocolate and is running around like he’s high on cocaine. I don’t have time to obsess over Gabe’s date because we have to go to the emergency vet. When we’re back home, safe and sound, I hold Cowboy in my arms and remember what it’s like to have a baby that size. The worries were much simpler then, at least compared to the ones ahead: driving, alcohol, drugs, sex, heartbreak (and not necessarily in that order).
If the next twelve years go as quickly as the first, I want to maximize every second and so I decide to splurge on tickets to see Billy Joel. Gabriel doesn’t remember The Wiggles concert, but he’ll remember this one. It’s not exactly the hippest crowd at the Hollywood Bowl; there are lots of middle-aged men with paunches and Hawaiian shirts. But there’s something magical about our family of four communing with seventeen thousand strangers under a full moon. The boys know the words to every song; we’ve taught them well. Afterwards, we collect posters and overpriced t-shirts, and commence the 30-minute journey back to our car. Sage falls asleep the minute he hits the back seat but Gabriel replays the parts of the show he recorded on his iPhone all the way home. There will be many more concerts and many more girls, but for now we have this moment together.
* names have been changed to protect the privacy of minors