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The Boy Who Ceased to Exist

The Boy Who Ceased to Exist

April 21, 2008


My thirteen year old son is going through that phase where he hates having his photo taken. Virtually every photo I take of him features the back of his head. Or his hand in front of his face. Or a book. I tease him that when grows up he is going to wonder if he even existed at all during his thirteenth year. Or wonder if perhaps that was the year we kept him tethered to the basement water pipes.

Today I was taking photos when he unceremoniously informed me that he no longer wants me to write anything about things he does. Or doesn’t do. Or photograph him. Or show other people the photos that I do manage to get of him. I should just pretend that he doesn’t exist.

He probably wouldn’t want me to tell you that today I let him go into the grocery store all alone to buy a few things. it isn’t that he has been itching to do this. It has never really come up before, but today we were running errands and I needed to go to the store next to the grocery store so I asked him if he wanted to go in alone.

He definitely wouldn’t want me to tell you that as he walked away I shouted, “Don’t let anyone kidnap you now!” When he found me a little while later in the neighboring store he seemed to walk taller. Some imperceptible change had happened and suddenly I could see the future.

As we were driving home, his seven year old brother in the back seat decided to count. With each number he got louder and more enthusiastic. My 13 year old son looked over at me and said, “My god that is the most annoying thing.” I agreed, but instead of saying anything I reached over and turned the radio off.

“No sense in competing. We may as well embrace the counting.” I laughed.

“Doesn’t that annoy you?” he asked.

Rather than answer, I reminded him of a time when he was about the same age and he decided to count by tens all the way home from his aunt’s house. A house that is over an hour away from us.

“I remember that!” he said.

“Do you?” I asked, in between the shouts of FIRTY-FIVE… FIRTY-SIX… FIRTY-SEVEN…

“Yes. I don’t remember it being so annoying though.” He laughed.

Of course you don’t, I wanted to say.

And so if I don’t mention this son anymore it isn’t because I don’t have things to say about him. I do. It isn’t that I don’t love him. Because man, do I love this child young man. I am proud of who he is growing up to be. I am fairly confident these days that he won’t grow up to be a career criminal, a serial killer, or a Republican. Oh I kid. I just threw that last one in there for my husband. Some of my best friends are Republicans.

Sometimes being a parent means keeping your mouth shut and embracing the moment silently. Not matter how annoying it might be.

Posted by Chris @ 10:49 am  

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  1. Courtney says:

    I think it’s the perfect time and way to give him some privacy, it’s hard enough being a teenager without the added pressure of ‘anything I say or do’ will end up on the internet. Tell him he still has to be in the Family Christmas photo though, that way we’ll know you let him up from the basement at least once this year :)

  2. Lindsay says:

    Hehehhe very funny.

  3. Jolyn says:

    Great post. Great parenting. Great humor. Thanks for the 3-fer. (Oh, and love the photo, too. Make that a 4-fer.)

  4. inthefastlane says:

    I was just telling my daughter that our relatives are going to think that I only have two boys and that I sold her to Gypsies or something, because she is never in pictures anymore (unless there is a pillow or her hair in her face).

  5. lizinsumner says:

    I have one of the above also - except, he’s 14. He’s got skinny knees, too! And, he also doesn’t appreciate being “discussed”, in any way, shape, or form. And, he’s being raised by a {{cough, cough}} republican (oh, the shame!!). Brace yourself - I think it’s a looooong phase.

  6. Jennifer says:

    What a great mom!

  7. Rosie says:

    I won’t leave a comment that your non-existant 13 year old is the cutest kid ever then. Because he totally is(n’t). ;)
    Along the same vein, my 11 year old has expressly forbidden any use or likeness of her image on my blog. And I totally (don’t) respect her wishes.

