Checking in—it’s what mothers do, or what I do anyway. I stand nose to chin with Miles and Gabriel, my grown twin sons, to feel their life force wash over me. They radiate energy and testosterone and smell like shampoo and skin. I inspect their shirts for invisible crumbs, touch and tease their curly hair—a gift from their father—and breathe in their essence, no longer baby-sweet but still beloved. I hold their sleeves lightly between my fingers. I anchor myself there in their orbit. And I ask questions, again and again, long after they’ve stopped listening.
The questions are innocuous, mundane even: Did you have breakfast yet? How was your day? Did you hear the thunder last night? What’s going on this week? Are you getting enough sleep?
They answer these questions fairly patiently with minimal eye-rolling. Yeah, Mom, I’m good. I’ll be back around 10:00. Is there any more ham?
I’m not sure if they know I’m not really asking what I’m asking.
What I want to know is this: Are you truly okay? Are you well? Are you happy? Do you know how madly I love you? Do you have a plan to get you through when life turns mean?
I’m done cutting their grapes in half, done lifting them in turn up to the sink so they can wash their hands, my back aching as I indulge their mesmerized attention to the sparkling water and the way it splashes off their palms. I’m done teaching them prayers, reciting together “make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star” as we sit on the carpet, their knees touching mine, their voices clear and sure. I’m done driving them practically to the moon and back while they nap and fight and jabber to each other in an inner world built for two.
I’ve insisted they learn please and thank you through a billion practice sessions. The civilizing process took longer than I would have guessed. It broke me down—humbled me—more than I pictured it would at the beginning. I’m done with the physically grueling direct training.
Now, looking back, the years before their transition to independence feel like they were the easy part.
It was obvious what to do, then. Tasks arose and I rose to them, so many of them spooling out that I just had to keep dancing.
My sons orbited around me then, sometimes close, sometimes looping farther out but always being drawn back in, to the center. Now, as they row farther and farther out, my influence is more nebulous. My magic has to be conducted at a distance, like bending spoons with my mind.
Today, on their 21st birthday, I feel pride and pain and nostalgia and longing and relief—all at the same time. Today is not a demarcation; it doesn’t divide between before and after. Today is just part of this continual process of growth and letting go for all of us.
I’m unsteady on these new legs.
I’m learning to stand ready with compassion for their heartaches and move in and out with constancy like the sea’s pulsing, its shushhh against the shore—in the background and directing nothing, but to be counted on, sure of, a place back at the beginning when they’re on the edge of what’s known, to come back to. But they have to walk there themselves.
I’m here, where I’ve always been, these waves a recitation, a whispered, ceaseless prayer in God’s ear for all that I wonder at and adore, for all that I can only release to the world, over and over again.