My two oldest, both boys, sit together with me on the couch, all under one blanket, covering various conversational topics between fistfuls of popcorn. They map out the details of their upcoming seventh and ninth birthday parties and ask me about our summer plans. They suggest we make a poster-sized list of ten fun things that we can check off over the break. Then one asks if I want to see his new dance moves, as he tees up his favorite touchdown dance compilation on Youtube.
I sit and watch as they perform the hike and the griddy, their smiles wide, eyes on me. I breathe in, quietly, and feelings of heaviness settle in. Because accompanying my gratitude and happiness is panic. The realization that we will not always have these moments — that I will not always be their person — is so painfully unavoidable. My sweet, dependent, mom-adoring little boys will eventually grow up. Our relationships will change, leaving our daily afternoon couch sessions in the dust someday. And I will never be ready for it.
First it will be their friends. Already, my third grader has a bestie whom he prefers over everyone. He is happy playing with me, as I am not a complete embarrassment yet, but if an opportunity to hang with Ronan surfaces, I’m very clearly demoted to benchwarmer. It has taken a little getting used to, becoming a second-stringer after years of being his MVP — but I am okay for now. Mostly because I still have my claws in him enough, given that he is too young to do so many things on his own. And I am able to use that to my advantage, offering fun plans and good snacks for him and his buddies. You know, the #coolmom stuff.
But before I know it, he will be driving — and dating. They both will. Just the thought of it sends an electric ping up my spine. Those awkward, dramatic, high school relationships and first loves — oh, God, I am already emotionally exhausted.
I will be forced to act normal and kind to their partners, to increase the likelihood of them hanging out at our house rather than elsewhere, but I am positive I will be rolling my eyes at all of his/her antics. Because no one will ever be good enough for my boys, and I will never want to share them with anyone, not even for an afternoon.
My maternal instincts strongly prefer togetherness, and allow for little comfortable change. I want family events and vacations to be just us, because I do not want our fun, perfectly chaotic, sacred family dynamic to shift. No plus-ones to parties, or extra seats at the dinner table — I want to keep my people under my wing, free from outside noise or influence. And I know — it sounds terribly selfish (and controlling) — but it’s the truth.
I want to be the one to apply their sunscreen and scratch their back. I want to hold their hands and kiss their faces. And it’s messed up and I need boundaries, I know. I know! My mother tells me that a good mom wants her sons to gain independence, and to someday get married if they choose. I am not sure what that makes me, then, blowing out all the candles each year wishing for two single adult men living in my basement desperate for mommy movie-night. That would be nice, right? Right?
It is a different feeling than the one I have with my daughters, which leaves me (maybe naively) confident in our lasting entanglement. But with my sons I fear that I will have to hold necessary boundaries that I, myself, require of my own mother-in-law. It will be hopelessly difficult for me not to smother them with multi-day phone calls, extra-long hugs, and weekend pop-ins. But I will have to for the sake of their relationships.
Maybe though, these dynamic shifts happen over time? Today, under our blanket on the couch, the idea of creating any space between us three feels too devastating to comprehend. It actually feels like I will not survive it. But perhaps as the years go on, and small changes accumulate slowly, it may feel less heartbreaking and a little more natural. And someday, hopefully, we will find ourselves in a new normal — less dependent, but equally connected in a way that is appropriate, and enough for both of us. I really hope it takes a while to get there though.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.