    I love that they’re growing up, but it kills me at the same time. That tall, beautiful girl over there acting all growed up and fishing her own money out of her own wallet while paying for her own stuff? That’s my baby. *sniff*

  8. Canadian Coco says:

    Yes indeed. My son is 13 also, and I can relate to feeling proud of the young man he is becoming… it’s really heart-warming… there’s just nothing like that mother/son bond. Even though they’re trying to loosen it right about now. As his younger siblings test my patience daily, it serves as a good reminder that these moments, the annoying and the sweet, will not last forever, and one day soon they too will aspire to loosen those bonds a bit. But man my tongue hurts from all that biting! Good on you, you seem to be doing a great job. I must say though, sometimes the annoying just gets too much and my patience wears thin. As does everyone’s at times I guess. I keep trying though…. practice makes better.

  9. Kris says:

    As a Mom to only one son who is now 16 I could totally relate to your post. I think I love my son now more then when he was a baby if that’s at all possible. Maybe it is something about the man he is becoming, a good man with a huge heart. Even though he stands a foot taller then me he will always be my little boy.

  10. Maria says:

    The oldest of my six children is 10 and you just made me cry.

    Thank you.


  11. Sue says:

    I have one who I’m pretty sure won’t become a Republican, but I’m not sure about the career criminal yet. Do you have some kind of summer camp for preteens? You seem to be doing a great job!

  12. lora says:

    I guess I’ll respect his wishes too and try not to miss him terribly.

    Be sure to keep track of him somewhere else, that way you can publish everything in five years from now when he leaves your house and we can all read up on what he was up to.

  13. Lorraine says:

    Aww. love this post

  14. Alissa says:

    those republicans are the worst!

    loved this entry. what a handsome and astute young man.

  15. Jen says:

    When my oldest is thirteen her baby sister will be six and doing the same thing. It actually has already started.

  16. kristen says:

    That’s really lovely. What a great boy, and a great relationship you have.

  17. Jennifer says:

    I love the way you write about your kids, the small ones and the big ones. The stories are so real and so endearing.

  18. Katie W says:

    Is it wrong that I’m looking at your son and thinking that in 3 or 4 years time he’s going to have a load of girls chasing after him?
    Having said that with such attractive parents is it any surprise!

  19. jody says:

    He sounds awesome.

    I have one of those too. 13 is such an interesting age. When they want to talk, they talk, but no amount of prodding can get them to open up when it is YOUR idea to converse.

  20. dangitAnge says:


    My dh tells my girls that they’ll be written out of the will if they become Democrats.

    Oh well, your blog still makes me laugh often and very hard. Thanks!

  21. allysha says:

    In some cultures they literally ignore their teen-agers until they reach become adults. They consider the time between childhood and adulthood as a sort of no man’s land. I guess your son is just responding to some primal instinct!

    Still, you should write about him and just keep it filed away, so he can remember later that he still really existed at 13.

  22. suburbancorrespondent says:

    I am always explaining to the teens that they were annoying, too, when they were younger; and that I am not going to deprive their younger siblings of being able to act like children, just because it triggers the older ones’ adolescent irritation. Serves them right.

  23. allysha says:

    and, um, you can take out that “reach” in the first sentence. (I try so hard to edit before I hit submit. Sigh.)

  24. Ramblin' Red says:

    Oh yes…

    We have the backseat counting going on too. And my 7 y/o sits and rolls her eyes at her 4.5 y/o brother while he does it. It cracks me up that she doesn’t realize she was JUST doing that, like, yesterday!

    And your 13 y/o - dang, but he’s getting big!

  25. Lilly says:

    Oh heck. I’d love to hear more about this son because I think he is handsome and smart and also he’s just ahead of my own son in age. But I know that it’s best to respect his privacy. Hope you can still take some pictures of him and leave some notes for when he and you are older and you want to look back on this interesting time in his life!

  26. Alice Wills Gold says:

    Man, my 4 year old feels the same way…will I never be able to blog about her again?

    Loved the photo and the story…I will try to embrace all the loudness in my car today…that really is a hard thing for this mother to do.

  27. Tamara says:

    I just starting reading your blog and I love it. I have four kids 12, 10 and 7yo twins. I understand what you are experiencing because my 12yo doesn’t want to go anywhere with us anymore. I took the “younger”kids as he like to call his siblings to a puppet show during our break and you would have thought I asked him to stand naked in front of his school. He announced to me that this summer when we go on our little outing that he wouldn’t go (fill in the blank that represents “kiddie”) places because he was no longer a child. I said OK much to his surprise. I realize that he is becoming a wonderful young man so this summer he will get to pick out some “grownup” place.I guess that the life of having boys!!

