My 13-year-old son looked at me expectantly from the passenger seat of the car. “Hey, Mom? What are we doing next Friday night?”
I glanced over at him for a moment and took in the look on his acned face, his braces glinting in the sun as his mouth moved. It seemed like just yesterday I was looking at him in an infant car seat via the rearview mirror. Since then, his chubby cheeks have been replaced with chiseled cheekbones, and his sweet baby smell is now that of unwashed tween.
“Uh, not much, I think. Why? Do you have somewhere you’d like to go?”
He looked out the window, then back at me, then took a deep breath. “Well, there’s this girl. I kinda want to ask her out.”
And, with those words, my little boy wasn’t so little anymore.
I knew this day was coming. I knew that someday my little boy’s heart would be captured, and he’d want to start spending time with girls beyond his sister’s friends. There would come a time when playing soccer with the neighborhood girls would pale in comparison to sitting next to a young lady in a darkened movie theater. I knew that one day I’d be faced with the task of letting him navigate the often heartbreaking waters of teenage dating.
That time had come, it seemed. He was ready to follow his heart, ready to take the leap into puppy love, and as much as I wanted to stop time, I realized this was an opportunity to let him find his way with the love and support of his parents. Dating is hard, and it’s even harder when you don’t know what you are doing. His father romanced and courted me with a sweetness that I wanted to make sure we passed on to my son. At the very least, I would make sure he showed up with flowers.
Even though I could still see glimpses of my son in his footie pj’s fresh from a bath and holding a Thomas the Train in his hands, I said that yes, he could ask the special young lady to the school Valentine’s celebration. As his eyes lit up and a smile spread across his face, I couldn’t help but be a tiny bit wistful that his heart was slowly being pulled away from mine.
I tried not to be offended when he said, “Oh, and if we go out for ice cream afterwards, can you sit at a different table so we can, you know, talk?”
As the date approached, we discussed proper dating etiquette. I made sure he asked the young lady out in person, not via text. We practiced hand shaking so that he could greet her dad with a firm, respectful grip. And we discussed being polite to his lady friend’s mother when he arrived to pick her up. With every piece of advice, I tried to impart the necessity of respect, kindness, chivalry and manners.
On the night of the date, I expected to feel sadness and a pain in my heart because my son was, for the first time, spending a Friday night with a girl who wasn’t me. I expected to fill up with tears as I caught glimpses of him brushing his hair just so and smelled whiffs of the cologne he stole from his dad’s drawer. As I listened to his sister tease him about kissing and hand-holding, though I had expected to feel hurt, I instead found myself silently smiling to myself.
When my son came downstairs in his crisply ironed khakis and button-down shirt, my heart stopped. I was no longer looking at a baby. But I didn’t cry like I thought I would. I’ve accepted my role as a parent of a tween, and it’s going to be OK. He’s going to chase his dreams and follow his heart, but there will always be a piece of me with him as he does.
As I slipped him a few extra dollars and adjusted his collar, he hugged me and said, “Thanks for letting me go.” I hugged him back tightly, and that’s when the tears threatened to fall.
The tears came not because I was sad, but because I felt joy that my son had found someone who made him feel happy and special. All this time, I’ve been raising him to let him go, and I was ready to do that a little more that night.
And though I was happy for him that evening, on his first real date, I still reserve the right to go Mama Bear crazy if and when a girl breaks his heart.
Then all bets are off.