Sometimes I look at my teen, sitting there, feet on the table, hair falling over his eyes, hunched shoulders, his body having doubled in the past few years. His limbs stretch out in front of him, as if they are toys he is fumbling with. He stands taller than me now, but out of the corner of my eye he still fits in the crook of my arm. My heart swells with tender memories of a small toddler I thought would never go to sleep. Now I can’t wake him up. I watch him studying, and think I can almost see his soul, scrunched inside his body, trying to find it’s way out, trying to fill out the limbs that stretch so long.
At any given moment I have two equally powerful feelings about him. One is grief. Where did my baby go? Is he in there, smiling up at me, “mama up”, his soft hand holding my hair while he slept on my shoulder. I could miss him so much it hurts, black tar of sadness filling my aching heart. But at the same time, I can feel awe and wonder at this human sitting in front of me. This man child who smiles sideways at me and makes snarky jokes and rolls his eyes but still asks for hugs goodnight (when it’s my bedtime but not quite his). I am amazed at who he has become and am thrilled to find out where he is going. Eager anticipation and wonder and pride.
At any given moment I can choose between the two. And so what will I do, or say, or feel when he pushes away from me? When he doesn’t want me at the game. When he proudly announces he is probably going to be this thing because I am too that thing. When he tells me I don’t understand and he doesn’t want me to know about his life. What will I do or say if I am steeped in grief and clinging for dear life to my little child who needed all of me, too much of me. I might cry or fight him. I might pull him back or make demands. I might make him feel bad for not wanting to be by my side. I might, in fact, limit him so that I might keep him.
But what if instead, I was steeped in the excitement of seeing him become his own man? Out and about in this world. With his own path and his own secrets and his own successes and failures and dreams. What if I was eager for him to become himself and I knew in order to do this he had to, well, leave me. Then I might quietly cheer him on when he demanded his autonomy. I might be curious about his views on conservatism and liberalism. I might find it fascinating to see his views and beliefs emerge from his own mind, instead of just repeating my words. I would cheer and eagerly await things like the first lie (or the 1,000th, let’s be honest), the first obvious acts of defiance. I would hold their secrets tenderly, even if I don’t know what they are, for they are the first fragile unfolding of paper wings that will someday help them fly away.
If I want to have a relationship with my someday adult children, then I must in fact cheer on their path to adulthood. I can not keep them babies forever, dependent and needy, scared and fragile in the cold mean world with only me to protect them. What if I was present for each and every stage and excitedly held him in the space he needed, so that he could grow into his own body, reach down to the tips of his gargantuan toes and pull his soul into every nook and cranny of his own newly formed body. What if he could feel safe in my love while he left me, broke up with me as he grew out of the dependent child stage into the independent man stage.
What if my parenting didn’t require him to NEED me, but rather I met him where he needed a parent to be, and backed off as a parent when he didn’t need me, and let a relationship develop. With this lovely, smart, struggling, scared yet overly confident, fumbling treasure of a human that I get to call my kiddo.
I wonder what this means for other things in my life. Changes are constant in all things. Relationships, ideas, objects, people, self. Our bodies, our relationships, our ideas and constantly changing, evolving, growing. What if we were excited about where things were going, rather than grieving where they had been? More on this next week.