It’s Saturday afternoon and the ballgame has been won and celebrated with burgers and shakes. Cleats, bat, glove and uniform are distributed from garage to bedroom—none of it in its proper place—and I am watching you navigate the mac-n-cheese, because, well, you’re still hungry.
It takes every ounce of my self-control to let you make it by yourself.
There’s the torn box of pasta spilling all over the counter, the prematurely opened cheese packet dusting the stove and floor, and the too little pot full of too much water, contents sloshing all the way to the stove while you turn to me to check that you still have my tacit permission to continue (you didn’t really ask, and I really didn’t say yes).
Oh, and there’s fire. I mean real fire. A paper towel has caught, having been left a wee bit too close to the burner. So now, in addition to letting you make your own mess, I have to let you put out your own fire. (The metaphor is not lost on me.)
This hurts. And this feels great. And I am not sure I will survive this.
Letting you do things on your own, and letting you grow into yourself, is rife with equal measures pride and fear.
I know these small daily victories may seem minor in the realm of earth-moving marvels, but they add up and fortify your confidence as you troubleshoot your mistakes, learn to rely on your own ingenuity, your own opinion, your own solution, your own course of action.
I know I would lose the chance to provide you with a safe place to try new things—and a soft place to landif things go awry.
I know that if I hold you back, you may be hampered by the resentment that fuels poor judgement—just to prove me wrong—and I unintentionally put you at even greater risk.
I remind myself that these major moments of anxiety for me are really major accomplishments for you—my patience and trust for your new skills making all the difference.
And at this moment, all I want is for you to carry this confidence out into the world, instead of the weight of my worry and desire to keep you little or dependent.
So when you proudly offer me a spoonful of your chalky and undercooked mac-n-cheese, I take the bite and proclaim it edible, kiss you on the forehead and turn around before you see the tears in my eyes—having just wrested one more thing from my tight grip as you continue your march toward young manhood.
It sounds silly and makes us both laugh, but I turn back and say I’m proud of you, before I add, “Oh, and clean the kitchen.”
Half-scrubbed pots and more water everywhere, task completed. And suddenly you are asleep. On the couch. In the middle of the day.
This inching toward manhood is so bittersweet—here’s that beautiful boy with the formerly-floppy hair that’s now shorn close and styled according to your desire, not mine. Here are the limbs that seem to lengthen even as I pull the now-too-small blanket back over your feet, pausing to stand above you and marvel at how much you have changed in a year.
How did this chub-coated kid become so boney, strong and long? How did these feet get to be bigger than mine? How do I now fit under your chin, when you used to fit under mine?
I can’t stop looking at you. I am trying to burn into my memory what I know will be gone far too soon, and I quietly bend down to kiss that same cheek that used to nestle up to my breast while you nursed and gave me milky grins.
That same cheek… hot and stained with tears as I left you on the first day of school.
That same cheek… bloody and bruised after you went head first over the handlebars, on a dare.
That same cheek… red with excitement as you ski past me, really fast, to catch up with your cousins down the slope.
That same cheek… moments later, pale with the pain of a broken bone.
That same cheek… stuffed with just. so. much. food.
That same cheek… flushed with the thrill of my ‘maybe,’ then cold with the fear of my ‘yes,’ or hot with the anger of my ‘no.’
That same cheek… bunched up with broad pride for the victory of a no-hit game.
That same cheek… about to change forever and sprout prickly, sparse whiskers to remind me that even though you still act like a kid, you’re not.
I’m grateful that same cheek is still smooth and peachy—still accepting of the kisses I give to land there, not yet rebuffed by the self-conscious awareness that Mom is actually a girl…ew.
And, I am sad for me, for the loss of my little boy. But, I am more happy for you, just waking up to the reality of that huge world out there waiting for you—without me at its center.
I watch as you accelerate toward independence, leaving me and your childhood in the rear view mirror, and all I want to do is put on the brakes, slow it down and enjoy the view. But I am not in the driver seat anymore, and now you have the wheel, and all I can do is let you steer.
And I hope and pray that I have given you all the rules of the road so you can take your journey, so when you‘ve found your lane, you‘ll remember the way back home.