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This may be the year my son falls in love. This is what I will tell him.

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Junior Year. Junior Year.

For the first time since I’ve known you, I will not have to get up tomorrow. I mean, yes, I will get up because I would never excuse you from the annual “First Day of School” picture…but I don’t actually have to. Past the picture, you will be on your own. I will not be shuffling you into the car for the drive to school, I will not be frustrated because you were late getting out of bed (again), and I will not insist that we pull past the spot by the curb that is way too close to the storm drain, lest you drop your phone.

Instead, after the picture (for which you will smile), you will grab your keys and leave alone, filled with butterflies as you drive yourself to school for the first time ever. You will likely forget to let me know when you have arrived and, by the time you are in your second class, I will have become convinced that you were in a terrible accident and started wondering if you had on clean underwear because why else wouldn’t you text me to tell you had gotten there and didn't you miss me on the drive and, wait, I got off track there.

I’m fine. Everything’s fine.

You will be driving a car that you purchased yourself, with your very own, very hard-earned money. You will not understand how that feels until you have teens of your own (so at least thirty years from now) but, really, it’s a big deal. I know how tired you are of hearing how fast these years are starting to pass but, my goodness, they are becoming a blink.

Junior Year?!?

On the eve of your junior year, what is it that I want to tell you? For once, nothing about grades or school supplies, or even what a bright future you have laid out before you. This year, I’d rather go with a much more uncomfortable topic.

Girls.

The truth is, you will very likely start dating this year. I know that terrifies you and I know (I know) dating is different now and I know spending your formative “relationships for dummies” years in a pandemic did not help. I know that your generation communicates differently than mine did and even the dating “order of events has changed (Dear lawd, can we just bring back the bases?). I know you start relationships differently than I used to and that the same is true for how you end them.

Girls? My guess is that they have not changed that much.

Admittedly, girls are a mystery, even to ourselves. Just today, I nearly spun out emotionally for no pinpointable reason. Girls cannot pinpoint approximately 178% of their emotions, though that number is a moving target. For us, emotions come and go like the tides - if the tides came and went seven times a minute, sometimes rolling, sometimes gentle, sometimes with a rip current, sometimes with sharks.

While I do want to wrap your heart in bubble wrap for fear that someone will break it, I hold,perhaps, greater concern for the hearts of the girls around you. You are truly a gem. You are also still so, so young. And I? I was a girl once. I was a girl who had multiple broken hearts and I stand by the idea that it takes our hearts longer to heal.

I know your hormones have been a three-ring circus for some time now. I see the closed doors, I hear the jokes among your guy friends. I have turned over search history checks to your father. I have spotted the “be ready for anything” items in your travel bag (No judgment, by the way, I applaud and appreciate your preparation. Also, I was really just looking for a Qtip, not being nosy. That’s the funny thing about momming - most of the items we inadvertently discover are found on very innocent and unrelated missions).

With your sister off to college, I am knee-deep in all things male. I know your hormones are raging.

Girls.

They are so much different than boys. That is what I want to tell you, most of all. Handle them with care. Handle them with kind words and thoughtful actions. Handle them as you might handle your most favorite thing ever in the world. Some days, they will be your most favorite thing in the world. On the days they are not, just pretend.

Girls handle relationships so much differently than boys.

You will think you are simply saying “hello” to a girl while passing her in the hallway and she will think you are one step away from asking her on a date. She will sit down in class and begin writing her name with your last name attached…just to see how it looks. She will roll it around on her tongue and maybe imagine what names go well with it just in case you turn out to be “the one” and just in case you eventually become engaged and married and have children someday.

Of course, I’m not suggesting avoiding girls or skipping the “hello’s” or darting across campus when a gaggle approaches. I just want you to understand that for every single thought that you have about a girl, she is having seven dozen thoughts about you.

Girls are different than boys.

I am not so naive to think that you will hold off on physical contact until marriage. The truth is, I don’t know if I would even encourage that. Kissing is amazing. Touching someone you like like is completely different than any other kind of touch. And, yes, sex is wonderful. Rounding the bases with someone special to you feels like riding a rocketship while floating in a lake while having all of the Oreos you ever wanted while never having to do your chores again.

You are at an age where the firsts will start coming quickly. A first handhold. A first arm around a shoulder. A first wink. A first head on your shoulder. A first kiss.

You will likely give someone else their first kiss. Ask first. Be soft. Be sweet. Ask again, just to be sure. I know it doesn’t seem fair to have all of the responsibility, but girls are different. They trust and rely and depend - all more quickly than boys. The story of that first kiss stays with them forever. It will be retold again and again. Be soft. Be sweet.

You may be the first person someone has sex with. This right of passage for girls is so much more weighted than it is for boys. It is another story that will remain forever, that will be the building block for relationships far into their future. They will tell their daughters about it someday, in great detail - though not of the act itself, but of how you made her feel. The details will be thorough: what she was wearing, how good you smelled, what the two of you did beforehand, at what moment she decided to take such a big step, where it happened, and what you said to her afterward. Be soft. Be sweet. Ask first. Ask again, just to be sure.

You will also remember your first time. You will remember how you never imagined something could feel so good and that you couldn’t believe it was happening even while it was happening and did she notice that you were fumbling and why were you already thinking about next time and OMG, it was amazing.

Girls are different than boys. They put more emotional weight on firsts than boys. They sometimes forget or don’t understand what feelings will be unleashed by taking those firsts. Be respectful, kind, and caring. And if that “first” is the last thing you do together, continue to be respectful and kind and caring - each and every time you see going forward.

You shared something. You will share it forever. Honor that magic.

You are truly a gem. You are full of compassion. You are generous. You are careful with your words. You read people better than most adults. You are loyal. You love hard.

Your opportunities are endless.

So, while I will not be droning on with first-day-of-school advice while driving you to your first day of school, know that I will be thinking of you tomorrow.

And the day. And the one after that.

Until forever.

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