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In between

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

We've probably all heard that term "tween" to describe a kid who is not quite a young child and not quite a teenager. Technically it's the 9-12 age group.

My oldest son is, technically, a tween. But I so dislike that term. It doesn't do justice to the tightrope walking that happens during these pre-adolescent years – the kids and the parents. "Tween" is a marketing term, and I think what is happening deserves more respect than a targeted sales pitch.

Alfs, like other kids his age, is holding me close while pushing me away. He wants my approval and support, even while he tries to say he doesn't. He's trying to grow up when he isn't sure he really wants to. He is in between, in all its hormonal agony and glory.

To the outside world, he wants to look strong and independent. His height helps with the physical appearance of that, and an emerging wry sense of humor is helping, too. But he is also sensitive, and thinks that part of that strong and independent appearance is keeping things inside. It gets bottled up, of course, and when it bursts, it's stunning. It makes me nervous for true adolescence.

We still have our little private moments and communications, though. As my first born, because of the intense first years we spent together, there are ways I am in tune with him that I am not necessarily with the younger children. I react to changes in his body language more quickly, for example. I often can just tell by looking at him that something has happened at school. With Woody, I have to hear his voice before I really know. Alfs sometimes asks me to snuggle with him at bedtime, but I don't dare touch him or attempt any affection in front of anyone else. He cringes if I do.

When this change first started to become apparent, I was sad. I was losing my little boy, and, honestly, I miss that little boy. Slowly, I've come to see that I am gaining a young man, and a fun one at that. There are times we joke together and laugh – out of sight of peers, of course – and have a really good time. There are times we clash. There are times it's clear he's still so young, and times he amazes me with maturity.

This in between time is like a dance, but neither of us is sure of the steps. We keep trying this move or that, often stepping on one another's toes. Even full body slams sometimes. Sometimes it's quiet and slow stepping. Occasionally, it's even graceful.

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