We carry a growing embryo in our bodies for nine months, battling morning sickness, heartburn, lower back pain, and dubious maternity attire. We then painfully push, or have our insides opened, to give life to a helpless newborn who now relies on us to keep him alive. We feed this child with our milk, (or formula) despite cracked and sore nipples. We hold this child in our tired arms, rocking them, wondering if we are doing a good job, or if he’ll end up in a therapist’s office, a jail cell, or making a living as a mime all because we didn’t get this attachment parenting thing down pat. We love this child with our soul, bursting with raw emotion as we feel our hearts grow bigger while wishing our hips would grow slimmer.
We navigate temper tantrums in Target parking lots, diaper blowouts in grocery stores, fevers, Baby Einstein on loop, potty training, first days of school, lost baby teeth and playdates. We negotiate bedtimes, know every name of the original Wiggles, fish errant poo floaters out of tubs, feign absolute excitement over rock collections, dead worms, and Peppa Pig. We clean butts, sanitize diaper genies, banish closet monsters, develop a taste for leftover dinosaur nuggets, step on at least 872 LEGOs, and have oddly fluorescent boogers wiped on our flattering black leggings. We know his favorite lovey, his favorite brand of cheese stick, and his favorite Yo Gabba Gabba shirt.
We remember the first time he discovered grown up music, and rejoiced when we could listen to The Beatles in our minivan instead of the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack. We remember the first step, the first word, the first and last time he pet the cat a little too aggressively. So many firsts, tempered by lasts. A kaleidoscope of emotions as we watch a wriggling, wrinkled baby slowly but oh so quickly grow into a complex and wonderful human being.
We are the center of his world, and he is the center of ours.
Then, one day, just like that, he grows up—and we are expected to step away, hold back, to let go. Suddenly there are friends, lots of them, and perhaps even a girlfriends who is privy to secrets that were once meant for mom. We are not the center of his world anymore. Sure, Mom is still important. Someone needs to drive him to play practice, drive him to the mall, drive him to his first date at the local McDonalds, give him French fry money. But the roles have reversed. Instead of a full-cheeked little boy following you from room to room with outstretched arms shouting “Hug! Hug!” now a full-cheeked, middle-aged mom follows a young man into the kitchen and gingerly asks, “Can I get a hug?”
If you’re lucky, and he’s hungry, he may oblige. But it’s not like the hugs you’ve grown so accustomed to. Those powerful, all-encompassing hugs that were so tight it felt as if he was going to press himself back inside of your body. You don’t get those anymore, even if you prepare a lasagna (his favorite). But you will gladly take them, these new hugs—as firm and angular as they may feel, you relish this display of endearment, however brief it may be. You may find yourself in the kitchen more, whipping up offerings of affection, coyly plying this boy with tastier fare because it feels like he is slipping away and the only way you know how to hang on is with a new recipe for Moroccan chicken. An iTunes gift card if the chicken is a flop.
You grip tightly to that thread. But the tighter you clench, the more it cuts, and the spool unravels despite your best effort.
Let it—even if it crushes you. And it will. You will mourn. Your son will be alive and healthy and happy and full of life, but you will mourn him nonetheless. There will be tears. Maybe even moments of manipulation when the pulling away feels like too much.
Go ahead and cry, mama—this is hard stuff. You’ve been a nurturer, an organizer, a planner, a giver, a lost shoe finder, a comforter, and now? Now there’s this almost grown-up person telling you I’ve got this.
And you know what? He does. He’s got it because you nurtured, and comforted, and loved, and helped find that lost shoe.
That almost grown-up over there—he’s comfortable enough pulling away because you helped shape him into who he is today. You made him feel safe and self-assured. You made him feel it was OK to let go of your hand. That takes strength.
And that thread, mama, you don’t have to hold it so tightly. It may unravel to lengths that take your breath away, but that thread won’t break.
Because yes, we women are strong.