  28. Patti Flesher says:

    My 12-year-old son is going through the same picture phase. We recently took a trip to Florida and I think he is in one picture out of 100.

  29. Jennifer says:

    I am about to have a 13 year old in my house. Our first teenager! I can’t believe it! She does not mind if I put her picture up or write about her…but that soon may change.

  30. amy says:

    He is a beautiful young man. As the mother of a teenage boy, I hear you, and I hear him loud and clear. It is very difficult not to write about them. They are among the most fascinating creatures on earth. Sometimes I have posted about my own teenage son (now almost 17) and then I have taken it down. The guilt was too strong. (other times not). They do need their privacy even if my blog is completely anonymous. But the compulsion to write about them is powerful. I am working on keeping my mouth shut. Right now the score is mouth = 10 / Shut mouth = 0….

  31. CaliforniaGrammy says:

    Beautiful post, Chris. Embrace every moment of every stage, our kids tend to grow up right before our eyes, and some day they’re great moms, like you, raising their own!

  32. CaliforniaGrammy says:

    Not that the thirteen-year-old will be a mom, duh! And he’s such a handsome young man, with those adorable dimples just like his dad.

  33. Valeta says:

    That is so sweet. They grow so fast.

  34. arduous says:

    I understand his feelings and as much as I’m sad we won’t hear about him much anymore, I also think you are totally right to honor his wishes. Your early teens are hard and it’s difficult not to feel self-conscious all the time. So I can see why he wouldn’t want all these internet strangers knowing stuff that’s going on in his life!

  35. Jeanna says:

    Just wanted to say that you made me tear up this time. My oldest is 11 rapidly going on 12 and I, too see the future coming full force and head on and I’m not ready for it. I’m not ready for him to be a man, and yet…I too am
    “embracing the moment silently.” Thanks for that.

  36. Kirsetin says:

    HA HA, a Republican. I am just laughing out loud, right here in the middle of Panera. People are already looking at me suspiciously, because I have overstayed my welcome, but I can’t help it - that is very funny. But I definitely wouldn’t tell him you posted that photo!

  37. Stephanie says:

    Pardon me as moment as I dab away the tears.

  38. Rachelle says:

    I stumbled onto your blog for the first time today and I’ve been reading for over an hour! Fantastic! We have similar lives and if we knew each other we may be friends. How many children do you have and what is the age range? Also I get the feeling you are in the New England area - am I right? I’m in Maine with two - 11 year old boy and 7 year old girl. I look forward to enjoying your blog!

  39. Trudie says:

    It’s really hard giving your teenagers room enough to grow, but you seem to know just when it’s time to do just that.

  40. Lisa says:

    :( It is so bittersweet………Watching these kids grow up! I have a son who will be 13 in a couple of months and is doing the same types of things you mentioned. I think they just want to be in control of their own life all of a sudden. WHAT A DRAG! ahahahahah

  41. Nicki says:

    Well, you still have six children left to write about! And we will just try and imagine about the young man and his adventures…

  42. FabGirl says:

    Ah, this was too sweet. My oldest son gave me the same request a few years back. And sometimes it’s hard to pretend he doesn’t “exist” in my virtual world. Although it would be nice to get some pictures of him once in a while to send to family!

  43. Megan says:

    Lovely. I hope he enjoys his anonymity, his being the One Who Isn’t There while it lasts. Mine tend to volunteer to be blogged until I find myself being the one saying, “um, are you really sure you want me to write about THAT on the blog?” They even tell their friends to read it. Weird kids.

  44. Jamie AZ says:

    What a beautiful post about nothing. (Wouldn’t way to acknowledge who it was about.) Your exchange in the car was awesome - especially the “I don’t remember it being so annoying” - so true! I love his smirk in the picture, too.

