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Today my middle son, Tommy, turns 13 years old and begins the journey through adolescence that will transform him from a sweet child into a grown man.

Luckily, it will take a while for him to get there.

Like every other milestone, this one slipped up on me while I was busy doing something else, probably laundry.

I’m familiar with all the signs of approaching adolescence in boys, a subject I was completely ignorant of until Jimmy decided to become a teenager at the age of 10.

Fortunately, his body didn’t follow along with the plan until much later.

One of my least favorite signs of having a teenager has already begun to surface in my middle son. Teenagers don’t give very good hugs, at least not to their parents.

When I hugged Tommy as he headed out the door to school recently, I realized how far my arms had to reach to get around him. This "filling out" has been taking place for quite a while.

What hasn’t happened in a long time is Tommy standing still long enough to hug me back. He sort of wiggles his way out of the hugs as quickly as possible, as if he’s afraid to be seen with his mother’s arms around him.

For the first few years of his life, Tommy was in a constant battle with Jimmy over who could spend the most time in my arms. Now, it’s the last place either one of them wants to be.

So now Ronnie has to endure all the hugs I used to split up between the three of them. If I’m lucky, I might have another year of hugs left in my youngest before he, too, begins to wiggle away.

One battle I haven’t missed fighting with Tommy involves the somewhat delicate subject of personal hygiene. I’m happy to report that Tommy has always been an avid bather.

Jimmy, on the other hand, refused to face reality when the day arrived that he could no longer "skip" a night between showers. He gave in to me only after his pediatrician insisted I was telling the truth and not just trying to make his life miserable.

When your child become suspicious of your motives and suddenly assumes that everything you tell him to do is really an attempt to torment him, you definitely have a teenager on your hands.

In just a few years, you go from being the person who makes their little world go ‘round to someone who gets up every morning just to get on their case.

It can be a very bumpy road. However, unlike the uncharted territory of colic and ear infections, this is a life experience I can remember from my own teenage years.

Remembering what it was like to be a teenager gives me an extra jolt of compassion when Jimmy does something to test my patience. And so do the little glimpses I get every so often of the young man he is growing up to be.

Even more comforting are the many times I look at my oldest son and see the little boy he used to be, trying to act all grown up because he’s stuck in a rapidly changing 15-year-old body.

Today, I want to give Tommy’s 13-year-old body a big squeeze until he wiggles his way out. Like I said, those hugs are getting fewer and more precious by the day, and by the time he starts hugging me back again, I will be looking up into the face of a grown man.

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has been married to a Marine for 18 years and currently lives in Springfield, Va. You may e-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or visit her Web site at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.

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