The first thing 13 year old Nicholas did was tell his parents he wanted to be addressed from now on as, “Nick.” Next, he began to listen to more punk rock and dress in black. Gone were the bright reds and yellows of his youth. The good news is, Nick is actually right on track for the air stage of energetic development, which is all about experimenting with personal expression.
Ever stop to think about how many times you use elemental language in your day to day interactions? We talk about someone being an “airhead”, a “hothead,” “fiery,” “raging with anger,” “too airy,” “well grounded,” “down to earth,” “flooded with emotion,” experiencing “waves of grief,” “tears overflowing,” or having their “head in the clouds.” From children ‘s shows like Pokemon or Avatar to adult movies such as X-Men or Ghost Rider, we insert the science and legend of elemental energy into our very entertainment. Analogy and metaphor are powerful tools, science is indisputable. We innately understand that the science we learned in school applies to who we are: solid matter (earth), liquid (blood, hormones and urine), fire (electrical circuitry through heart, lungs and nerves), air (lungs and blood stream), and finally ether or space (gases–those transcendent, etheric vapors). You can’t go shopping or drive down the rode without noticing that the elements are trademarked as logos for designer clothes and cars. Why have they become marketing tools? Because the elements comprise who we are. They are the source from which all life springs.
My youngest son is growing up. From the braces on his teeth, to the bangs that hang in his eyes, to the tight leg jeans with the little “sag” in the tush, it is obvious to me that my little boy is gone. He has been replaced by a cool and nonchalant almost13 year-old, who doesn’t want to appear too enthusiastic. I remember well the “fiery” enthusiasm of the previous stage with its high-energy and shenanigans. I loved those days. But now, we’ve entered the “airy” stage of argumentativeness, where the winds of self-expression blow daily. “I’m not going to argue about it,” I say for the umpteenth time.
“Who’s arguing? We’re just talking. Don’t you want to hear what I think?” my son asks self-righteously. I find myself longing for those passive little grunts of the past from the little boy who wants to be left alone to play, who doesn’t want to talk about it! Funny, how I used to complain about that back then. What was I thinking?! Last night, I braced myself for yet another protest over bedtime. I steeled myself as I entered the living room. Smile on my face, I mentioned that it was time for bed. My son looked up and said, “I know, but can we spend a minute talking first?” I sat down wearily, looking him in the eye. “Do you know how much I love you?” he said as he scooted over and gave me a quick hug. “I’ve set my alarm for morning, but will you wake me up if I don’t hear it?” Hardly waiting for a reply, he jumped up and headed for the stairs. I sat there for a moment, letting his words sink in. “I am so blessed. What a good kid,” I think to myself. “I’ll get used to this stage again and probably even like it.”
“Mom can I stay up 1/2 an hour longer?” The words echo down the stairwell. “After all, I am almost 13!”
David walked home from school with a smile on his face. It had been a good day. He and his friends shared CDs between classes, and he was going home with new music. The girl he was sorta going out with had written love messages all over his left hand and arm. He thought it looked really cool. His best friend had dyed his hair a really dark black color and Dave was toying with the thought of doing the same thing. In fact, he had impulsively ducked into the corner store and bought a dark rinse a few moments before. Arriving home, he threw his backpack on the dining room table, put his new CD in the computer, cranked up the volume, then settled in front of the TV to play some video games.
A couple hours later mom came home. She could hear loud music from the driveway as she parked the car. The sound of artillery wafted out the open living room window. She glanced around the neighborhood, wondering if any of the neighbors were home.
We can all imagine the probable looming confrontation. But let’s stop for a moment and analyze the situation. Here is a 15 year-old boy who is in the air stage of development energetically. Everything about his life right now centers around self-expression. David is doing his “work.” How can mom affirm his need to be heard and seen and listened to, without getting pulled into a tempestuous squall? The answer lies in recognizing what is going on and responding appropriately. If you expect a few winds of rebellion, some blustery defensiveness and tumultuous irresponsibility, then your expectations are reasonable. Approaching the whole situation with humor and a willingness to listen and affirm will help. Kids who feel heard and seen are almost always willing to abide by the family rules. Kids who feel loved even when they blow off their homework or chores, kids who feel loved even when they look ridiculous or overreact, are the kids who easily transition into the next and final stage.