  45. liv says:

    beautiful. (and whoa, am i really first???)

  46. Jaybird says:

    How beautiful! A son growing up and a mother that understands…..

  47. Becky says:

    My brother Ben doesn’t like his picture being taken either…in fact, not having it taken has become his “eternal vigilance”. He says that way the few pictures we do get of him will be all the more precious.

  48. Stephanie in AR says:

    Perhaps if you explain that this is a way to keep memories from disappearing into the *will never forget* blackhole and talk to him maybe he will agree to let you post & a picture or two a month. Maybe if you choose a favorite together & let him write/tell why…at least is is something and you never know he may turn out to be a writer too. maybe…

  49. Gem says:

    Yep. I have one of those too. I can still write about him because my blog is so low profile that neither he, nor anyone he knows, knows it exists. But 13 year old boys definately do not do photographs. Like you he might not exist on our holidays etc. He is going to hit 14 in the summer though so maybe it will pass. Not holding my breath though!

  50. Ave says:

    I surprised that there are no comments to this really sweet post. Must be out of deference to your son who would prefer to not hear from us anyway - lol!!

  51. Mama Bear says:

    The ever exciting and often changing life of a thirteen year old boy is quite a story. The joys and challenges they face each day, and the joys and challenges that you now face each day will keep you on your toes. It’s at that age where you have to let go a bit, and it is so hard! Buckle up for the road ahead~ both of you! You can do the counting now, counting while you pray for patience.

  52. Leeann says:

    Oh Chris,

    How I hear you.

    My daughter will be turning 13 in less than two weeks.

    Just as a clue, for my birthday two weeks ago, she gave me three coupons. One of them was for a dozen pictures, without faces or hiding. lol

    I was grateful. :-)


  53. Heather says:

    And you reach another milestone.

    Today, I showed my 6-year old son the pictures I posted with his face on my ’80s hair. He said, “Don’t show those to anyone.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

  54. gwendomama says:

    what? who? i have no idea what you are talking about.

    it is as if i have been brainwashed or something.

    omg i hope i am not from texas and have 17 sister wives.

    i can’t remember a THING.

  55. Mir says:

    It’s really too bad he’s ceasing to exist, especially seeing how adorable those dimples are on his man-boy face. ;)

  56. Janice says:

    As the step-Mom of a 13 year old boy…I REALLY know what you are talking about! I am lucky I get the annual Christmas card photo. People have wondered what we have done with him (I usually say we keep him stuffed in the closet.)

  57. Keri says:

    you just made me cry & my oldest is only 4. I wonder what I will do when she gets to be 13.

  58. angela michelle says:

    don’t you love those glimpses of the man breaking out from the boy?

  59. Deb Finch says:

    I’ve been in your shoes, but I’m on the later side of them now. Can I just tell you, and I homeschooled all four (3 boys, 1 girl) of my kids, that I loved having teenage boys! I only had a sister growing up, and we lived out in the country so there weren’t neighborhood kids. Boys were like a foreign land for me, and when I had my first one, I thought, “What am I going to do with him…I don’t know much about little boys.”

    And then there is the day you walk into the room to wake them up and you realize those are boy legs with MAN hair on them!

    Granted, 13 was probably not their best year, but by the time they hit 14-15 on up, they become truly young men and are so much fun to be with. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything! We went skiing together, and they waited for slow old mom. They’d even ask if I’d like to take a run with them. They seem much more considerate and ASK what they can do to help out! They’ve carried my skis, luggage, garden stuff, lawn furniture, and lord knows what else. And they do it with rarely a complaint. So hang in there, it just keeps getting better!

  60. Beth says:

    very bittersweet…I so enjoyed this post. When I share a mutually funny experience with my 9 yr old son, my thoughts race forward to what kind of man he will be. You’ve given me joy and hope that it can be good.

  61. Stephanie says:


    Your post touched me so, I ended up writing a post of my own.


  62. Dawn says:

    Ahhhhh the angst of the teenager. hahahaha I think you are handling it all just perfectly! Way to go mom!!

