The Fragility of Fourteen

My son is fourteen. He is beautiful and hilarious and smaller than all his friends and half-convinced he might not ever grow. He is so bright, so engaged with the world around him, fiercely loyal to those he loves. He reads the newspaper and asks insightful questions and still loves to snuggle.

My son has friends like none I’ve ever known. They are all clever and inquisitive and good-natured. Most of them are much kinder than my child, who has a wicked streak of selfishness and pride inherited straight from his mother. All of them are playful, willing to sing Meghan Trainor songs at the top of their lungs on the way to soccer practice, or draw ridiculous animated flipbooks out of post-its, or participate in impromptu dance parties with their moms.

My son has grown up with these friends. A few of them he’s known since birth; most of them he has played soccer with or been in classes with for years. Two of them are his cousins, but they are also his allies, his brothers, his constant friends. They are all in various stages of teendom - braces, body odor, feet that seem to grow overnight, crackling voices.

And I love it all so very much.

My nephew seems taller every time I see him. My son and his best friend since birth have been the same height for their whole lives, trading inches here and there, until about a year ago, when his friend lapped him, adding a good 5 inches to their lifelong comparison. Another dear friend we have known for almost ten years, have watched him stand in goal behind my son countless times, yet a week or so ago when I arrived at a game, I almost leaned over to ask someone, “who’s that in goal?” before realizing it was the same boy. And not the same boy.

It is so brilliant and beautiful and brave, what they are doing. Every day, becoming more themselves. It takes such strength.

Strength, yes, yet they are still fragile. My husband and I are both fully vaccinated, which has been such a relief. Our daughter (who is 16) will be vaccinated as soon as she returns from boarding school. But our son isn’t eligible. And I didn’t know how much weight that still left me to carry until I saw the announcement on Wednesday regarding the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine on children ages 12-15. I read the headline while my son was inside the orthodontist office getting his braces adjusted. Without warning, I immediately started crying. I didn’t know how much I needed to know that. I didn’t see how much I carried his fragility.

And then, yesterday, we learned that my son’s friend, that half-grown goalkeeper with his wry sense of humor and a sweep of dark hair across his forehead, that boy-child that we have loved for so many years, that my son loves with a ferocity, has been seriously injured in a car accident. His family has emerged from the accident relatively unscathed, but they are — we all are — hoping and waiting and holding our breath and praying for this boy-man, this greatness already and more yet to be, this son and brother and dearly beloved friend to come out of this.

They are all so fragile, you see. And we can’t protect them. Not really. In most cases, we wouldn’t want to, for everyday hurts and failures are an important part of life. Still, we ache to wrap them in care, to keep them safe from all harm, to bring them through it whole and wholly loved.