I’ll never forget the day my son — 10 years old at the time — called me something shocking enough to stop me dead in my tracks. All I could do was stare at him, brow furrowed and mouth agape, as he walked away.
I couldn’t believe what he had just called me: MOM.
Naively, I thought this kid would refer to my husband and I as “Daddy” and “Mommy” for the rest of his life. (And yes, we were fine with that, thank you very much.)
While my other sons had always wavered back and forth between Mommy and Mom — in fact, I was almost exclusively Mom to my youngest — my oldest had always been firmly in the Mommy camp. He had literally never called me Mom in his entire life. But suddenly, unexpectedly, that had changed.
“Thanks, Mom,” he’d said, sounding too grown, in a voice with an undeniably deepening edge. Then he just strolled casually to his room, as though he hadn’t just shaken his poor “Mom” to her very core. My baby!
It was the last year before middle school. His shape was changing, more long-limbed and knobby-kneed and gangly, not unlike a newborn colt. He still liked to do kid stuff with his brothers, but his interests were increasingly diverging, his friendships expanding outside his siblings. And every now and then, I’d catch a glimpse of the eyerolls, the slumping posture, the exasperated huffs and puffs that were the harbinger of teenage behaviors to come, sure to get worse before they got better. I knew this growing up thing was an inevitability, but…wasn’t it just a few months ago that he was a sweet toddler, offering up dandelion bouquets in his pudgy grasp? Where had the time gone?
Motherhood presents a stream of constant challenges, but I thought that after a decade of parenting four children, I had become a pro. I could change a diaper with lightning speed, diffuse a toddler meltdown like a seasoned crisis negotiator, and predict when someone was going to throw up before they spewed all over the carpet. I was confident in my ability to raise small children. But none of them had ever matured on me before — not like this.
There were times when I’d felt I was drowning in “Mommy.” It was all I heard, perpetually — my call to accommodate the needy, clingy helplessness which went hand-in-hand with that moniker. There were moments when I heard it for the umpteenth time that day and rolled my eyes, gritted my teeth, sighed with frustration. Now — from this child, at least — it was done. Like someone had flicked off a light switch, signifying the closure of one part of our life together. I had no idea that the dropping of two little letters, an otherwise minor change of title, could overwhelm me so much. But along with that, there was a fundamental shift: I was no longer his mommy because he no longer needed mommy-ing.
What seemed so natural to him was foreign to me, but what could I do? Sometimes life presents a new threshold, and you’ve got to cross it whether you’re ready or not. You’re unable to see around the next corner, but you’ve got to keep going anyway because that’s how life works.
I was only at the beginning of the preteen roller coaster ride, of course, but it was a jolt that made me realize I was on the ride in the first place. It’s funny how one simple, unexpected utterance of the word “Mom” could set off such a shockwave of emotion: the surprise of realization, the uncertainty of what comes next, and the complete awe at how quickly the years have flown by, tinged with the heart-wrenching grief of letting them go.