  63. Mary W says:

    My oldest deposited the money he made babysitting into his own account the otherday. I let him go into the bank and fill out the deposit slip all by himself. I wanted to photograph the trip but he just rolled his eyes and said “oh MOM” so I didn’t.

    He came out of HellsFargo just a wee bit taller and a little bit more sure of himself.

    It killed me - to stay in the car and let him do it but I did it.

  64. Carrie says:

    I totally understand why he would say that, but I think we will all miss him and the stories about him growing up.

    I have always wondered if he reads your blog(s)? or if any of your kids read them?

  65. tari says:

    geez! do you read all these? such a tender time, when your son goes from being just your kid to someone you (get to) share with or someone you (have to compete) to have as a compatriot.

    i miss my son just writing about it. what a beautiful age, when you are both hero and villain. . . and mother.

    never forget that the voice he heard in the womb in yours, and your voice ALONE will be his unseen source and encouragement as he goes forward. there’s just something about a womb. . .

    and advice for all you youngsters who get so (justifiably) frustrated with the throes of parenting. BE CAREFUL how you word your corrections - every little heart takes these in. so if you want to be really insulting, say “you are acting LIKE [whatever kind creature you want to ascribe]” instead of you ARE [same]. gotta be careful with those labels…

  66. Denise says:

    Oh my.. best post eva!!

  67. Stephanie says:

    (and when I say, I wrote a post of my own, I mean, I wrote a post in response to yours, and linked to you of course.)

  68. InterstellarLass says:

    I’m right there with you. I’m having such a hard time reminding myself that I have to leave him be and give him that space that teen boys need. I gain a 13 year old in 42 days. Watching my ‘baby’ grow up is painful. Does it stop hurting once he actually turns 13, or does it get worse?

  69. Crisanne says:

    I will miss reading about him and the way you express your feelings about watching him grow up. I suppose you will come up with some ways to still express them, but without the details. Of course, you do still have 6 kids! What am I getting all worked up about???

  70. Karly says:

    Oh, this makes me want to cry. Your baby is growing up. I need to go hug my babies now.

  71. Giraffe Parade says:

    The dirty knees + sly grin we can see + this entry = ded me.

  72. Victoria says:

    I love you, I love your kids, and I love this post. What a great shot too. Just awesome. And now I’m going to go sob into my pillow a little. Thanks :)

  73. Mishel says:

    Is it bad I want to keep my 15-month old 15 months old? I never want him to grow up to ever go to school, to ever not want hugs/kisses, to ever run to someone other than me with eyes that are bright they make all the bad things better? Is it bad that I cry thinking of these things or want to cry thinking of them or want to cry writing this? Help! You’re kids are so much older than mine. How do you deal with the inevitable of children growing up?

  74. Carrie says:

    That was just perfect.

    I sent my 11 year-old in the little neighborhood store just today to buy a loaf of bread. And confident little him handled it no problem - he even bought me a candy, with my own money!

  75. Maddy says:

    Thank you Chris, that was so well written. I’m going through this with my “nearly” 13-year-old son. There is a strong, intelligent, handsome young man emerging from under the now, very thin, layer of boy. I see that same degree of pride in his own achievement when he walks in from high school having got the but to and from school, or when he finishes up his homework un-aided and without prompting from me. I thought I’d be scared of letting go of the boy, but the young man is so lovely I don’t know what I was worried about.

  76. peepnroosmom says:

    Oh the teenagers. Mine is 13, too, and he cringes at the thought of the camera. I have very few pictures of him lately without his hand over his face or the back of his head. I found a picture of him the other day when he was about nine and I cried a little because I miss that little boy. But on the other hand I am enjoying the more responsible (a little) young man.

  77. Pave.Gurl says:

    He looks just like his daddy.

    And, y’know, I am childfree, and this post made me a little teary. I get my kid-fix vicariously through you and Carmen.

    Thank you so much for being willing to share your life with all us random webbernet folk.

  78. carol says:

    My boy/man is 14 now. I made a rule years ago that my little ones can’t get any bigger but they are very disobedient. Every year they get bigger. I love your blog. Especially the pictures are an inspiration to me-a wannabe photographer-. Thanks.

