“Do you like this one?” I hold up a t-shirt with a pug sitting on a couch surrounded by chips, soda, and a game console that says ‘Couch Pugtato.’ We’re in the boys’ department at Kohl’s, the last stop for the day on our back to school shopping expedition.
“I need that,” he says.
Of course he does. My firstborn son is eleven years old and loves pugs, screaming goats, blue hair, Fortnite, and Mountain Dew. If it’s irreverent, asinine, sugary, or all of the above, he’s all in. He’s a few weeks away from starting the sixth grade.
I hold up medium and a large sized t-shirts to his slim frame. Soon he’ll be as tall as me, which isn’t much of a feat as I’m a whopping five feet and three quarter inches tall, but it will be astounding nonetheless considering I once held him in one hand under my arm like a football.
The medium looks plenty big. As we walk to the front of the store to pay for the t-shirt, an unsolicited question floats through my mind.
Is it okay to wear a pug t-shirt to middle school?
Every year around this time, I field a lot of familiar questions.
Can I get a camouflage lunchbox? Can I get the binder with sharks on it? Can I get the bike helmet that looks like a watermelon? Can I get an iPhone? Can I be a Fortnite character for the Halloween Parade?
The answers come easy. Yes. Sure. I suppose. No. Of course.
From bottle flipping to flossing, I know what’s hot and what’s not in elementary school. But, as my soon-to-be 6th grader scans the store shelves filled with backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, pencil cases, and notebooks, I realize the only thing I know for sure about middle school is that I don’t know anything at all.
My tween son is perfectly ridiculous and ridiculously perfect, but will middle school eat him up (like me) or chew him up and spit him out?
You do you. I repeat this mantra often. It is how I’m tackling my forties and raising my boys. If I’ve learned anything over the last decade as a mom, it’s that every mistake I’ve made and regret I’ve had has been a consequence of unrealistic expectations. My kids are mine to guide but not goad. My job isn’t to make them who I want them to be. Rather, it’s to help them figure out who they are.
In the long run my ‘Couch Pugtato’ connoisseur will find his way and I’ll find mine. In the meantime, I’m leaning into the discomfort of having more questions than answers, which, I suppose, is what middle school is all about. Thankfully, there’s at least one question I can answer.
“Can I get Snapchat?” my son asks in the car on the way home.
“Absolutely not,” I say with all the confidence in the world.