I'm pretty sure I became the mother of a teenager last night.
No, it wasn't my son's birthday. We still have a few months before the title of teenager will officially be his. So there was no cake, no blowing out of candles, no off-key singing to mark the occasion. Instead, the realization quietly crept up and made itself at home as I was driving Jared and two of this friends to a comic store to attend their first Magic the Gathering tournament.
There they were, three boys who have known each other since they could barely walk, crammed into the back seat of my Prius. Their low, almost-man voices, punctuated by bursts of young-boy exuberance, filled the car, drowning out the CD playing. Excitement bubbled over and carried us to our destination.
Only it wasn't our destination. It was their destination. As soon as I had parked the car, the three boys tumbled out of the back and headed immediately for the store, leaving me, already forgotten, in their dust. I followed them in to find them patiently waiting their turn at the counter.
"Can I sign up for the Magic tournament?" I heard Jared ask confidently, as though he had done it a million times before, when the girl behind the counter turned to him. Here in this place, a world completely foreign to me, he was right at home.
I hung around until they had all paid their $5 and had their decks checked to make sure they were tournament legal. (Yeah, I didn't know there was such a thing before either. Fortunately, you don't get arrested if they find an illegal card in your deck.)
"What do you do now?" I asked.
"I don't know," Jared responded.
I would have been filled with anxiety not knowing what I was supposed to do. The tone of his voice and the shrug of his shoulders made it clear that he was not bothered by it, but rather secure in the knowledge that he would figure it all out in due time.
As the boys turned from the counter, they discovered that a friend from school was also there. They greeted Tad, who has a reputation for being a really good player, with enthusiasm. I have a tendency to imagine all the kids I don't know at my son's middle school as resembling the punks they are portrayed to be in movies. I was pleasantly surprised that he just appeared to be a normal kid with the added bonus of being capable of polite conversation. Tad was clearly an experienced tournament player, the girl at the counter even had a nickname for him, and he led the boys to the tables where they would be playing. Led them away from me. Except for one last plea for some money for the vending machine, my son no longer needed me. With a final "good luck" and "goodbye," I walked back to my car and headed for home.
It was a strange feeling to leave my baby in a room full of men in their 20s and 30s, who were at worst child molesters and at best socially-awkward males who had never quite figured out the whole male-female dynamic. (I know I'm stereotyping, but these are the crazy thoughts that go through your mind in situations such as these.) The rational part of my brain recognized that the people gathered to play cards were probably none of those things. Even if they were, chances were pretty slim that one would suddenly leap across the table during the middle of the tournament to molest my son, who, now merely months away from earning his black belt, could protect himself better than I could anyway. And of course, I wasn't leaving my baby. I was leaving the confident, independent, smart, funny, semi-responsible young man that my baby had grown to be. I knew he would be all right.
And so would I.