As my oldest son sat in the chair at the barber shop the other night, chewing his gum and looking straight ahead, I sat watching him, taking in every detail — something he hates and calls me out on every time he catches me staring at him with the maternal longing that makes teens squirm.
His soft pudgy cheeks have been replaced with a strong jaw line. I see the outline of every muscle as he chews his gum.
The tiny voice that used to sound so small has been replaced with a strong, masculine tone.
Eager agreements about going out for ice cream have been replaced with shoulder shrugs and no eye contact.
Those squishy rectangles with bitty toes have grown into size 12 feet which are sprouting hair and look like they could crush things.
His hugs which used to wrap me in love and linger long after our embrace was over have been replaced with a tap on my back. And if I hover for more than a second, he pulls away. “Mom, stop,” he will say letting me know he’s had enough.
Those hands that used to reach for mine can palm a basketball and start a chainsaw with one pull.
The baby I gave birth to, my first love, is gone. I keep looking for him, and I can’t find him — not even a trace of what he once was.
I know he loves me. I know he needs his mother. But the tiny baby I held in my arms isn’t coming back. The wild toddler seeking his mother’s approval is nowhere to be found. Those cheeks, those shining eyes, the excitement is gone. I look hard every damn day trying to grasp at straws and find a little glimpse of who he used to be. I know it annoys him, but I can’t help myself.
He is trying hard to grow up, and I am trying hard to slow him down. Through all this we are both losing sight of what it means to appreciate each other for what, and who, we are now.
The more I push, the more he pulls.
The more I hover, the more he he tries to push the boundaries and let me know he doesn’t need my help.
People tell you your kids grow up, and it goes by fast. You are reminded teenagers can be hard to take, and they challenge you. But no one told me the little boy I gave birth to would completely leave me.
No one said he would fight hard not to be that curious child who wasn’t afraid to ask questions, and dance, and unapologetically be himself while he held his mama’s hand.
I had no idea how many times my own son could break my heart — not because I’m disappointed in him for going through normal life changes — but because I miss who he used to be so much I feel it in my soul and deep in my bones.
You know you have to say goodbye to your kids and let them venture into the world; it’s inevitable. But I thought everyone meant you said goodbye when they walked out the door, when their social life became more important than spending time at home, or when it was time for them to leave the nest and go out on their own. I didn’t know I would have to say goodbye while they were still living under my roof and I saw them everyday.
My grip is too tight for him but too loose for me, and I am still trying to teach him so many things.
“Remember when?” I say.
His response is always the same deep “yes,” followed by a faint sigh he thinks I can’t hear. But I do, and it’s louder than his “yes.” That sigh is telling me he wants to move on, and I need to let him. That sigh is a reminder I need to accept the fact the child I gave birth to morphed into a new version of himself. He’s almost a man now.
And honestly, I’ve changed too. He’s changed me in so many ways I never saw coming. And he’s been able to accept my changes; he doesn’t long for his old mom to come back. So maybe I should do the same for him? I mean, I know I should. I’m so damn proud of him, but this letting go business is so damn hard.
I am still allowed to miss my baby. I can still mourn our old relationship. But I think it’s time for me to step back and start learning from him and look forward instead of trying to bring him back. This is who he needs to be now, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to get to know him because I am living in days gone by.