Can My Son Really Be Anxious About Aging at Age 12?
By Janice Quirt
Photo © sabphoto/123RF
Nov 26, 2018
I didn’t expect shoe shopping to be the most fun thing ever. But I also didn’t expect it to be the source of my son’s anxiety – and not because they were out of his favourite style.
It all started innocently enough. My son needed new shoes for back to school. His size-seven shoes felt a bit tight. So off we went to the shoe store, where we realized that there were no size eights. I tried to steer my son to the men’s section to look for shoes that fit. To my surprise, he resisted, insisting on searching every single box in the youth section for the elusive size eight.
I tried to explain to him that it was time to transfer to the adult section. I talked about how he was as tall as me now and that his feet were growing. He continued trying to squish his feet into size sevens. I’ll admit it – my frustration was growing. In my mind, they were just shoes. Actually, they were shoes that cost a lot more money and with full tax. If anyone was stressed it was me, and if anything was stressed, it was my wallet — right?
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But then I stopped and took a closer look at my son. He wasn’t being obstinate, silly or not listening. He was downright anxious and upset. And then I realized that for him, moving into the adult section of the shoe store at age 12 was a big deal. It felt like saying goodbye to a part of his childhood. It seemed to represent one of many steps into adulthood that he would sooner or later have to take.
I don’t blame him for being freaked out about growing up. From his viewpoint, being a kid is totally awesome. And from what he sees of the world around him, being an adult can be a pretty rough go from time to time. Or maybe it’s that the world can be a tough place and he’s aware that as a kid he is somewhat shielded from it.
I thought his anxiety could maybe come from being different from his friends. But as it turned out, he told me that some of his friends had much bigger feet than he did. So they’re all going through the process of shedding childhood and becoming mini adults.
"And then I realized that for him, moving into the adult section of the shoe store at age 12 was a big deal."
We figured out the shoe situation eventually, with a pair of adult Nikes that he now adores. And I received something that doesn’t come in a shoebox: the reminder that I need to be aware that what may seem basic (like an errand) to me can be a milestone for a kid with a big heart, big feelings and big changes on the way. I need to have my feelers out for moments that feel overwhelming and scary. Because if he can’t talk to me about how new shoes make him feel, how well will we fare when it comes to the bigger issues?
I always bristled at the expression “little kids, little issues – big kids, big issues.” It sure felt like a big deal when my son was four-months-old and had a severe case of croup. Sitting out on the front porch in the middle of the night in the dead of winter to allow the cold air to help him breathe, it didn’t seem at all trivial. But I guess I can see that what we are facing now are different issues. Issues that, increasingly, he will have to approach and deal with on his own, or as independently as possible with parental guidance as needed. We can’t stop the clock.
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And it’s not that he’s Peter Pan, because he usually takes things in stride. But high school can sound terrifying. University, too. And being able to eat cookies for breakfast as an adult doesn’t always seem to make up for all of what may come before that.
So I vow to listen in all the little moments, the chores, the everyday life stuff and try to be aware for angst and questions. They’ll pop out when I least expect them to, because that’s life. That’s parenting. And that’s growing up, even as it happens in a shoe store.