On 17th birthdays and glimpses of the adult
So, here I am very early on Godzilla’s 17th birthday, resting on the corner of Testosterone Lane and Horsepower Road. Having two teen boys in the house means a lot of muscle flexing, boundary pushing, and territory marking. They wake with teasing exchanges that rapidly morph into the rat-tat-tat of suddenly flared tempers. And before long, like two elephant seals, they’re bumping and jostling each other over the most trivial of things. Left to their own devices, I’m sure they’d find a way to argue over two flies climbing up the wall.
And as quickly as the storm clouds roll in, they evaporate, allowing gestures of great love to peek shyly through. One of the most delightful features of being the stay-at-home parent is bearing witness to the enormous love and connection between them both.
But I’m getting off topic. It’s Godzilla’s 17th birthday! Huzzah!
His first birthday in the US was punctuated with intense loneliness and disappointment. The lack of friends, the distance from family, the heart-sinking reality of living so far from everything we’ve ever known hit him hard. It’s been a long four years, and now here we are at his last birthday in the US, equally quiet, but filled with more hope and promise. Instead of the rock-in-the-stomach depression of his first US birthday, this year is edged with the excitement and relief of going home.
Occasionally as a parent, not very often, you get to glimpse who your kids are becoming, what kind of adults they’ll be. Last weekend, I got a sneak peek at the kind of man Godzilla will be. And I’m immensely proud.
Godzilla plays Australian Rules Football, and his team had an away game last weekend. I travelled with him, using the event as a way to meet in person with online friends. I was nervous and excited. Spending time away with a sports team is always an odd mix of unity and exclusion, of never quite fitting in, but still being part of the group. Add to that mix, that Godzilla was tussling with the same feelings, and I was curious and thrilled to be meeting women, some of whom I’ve known for more than two years online, in person.
I’ve shared thoughts and feelings with these people, we’ve laughed, cried, learned and changed together. But actually being in the same physical space with them was a source of a tiny amount of finger-tingling angst — you know, that happy nervousness that sets in when people you’ve known intimately and ethereally, suddenly appear in a solid, touchable form. And in contrast, I knew very few of the team or their partners. I was on edge from the combination of intense feelings already.
As happens at away games, the team planned to get together to celebrate or commiserate after the game. Not my favourite thing to do, but my extrovert kid needed the time with his friends. With the game done, we met at a pub, ordered our dinner, and chatted with some of the others as we waited for speeches and awards that never quite materialised. The night wore on, more drinks were downed, and I’d started to think about when was a strategic moment to extract Godzilla and myself so we could go back to our hotel. It seems simple, right? Get up, say goodbye, and leave. But Godzilla was enjoying the excitement of fitting in with teammates and feeling part of it all.
So, we stayed. We watched as bachelor and bachelorette parties filed in, carrying giant inflatable penises or wearing the stars and stripes (you can probably guess which group was sporting which accoutrement). We watched as women left, and more men came in. We watched as more drinks were downed and the feel of the place changed. Then we watched as one of our group was cornered and isolated by a group of men.
Like predatory animals, they singled her out, moved around her, and separated her from the rest of us. One of them draped himself over her, asserting a possessiveness that wasn’t his to assert. And like most women, threatened, afraid, and conditioned to tolerate all manner of inappropriate behaviour in public from men, she giggled nervously, fear flickering in her eyes.
Before I could begin to intervene, Godzilla had leapt from my side, demanding that the lecherous man take his hands off this woman. The reaction was immediate. The man’s focus shifted directly to Godzilla, and he charged, strutting and posturing, shouting at Godzilla. Before he could make up the ground between them, a bunch of Godzilla’s teammates, and the man’s friend had inserted themselves between them. The situation was eventually resolved, but it was the (then) 16 year-old that led us all.
I won’t lie. In that moment, and again now, I’m intensely proud of him for calling out wrongness, for taking a stand, for intervening. That took courage, particularly when the adults around you were silent.
On this birthday, even more than on previous birthdays, I’m intensely proud of Godzilla, and so pleased I get to be his mother.
Happy birthday, son.
I love you.