- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sitting here contemplating Jimmy’s upcoming 13th birthday, you might think I’m wistfully recalling the moment of his birth back in 1994. He arrived a month ahead of schedule after a grueling and tenuous pregnancy, so every year I allow myself a brief reflection of the arrival of my only son.

But no, that’s not what’s on my mind.

Perhaps this milestone prompts thoughts about my swiftly passing motherhood journey. It might seem logical to take stock of my own advancing age now that three of my four children are teens.

But no. There’s no point dwelling on your unsightly purple veins.

It’s an important birthday and yet no philosophical thoughts crowd my mind. No nostalgia. No profound reflections. Only the fervent wish that Jimmy would make up his mind about his birthday party.

I can’t figure out what his problem is. It’s not as if I haven’t offered options.

Option A: A traditional party with Jimmy’s favorite friends. This would include the guys from the summer basketball team plus his best pal from the neighborhood. Pizza. Cake. A water fight. Staying up late night with the PlayStation game in the basement and sleeping bags all over the floor. Pancakes for breakfast. Thanks for coming. Nothing to it.

Option B: A family birthday celebration. He picks the restaurant, he picks the movie, he picks the ice cream parlor. His sisters promise to behave kindly for the entire evening. Collared shirt optional.

So far, the choices are fairly clear cut.

But what’s this? Mom throws in the element of surprise.

Option C: Girls. Since this is his 13th birthday, I allow as how several good friends happen to be of the female persuasion. Suppose we invite a few guys and girls, pile the gang into the van and head to a water park?

I don’t want to rush Jimmy into focusing on girls, nor do I believe any 13-year-old boy ever needs to be encouraged by his mother to notice them in the first place. I just thought it would be courteous of me to offer this as a choice out of respect for his new status as a teenager.

But Jimmy is stumped.

I can’t see how this is a complicated decision. If you choose Option A, you get a bunch of gift cards to the local sporting goods store, but you have a big mess to clean up the morning after the party.

If you choose Option B, your entire family benefits and we’re all really nice to you for a few days because we know you basically sacrificed your birthday so that we could have a nice night out.

Option C? An unknown.

Suppose the invitees think you’re trying to set them up?

Suppose something really embarrassing happens, like you go down a water slide and it gives you a noticeable wedgie?

Or worse — suppose you get a wedgie but you don’t notice, and everyone else does?

There are risks to Option C. It’s the great unknown.

I can see I’ve put an idea on the table that is fraught with ramifications beyond Jimmy’s control and that this is what’s causing his indecision.

But honestly, if he doesn’t decide soon how he wants to celebrate his 13th birthday, we’ll be lighting 14 candles instead. I discuss it patiently with him, but in my head I’m thinking, “Make up your mind, already.”

Tonight I asked him again which way he was leaning. “It’s getting too late to mail invitations,” I said. “If you don’t decide soon, we’ll be stuck making phone calls.” I figure the idea of phoning people will sound so dreadful that Jimmy will just impulsively choose a party plan. I’m secretly thinking, “Dinner and a movie … dinner and a movie.”

But he doesn’t decide. Instead he says, “Mom, I just don’t know which party to choose. Some days I want to just have the guys and goof off, but the other party sounds fun, too.” I don’t have to ask which “other party” he means. It’s not dinner and a movie.

“I think I see the problem,” I said, “and I think maybe it’s pretty normal for a guy your age.” I’m learning that boys love to hear they’re normal. “Some days you’re ready to be a teenager and some days you’d probably like the clock to stop right where you are.”

Jimmy says “uh huh” in a tone that’s both matter-of-fact and a little poignant.

Boy, do I know how he feels.

Truth be told, his entry into the teen years is, indeed, a milestone for us both. He’s tipping the balance in our home, entrenching us in a phase of life that cannot be denied. Three teenagers is a lot of teenagers.

Also, he’s leading me to a place I’ve not yet been: mother of a teenage son. I confess I’m not really ready to let go of the little boy who has charmed me up to now in favor of someone gangly and smelly and profoundly male.

It looks like he’s not so ready, either. When he went to bed, I told him we’d have to hammer out the plan for his birthday, but now that I think about it, perhaps the plan has hammered itself out for us.

Why is it I’m just sure it won’t be dinner and a movie?

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks @comcast.net.

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