The Day My Son Became a Tween

My family and I went on a Disney Cruise in July. This was our second cruise, and we loved the first one SO much, we chose the exact same ship and itinerary this time. My parents also went with us. Prepping for this adventure was so much easier than the first one – I knew all of the tricks and tips this time! We knew which things were “must-dos” and which things we could skip. We knew how much time to schedule for activities, and how much to allow for free time. Our daughter assured us she wouldn’t be scared of the characters this year, so we made sure we could catch a photo with every character on the ship. We knew the kids would want time in the kids clubs. We were prepared!

And then things came to a screeching halt. It was day one. We’d decided to let our ten year-old son try the tween club for kids ages 11-13. I was nervous because the kids could come and go as they pleased. The club for younger kids has an elaborate check-in/check-out system, and no one could leave without a specified adult. But in the older club, the kids didn’t have to leave with an adult. We discussed our expectations with Will and said we didn’t want him going anywhere. He didn’t protest, and he didn’t leave. Wonderful! He passed our test and was allowed to go there again.

Let me tell you a little about The Edge, the tween club on Disney cruise ships. There are scheduled activities and games with fun, hip counselors. There are board games and comfy furniture. I think there was a foosball table. But, there’s also a wall of TVs connected to various gaming consoles or showing Marvel movies on repeat. So, you can now guess why my son BEGGED to go there every. single. day. By the end of day one, my son was on his way to becoming a tween.

Now it wasn’t his exposure to The Edge that had propelled him into tween-dom. I knew it was on the horizon. At home, his desire to be around us all the time had now become half of the time. He liked his space. He liked listening to music while drawing or building with Legos. But we were on vacation! As a family! On a Disney Cruise! With Mickey! Nope. It didn’t matter. He’d met some friends in the club, and now tried to coordinate when they could meet up.

A Tale of Two Disney Cruises

Sure, we did spend quite a bit of time together, but I had in my head that we would fill our days stalking characters for pictures, while enjoying unlimited ice cream and rides on the Aqua Duck … together. The reality hit me when I was scrolling through our ship photos one evening and noticed Will was only in about one-third of the character photos. He didn’t mind that he’d missed out on Woody and Buzz, who were his favorite characters EVER for a number of years. He’d been with friends doing a scavenger hunt around the ship. My husband said, “This may be what our family vacations will look like going forward – we will be together, but the kids will also want space.” And a little part of me died.
Obviously, I know this is a part of life. I cannot stop this from happening. But I just wasn’t prepared YET. Next year he heads to middle school … which makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it. This year is the slow, agonizing build-up. So maybe this early glimpse of life with a tween is just what I need to mentally prepare. He hasn’t had a major attitude shift or snapped at everything we say. He just wants more space. He just doesn’t need to be around us 24/7. He wants to be with friends.

But along with finding his way in this new age range, he still reminds us that he is just ten years old. Last week, we finally watched Toy Story 4. Now, these movies have been beloved household favorites since Will was two, and we were all so excited to watch the latest installment. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the end was unexpected for us. At the end of the movie, we were all crying and Will wanted to snuggle up with me. That’s when I knew I hadn’t lost my little boy quite yet. I’ll take these moments when I can get them.

Jen was born and raised in Overland Park. After going to Indiana University for college, then living in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, she grew exhausted of circling for a parking spot and headed back home to be near family. She and her husband Matt are parents to a 10 year-old boy and a 8 year-old girl. Jen teaches kindergarten and her husband teaches high school, so they wonder how they’ll relate to their kids during the middle school years. She spends her free time cheering on the Chiefs, Royals, and Hoosiers, hanging out with family, laughing with her teacher friends, and fostering a love/hate relationship with boxing. She also loves traveling, Target, coffee, wine, sunflowers and all things pop culture.