What a crazy time to turn 16. Or any age. Bang in the middle of a pandemic, escalating climate change, catastrophic weather and the rise of authoritarian regimes worldwide, you're hitting a milestone. Throw in a social media tsunami that tantalises and infects our brains like ear worms, and it's a wonder you've made it this far.
It's a lot.
Then again, so are you, my son. You have always been a lot. Sixteen years ago today, you muscled your way into the world, hand atop your head as if to say,"I got this".
You were born with confidence beyond your years. You are bold in the ways that only inexperience can forge.
By contrast, I wonder each year, what do I know about raising a teenaged boy? We are both navigating territory new to us. Not a single day passes when I don't wish your dad was here to guide you, to model what manhood could be.
Not the shouty, testosterone and beer-fueled version of masculinity that seems to be society's default setting, but the quiet, considered, sober version of manhood that your dad would have demonstrated. He was the one who stayed home with you after I returned to work three months after your birth. He changed your nappies, fed you, stored mama's milk and took you to the neighbourhood sandpit with your older sister. I would return from work and meetings and ask about the day. "They're monsters," your dad would say, laughing.
Your father started kicking a soccer ball with you one summer around age 3, then helped you stand on skis in winter. Today, it seems there are few sports you cannot play. As the seasons and years have unfurled, other men have stepped in to show you the game, to reveal life behind the XY curtain. They are coaches, teachers and my friends. They are family members across an ocean whom we rarely see in person (especially now), but think of daily.
When those men are not around, you've got me. And a posse of teenaged friends, who, like you, are navigating adolescence as best they can.
I'd love to share wisdom - but I fear I'd be dispensing from an empty bag, like the crinkly sacs of lonely potato chips in our pantry. What do I know about growing up male? Nothing. I didn't even have a brother to look to for clues.
Celia Lashlie wrote in He'll Be OK - Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men, that I need to back off and let you find your way. The late Kiwi author told NZME in 2005 sons do not want to be nurtured. She compared adolescence as a bridge to manhood that mothers need to walk beside rather than on.
"For him to get where he needs to go, he needs to have that space where he feels his mother isn't following him around," said Lashlie. "What he does know with unerring certainty is that, should he have a rough patch, he has only to turn and she's there."
If I could offer advice from the sidelines, it would go like this:
Try your best, even when it's inconvenient. Especially when it's inconvenient. Few things worth striving for come easily.
Go outside. Being in the fresh air helps your body and mind, which are intertwined. Offscreen life is the meat of the sandwich. Mindless screen time is like mayonnaise - tasty in small doses, but no substitute for a meal.
Keep learning. It is never too late to gain a new skill. I know reading is not your chosen activity, but it will unlock doors to success.
Respect other people. And when you disagree with them, know when to argue your point and when to back off. On the one hand, admitting you were wrong is a life skill. On the other hand, trying to convince someone you are right can be a waste of words. As a side note, I now appreciate how annoying I was to my own parents when I tried to litigate everything from curfews to discipline at the kitchen table. My reward is a mini-me.
Realise driving is a privilege and the most dangerous thing you will likely ever do on a regular basis. Stick to the speed limits, stay off your phone and never drive under the influence of drugs, alcohol or sleep deprivation.
Always check the source of information. Learn to distinguish science from the circus show of conspiracy theories. There's an old journalism motto that says, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out" (My experts can verify my love for you).
Use sunscreen. Get an X-ray if the pain persists and you think you may have broken a bone.
Call your mother. Text her, at least. She will always worry about you.
Remember I love you. Even if you think I'm out of touch with your world, I am not out of reach. I'll keep setting boundaries, listening and walking beside your bridge.