When You’re 12

Middle school: It can leave scars.

Miles run today: 11

Age of my firstborn baby today: 12

Interesting people I’ve interviewed so far this week: 2

My baby boy turns 12 today. He is 5’5″, wears his father’s running shoes, and his most common question is, “Are you gonna eat the rest of that?”

I am hopeful that 12 years old will be everything wonderful for him: the year he gets braces, the year he starts earning money on small jobs in the neighborhood, the year he finally gets a cell phone so he can stop browsing cell phone websites like they’re offering a year’s supply of Cadbury’s chocolate.

For me, 12 was the year when everything died.

When I was 11, I skipped a lot. I danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller with my best friend, and we pretended like we were in Coca-Cola commercials.

Then I turned 12.

Within two weeks, my rabbit had died; my grandmother, who had been living with us while she battled cancer, died a couple of days into the school year; and then my cat died in a freak accident.

It all felt very epic, as so many things do when you’re 12.

Coincidentally, English class was also very dark and epic, which suited my mood perfectly.

Presiding over the room was our English teacher who we christened No-Neck ____. Her hair was light and fluffy like a chick’s, and her shoulders met her head in a way that kept me fairly distracted.

No-Neck was the perfect person to teach us about Miss Havisham, because No-Neck herself felt a kinship with the dark and twisted character: at her advanced age (probably 52), she had never married, because she had had one true love, and he had died in a fiery car crash not long after they were engaged.

Her tragic past informed each of the equally dark and twisted selections we studied that year: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Raven,” “Great Expectations.”

I don’t recall being depressed that year, but the realization that death could come early and often was never far from my mind. Whether one was bricked up inside a cellar by a raving lunatic or ensconced in a house with a rotting wedding cake, death was coming for you. Get ready.

We also read a short story by O. Henry called “The Last Leaf,” and an old person who is dying says she will die when the last leaf falls off the tree outside her window, and an artist paints a masterpiece leaf that fools the old person, and I figured she probably decided to live forever at that point. I sat in my old, withering middle school English classroom with cinderblock walls and windows that pushed open at the bottom and watched the leaves blow around outside.

Death.

I felt very old and jaded as my classmates quibbled over who stole whose pen and whose friendship notebook with all of those secrets inside was read aloud in the middle of science class.

But the best part was that I didn’t die.

I kept jumping around to music and practicing cheerleading and giggling about boys. It was the year I got a black Member’s Only jacket for Christmas and went to sleepovers and thought “Back to the Future” was the greatest movie ever.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

And sometimes, I am simply glad I lived to tell about it.

Happy Birthday to my 12-year-old! I tell him that pretty much everything will be better than it is right now: it’s all sunshine and happiness after you clear middle school.

Back me up on that if he asks you for confirmation, my friends.

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26 thoughts on “When You’re 12

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I’ve mentioned to you before, my memories of my childhood are vague, so I don’t remember turning 12 or even being 12 for that matter. Seems most of my more solid memories start in high school. Guess that says something scary about my brain.

    Happy birthday to your boy! I have a 12-year-old son, too, but he has yet to hit that major growth spurt. When he does, I’m not sure how I’ll cope with the cooking. If he ends up eating as much as his 15-year-old brother, I’m in trouble!

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Carrie. Oh, boy, buckle your seat belts for the growth spurt. He tries to battle my husband for seconds at dinner. And he’s winning.

      As for early memories, the best thing about them is being able to write about them. ; )

      • Carrie Rubin says:

        Yep. My older boy can surpass my husband in the eating department. He loves when I make pasta with a light olive oil and herb sauce. I’ve watched him eat an ENTIRE box of noodles cooked this way. Probably not the best thing for a mother to allow, but I think I was stunned into inaction.

  2. That was a tough couple of weeks for a 12 year old. I remember stealing cigarettes from the corner store, smoking down by the creek, and learning how to scuba dive. It was a strange year.

    As for “it’s all sunshine and happiness after you clear middle school.”…okay let’s go with that.

    • annewoodman says:

      Stealing cigarettes? Wow! You were probably more advanced than I. ; )

      Well, big things happen after middle school, but hopefully, you’re more prepared to deal with them. And I’m going with the sunshine and happiness theme. I’m hoping all the stuff that happens after 40 follows that same trend. ; )

      • Long story involving the thirteen kids who lived next door and peer pressure and I had issues. Anyway, 40+ was good. 50+ has had its moments but is showing promise. 😮

  3. Melissa says:

    Ummm….Sunshine and happiness…..ahem, about that….anyway…
    I’m not saying a word…yeah, and it definitely happens after 40.

    Hmmm…I remember I had a crush on a guy named Joe, but threw him over for Greg…even though neither of them knew I was even alive…and Candi’s shoes were really popular but I wasn’t allowed a pair (I was only 12) but my 16 year old sister got a pair which made me want to be 16 desperately. Those were the important things then.

  4. Daryl says:

    I think that was the age I tried smoking tea leaves rolled into the trashy Sun newspaper and using butane to refill my mother’s disposable lighter! It was definitely a survival of the fittest moment.

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    Hmm, that was 7th grade for me. I remember ridiculous crushes on boys that wouldn’t get a second look in high school or later. Then there were the sleepovers where we’d write our own ghost stories and present them in our own version of radio shows. Once we had the Ouija board write the story. I remember it being funny more than scary….

    Um, yeah, being a teenager is so much better than being 12. 😉 We’ll try to back you up on that!

  6. globalexplorer1 says:

    I’ve got your back on that, Anne. Middle school sucks. Everything after that – not so much.

  7. Subtlekate says:

    happy birthday little 12 year old belonging to Anne. I wish you a wonderful day of super boy stuff.

  8. My goodness, you had a difficult 12 years old time! (Excuse the poor grammar). Hope your boy had a good birthday, my boy is about to turn 11, and is sprouting fast!

  9. robincoyle says:

    GAWD. I hated being 12. Junior High was the worst of times. No “best of times.” I felt stuck between being a little girl and wanting to play with dolls and lusting after pimply-faced boys. Can you say awkward?

    However, happy birthday to your son. Be prepared. Now that he has a cell phone, you will never have another conversation with him again. Ever.

  10. David Gentry says:

    Coming to terms with death is something Americans don’t do very well, and maybe it is not only Americans. At my ripe old age of ____, I am learning to do so. I am helped by reading Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.

  11. Maybe you should skip instead of run every once in a while.

  12. Christi says:

    I completely agree that middle school is pretty horrible. I went to a different high school where no one knew me from middle school, and it was a dramatic improvement.

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