“To a mother, a son is never a fully grown man; and a son is never a fully grown man until he understands and accepts this about his mother.” —unknown
It happened slowly at first. And when the weakened threads of connection between us began to stretch taut, it hurt like hell.
Then, it happened rather quickly. First, there was a certain required haircut. Along with that, came the car, a big dance, and some whiskers. With the whiskers, a girlfriend appeared. But this time, it was something serious.
Every step he inched away from me, I felt in my bones, in my soul — a dull ache, both powerful and deep. I silently begged my boy to stay for just a bit longer, pleading with my eyes, and arms. I bribed him to stay, plying him with bacon-stacked egg sandwiches and melted baked ziti. But, because every son must break away, he was sure enough going to. And then, in a blink, he was gone.
The final snap of the thread that held us together, a boy to his mother, was indeed acute. He has pulled away from me, and now there is distance. He is a man now, and though I will always be his mother, there is empty space between us. And that is as it should be.
There is less hugging, less talking, less cooking, less telling me where he is going or what he is doing, less needing, less questions, and less permission.
The push and the pull of disconnection is, at its core, a poignant game of tug of war.
Never the type to talk much, he is now, somehow, talking. He tells her things, I’m sure. His dreams, his insecurities, his needs. He goes places with her, and does things for her. He envelopes her in the blanket of his love and attention. And that, too, is as it should be. A loving, giving young man who treats the woman he loves with generosity, kindness and respect is the sort of man I always wanted him to be.
But, it hurts a bit, still, his disconnection from me. So powerful, and yet it’s just another part of motherhood. If motherhood is a ship moving forward, this is the floating aimlessly part of my trip. He no longer needs me, and I feel a bit lost. Mothering a boy is at best a rambling journey filled with worry, encouragement, admonishment, and pride. We are powerless to stop our sons from growing, from leaving.
The bond between a mother and son can be palpable, which makes the inevitable process of detachment feel like heartbreak. There must be certain division, though, before a boy can truly become a man. And if we try, we can weather the melancholy separation the same way that we, as mothers, weather all changes in our lives — with quiet resolve, some heavy sighs, and a bit of extra napping.
But I miss the little boy in the blue pajamas who is never coming back. I remember reading aloud the Harry Potter books, and The Chronicles of Narnia. So rapt was his attention, curled up next to me, or sitting in my lap. So darling he was, falling asleep with his head on my shoulder. And him, on the floor, building, smashing, crashing, organizing. Him, in a Halloween costume that involved the fastening of a cape. Him, pedaling off to distant neighborhoods, while I stayed back, worrying about injury and strangers.
I miss him on the mound, giving his team a shot at winning, while I anxiously paced, biting my thumbnails to the nub. I remember the pitches, the swings, the catches and the throws. I remember the climbing, the kicks, the balls and the sticks. I remember, too, the bruises, the laughter, the cheers, and the scolds. I remember the uneasiness when he shipped off to college, and the delight upon his safe return.
Ask a mother what she remembers, and you will soon find out that she remembers all of it. Mothers remember the struggles and triumphs of boyhood, and the starts and stops of what turns her boy into a man. Our sons don’t know how much we know, how much we’ve seen. Our sons will never understand what kept us awake at night.
A mother will remember with bittersweet reflection the moment her son really shoves himself away from the dock, moving toward his freedom and privacy, happy to get away. We remember because in that moment, a moment we indeed feel, a big part of our job is over. We are still loved, but we are no longer the person he seeks. And oh, have I mentioned that it hurts?
I am left sidelined, admiring the man my son has become, is becoming. A man of limitless intellect and meaningful observation. A writer, like me. His mind earnestly at work these days, forming opinions, and filled to the brim with buds of creativity and longing — a reader, like me. His thoughts are open and clear. His young heart beats for the beautiful soul of a woman who lives much too far away. Like his dad, he is handsome, strong, and sensitive. He’s a thinker. He patiently digests life. I indeed marvel at his essence now in almost the same way I did when they first pressed him into my arms. When I first laid eyes on him, he was at once a mystery and someone I’ve always known. I feel this way still.
Someday, I might catch a glimpse of my little boy inside his little boy if he too has a son. But that, of course, is not a given. For now, though, let a mother dream her big dreams, please.
And as his story, the story of his life, develops, my arms, my hands, and my eyes will forever beckon. I will always reach out to him.
I know, in my mother’s heart, that someday soon, when the distance between us grows too big, he will remember our connection, and reach back.