Sitting in a stuffy middle school cafeteria on a hot summer afternoon, he crawls up into my lap. He wraps his lanky arms around my neck and whispers in my ear.
“Love you more, Mama.”
He pulls back and grins, and any frustration I had inside melts away.
He fidgets and flits; he can’t sit still. He turns to face forward and feigns interest in the music being performed on stage.
I quietly whisper “shhh” in his ear.
He grabs my hand and interlaces his fingers with mine, sizing up the difference between his tiny hand and mine, and rests his head on my chest.
His head smells like him, a faint scent of shampoo mixed in with the sweat of a little boy who was just running around in circles. I close my eyes and drink it in because I know this time is borrowed, this time that I have left with him like this.
I know because, before him, the others sat here with their arms wrapped around me as I inhaled the smell of fleeting youth.
I know because on the stage in front of us was the first to sit here on this lap. Today he’s taller than I am. It seems like it can’t have been that long ago that it was his turn. Where did the time go?
He was just here.
He was just here.
He was just here lacing his fingers with mine, and now he’s over there, directly in the middle of adolescence, trying to figure out his own place in this world. He’s this person now, unique and different, with his own set of like and dislikes, his own set of things he is passionate about.
He’s someone entirely away and apart from me now, and I hope every day that I’ve given him the tools to navigate this new world of his. I hope he can love himself, he can push himself, he can trust himself, and he can laugh at himself. I think he can. I hope he knows that I’ll be that soft place to land for however long he needs it.
The time we are given with them is never enough. The days last forever, but the years fly by. You blink and suddenly that little sweaty boy on your lap is on a stage somewhere and you wonder how it all happened this way.
When this little one is up on that stage someday, doing whatever he loves when he’s at this place, my lap will be empty. I’ll be in the crowd with no one else to keep an eye on, with no one else to whisper “shhh” to. I’ll be watching, fighting back the tears of pride that always come, cherishing that bittersweet moment, wishing for time to slow just a bit.
There won’t be anyone else climbing up in my lap anymore, wrapping their arms around my neck, tracing the veins on the back of my hand with their tiny fingers.
I know that the space between now and then is shorter than it seems. I know that it will come too soon.
Our children aren’t ours, not really anyway. They are their own beings that just happen to be placed in our care for a time. I say quite often that I’m not in the business of collecting children, but that I’m here to raise them and then set them free.
What no one warns new mothers about is that every day a child grows, they grow a little further away from you. They grow a little more independent. They grow a little more self-sufficient. They need us a little bit less every day.
This is the point of motherhood. If we’ve done our jobs, they will need us less.
As much as bearing witness to this process of growth is what we strive for, it doesn’t come without a price. For every step they take away from us, there’s the one we choose to refrain from taking to follow them. For every piece of independence they learn, we are required to let them go just a little bit more.
Motherhood, just about every single piece of it, is bittersweet.
And so I sat with my boy on my lap and I burned that moment into my memory bank. I tucked it away. You have to drink in those times when they come. You have to inhale all the sweaty squirmy preschool heads while you can, because one day not far from now, they’ll be grown and over there.
This little boy, he’s not mine. I just get to keep him for a while, and keep him I will.