  79. Jeanne says:

    You’re such a great mother for not fighting it. I tried to fight it. I didn’t want to let go. Now he’s nearly 17 and coming back!
    Congratulations on a job well done. Thanks for sharing.

  80. wesleyjeanne says:

    This is really a beautiful post, and I think the photo with it is perfect–showing just enough of him and yet still elusive.

  81. Julie Stiles Mills says:

    My son, who will be 13 in June, is almost constantly annoyed by his (7 year old) sister’s singing (which is fairly constant). I often tell him: “If you’re going to be a really GREAT dad, you have to learn to do one of two things: Find this kind of sound precious and cherish it OR tune. it. out.

    Your choice.

    The dad who tells his child to be quiet in these situations, just made a lifetime memory. and not a good one.

  82. Heather says:

    My oldest son is 8. But, somedays I get a glimpse of the man he will one day become and I get a little teary. I just had my second son a few months ago and it has been such a great reminder that it all goes by so fast.

    I always tell my husband that we are not raising children- we are raising future adults. And as long as we keep our eye on the prize, the annoying times are more tolerable and the sweet ones are validation that we are doing *something* right.

  83. Kasey says:

    what a great mom.

  84. Marcia says:

    I stumbled on your blog quite by accident several months ago and have faithfully read each entry every since. I am an empty-nest mom, so I am vicariously re-living those years all over again by reading your humorous, heart-warming and captivating stories. Thank you for sharing! I can assure you that your son will thank you someday for respecting his wishes and showing the whole world that you are on his side. Way to go … keep up the good work!

  85. cristen says:

    i am so glad no one said anything bad about the republican comment. i was worried for you and read the comments in curiosity. but totally agreed with your sentiment on that matter!

  86. Jaime says:

    I had my 13-year-old, my oldest of 7, read this entry. We both laughed together - we can totally relate!

  87. Jenn says:

    Your a good mama.

  88. OMSH says:

    Oh my, he’s beautiful. Is he quite certain he doesn’t want to have MORE photos taken?

    I remember the first time I was “free” to go away from my parent’s watchful eye. It was a lot earlier than 13, but then the world has changed, and I was at a theme park.


    I don’t know if I could do that at 21, much less 10. Yes, I was 10.

  89. Common Mom says:

    Great post - love it!

  90. Common Mom says:

    OK - I have to comment again - I broke the bloggy commenting rule. But really, that’s it . . . I loved this post . . . it’s perfect and says it all. I so don’t want my kids to grow up - yet I can’t wait until they do, because I’m excited to see the young woman and young man that they will turn out to be.

    13 . . . it’s not even on my radar, even though my son is well over half way there. I will miss hearing about your 13 year old . . . how else will I know what to expect from my son? ;-)

  91. Tracey says:

    Apparently, all 13 year old boys are very similar :-) I have one at home too. He finds his ‘just turned 9′ brother very annoying these days. Luckily, I can still see flashes of the little boy he used to be…and I really like the big boy he is becoming :-) Big boys are neat, aren’t they?

  92. Nicole says:

    What a lovely, LOVELY entry!

  93. Monique says:

    Oh wow. I’m pregnant with my first, a boy. This totally made me weep. He’s not even here yet and I’m thinking of the day that he’ll be embarrassed to walk with me or have me kiss him in public. I remember being that way with my parents over 2 decades ago, and I never knew that it probably hurt them so… pregnancy hormone, or just scared for my fate! I know children are such a special blessing! :)

  94. randi says:

    Wonderful. And very true. Just the way it is. :-)
    I have three of them. And love every minute! :D

  95. Shelley says:

    I so, so get this. I have a 13 year-old daughter. And she would like me to pretend she doesn’t exist also. I have a harder time with being silent and embracing those annoying moments. For some reason, my mouth just flies open and I tell her to lose the attitude. Or that she’s being annoying. Which is probably completely wrong.

    On the bright side, my 16 year-old daughter has come out the other side of puberty and is a person I like very much. So there’s that. At least I know there is hope. :)