As of today, March 25th, I will have raised three boys into adulthood. Well, numerically and legally anyway. I’m still doing research on my theory that all males are really just 12 year old boys in a body that continues to age physically …its just a theory. It really is a bit of a miracle I survived all those parenting years. Sure, I somehow managed to do it as a single mom while working multiple jobs. But that’s not the real miracle.
The real miracle is that I did it in a time without drive thru Starbucks, Target leggings, or parking spaces reserved for parents with children. It’s like I parented in the Dark Ages or something.
As a mom of all boys, I have had a few challenges. Thankfully, now that they are all young adults those challenges are a distant memory. It’s been at least 8 years since I have had to tell any of them to get their hands out of their pants. I never thought I would see the day, but they have all managed to use the bathroom without leaving it looking like a pee spattered crime scene. Now that 2/3 of them are out of the house and the third right behind them, I no longer have to watch every testosterone laden, sci fi , super hero movie to hit the big screen. The other day I actually got to pick whatever movie I wanted on Amazon Prime and it was calm, and thoughtful, and educational. No one got shot and nothing blew up! I can even walk into the family room free of any first person shooter games; and frankly I couldn’t be happier about that. There are no more Nerf gun fights terrorizing my house and no more stepping on Lego. (I just realized in my first draft I wrote Legos. Shame on me. As a boy mom, I know better. The plural of Lego is Lego. Please don’t take my boy mom card. It was an honest editing mistake) But even though I am happy that my boy mom challenges are behind me, I find myself struggling with this transition for reasons that have caught me by surprise.
It’s not that I am sad. I don’t think I am anyway. I love my relationships with my young men. They are funny and interesting and I couldn’t be more proud of them. It’s just that it feels a little like what you must feel when you cross the finish line of a marathon you didn’t train for. The tears come because you are relieved that you finished the race. It was so hard. It required so much strength and stamina. But they also come because you can’t believe it is over; that somehow you did it. Somehow you succeeded in achieving the goal: today they are all technically adults. And as my friend Chookie says, now all I have to say is, “Just so you know, I’ll visit you. But I’m not paying your bail!”
If I am being completely honest, I wasn’t always the most gracious mom of infants and toddlers. I used to dream of the day when my boys would be independent. I loved parenting my kids, really I did. But, I’m an extreme introvert and sometimes those kids were in my space way too much. Many times I wanted to scream to my 6month old or my two year old, “Why won’t you leave me alone? Would it kill you to just give me a moment to myself.” ” Stop needing to be fed and read to.” “And for goodness sakes, stop asking me to play Candy Land” (or now Scrabble at 10pm which is the same thing except I can’t stack the deck so I pick Queen Frostine and then hope for double purple for the win!).
During those early years, I didn’t really get excited about some of those first milestones. Take their first steps, nothing special. Say their first word, big deal. But the day they could get up, pour their own cereal, and turn the TV on by themselves was the greatest day of my parenting journey. Let’s just say I was a much better mom of independent kids.
But then they are.
And then they leave you.
And now I feel the need to dig my claws into their ankles and hang on for dear life. Which is quite the opposite of how it used to be. I will never forget the first day of kindergarten for one of my kids; who shall remain nameless but decided to move to the other side of the world. I literally (no, I mean literally, this is not a metaphor) had to peel his hands off the school bus step railing, put my hands on his behind and push him up the stairs to get on the bus. I guess this is my payback. I mean, isn’t this what all the worry, work and sleepless nights were for; to send them out of the nest to make their own way in the world?
But instead of doing the empty nest dance I dreamed of, I am crying every time I see banana pudding.
Banana pudding is my new trigger. It makes me misty eyed and nostalgic. It brings to the surface all the emotions I have been stuffing since my middle one told me he was leaving. There are so many things that make me miss him, but for some reason the banana pudding makes me cry. I wouldn’t get it every time I passed it on the salad bar at the grocery store, but I thought of him every time I did. It was his favorite. Also, who decided that would be the dessert on every salad bar in every grocery store? But on occasion, I would bring some home to him just to say, “I thought of you and I want you to feel loved”. So why does the banana pudding make me cry?
I guess it’s a brutal reminder that I am no longer able to mother him in that “your my child” kind of way. It’s a reminder that now I have to mother him like you’re a man now and I need to get out of the way and let you become a manlier version of the boy I raised.
It’s a reminder that I won’t be able to know how he is really doing just by seeing how he moves through the house. He used to walk the path through the kitchen, to the dining room, down the hall, and back through the family room. The number of times and the speed at which he moved told me all I needed to know. It was a barometer for me; measuring his internal pressure and stress. It was a way for me to know if he needed time alone, or a word of encouragement, or for me to just stand back and watch him figure it out. And now I don’t know. And seeing those layers of soggy vanilla wafers smothered in Dwight Shrute yellow pudding scream at me that I am no longer the one to be sure he is alright. It’s a reminder that I am no longer the one who is responsible for his daily needs. That I no longer can parent him in the little things. I am no longer the person to check his pulse.
And then I saw a picture of my oldest son.
But it wasn’t my boy. It was a picture of a man. I don’t know why it struck me the way it did. I’ve known for a while that he was an adult. I mean, I’ve watched him graduate college, get a job, and fall in love. I’ve even heard that he cleans up after himself now. So I’ve known he’s been a grown up for a while. But today, for the first time, I actually saw the man. A man that I no longer have the responsibility to mold. He’s leaved and cleaved, like he should. But now I need to learn my new role in his life. When to help and when to back off. When to say something or when to just be quiet.
And I am wondering why I wanted those early years of parenting to pass.
I still have my 18 year old here a little while longer. And since he is in college, we are doing the I am giving you freedom but you are still living under my roof dance. We are walking the tight rope of go on, step out, be independent; but you better be home by midnight and I am going to read your txts because I am paying for your phone bill. I can’t control who he dates or how long his hair is; though I desperately want to. Oh! to be back in the days of play dates that I arranged. Now I can only pray that all those years of parenting trained him up in a way that he will be ok. That they all will be OK.
I don’t know why I so desperately wanted them to be independent. I would give anything to go back to the early parenting moments. When they didn’t make the team, at least I was the one who could hug and comfort and cheer them on. When life wasn’t being fair, at least I was the one who could guide and lead and go to bat for them. When they were struggling with their calculus at least…yea never mind, they were on their own in the homework department since the 4th grade. But at least I could be there to tell them great job and you can do it. Now I wish I could step on a Lego. It was a lot less painful than not seeing your kids for months or maybe years. That pain was a lot less traumatic than watching your child struggle with real life, big issues and not being able to fix them.
It’s a tough thing learning to be the parent of adults. I think I would rather have a Nerf gun fight and be able to put them to bed; even if their hands are down their pants.
I wish there was a way to know you are in the good ole days before you have actually left them -Andy from the Office