Cagey and quick, like a leopard, I’m ducking behind bleachers and hiding in the shadows watching a group of sweaty eighth graders whip and nae nae at the Friday night school dance. I must use caution, stealth, and covertness in order to steal a glance of my son, who, if catches wind of what I’m up to, will promptly stop shaking his money maker. 

14 year-olds don’t dance in front of their mothers. Least not in a gymnasium, filled with pumping bass and peers.

He used to dance in front of me. In our living room, wearing his big red car Wiggles slippers, my son used to drop it like it’s hot to the sick beats of The Backyardigan’s synthetic hits. With flushed cheeks, a mop of curly blonde hair, and hips that wouldn’t quit, there was no shame in dancing in front of mommy. 

Now God forbid I glance his way while he sings along with Panic At The Disco. 

I stand in the deafening gym, looking at my son who I’ve heard from the PTA moms has the moves like Jagger. He’s all legs, peach fuzz, and confidence as he sways to the melody surrounded by girls, flailing arms, and IPhones. Someone shouts, 

“Let’s get this on YouTube!” 

The air is thick with Axe, sweat, and hormones. One of the girls wearing ripped jeans and a statement Tee mists herself with Bath and Body Works pear cassis, reapplies raspberry lip gloss with precision, and smiles at me. She rejoins my son on the dance floor, mouths something to him which probably sounds a bit like,

“Um, so, you know your mom is watching, right?”

The dancing stops. 

My  child turns to glare at me, then smiles wryly. 

The gig is up. I’ve been caught. I smile sheepishly, wrapping my coat around me and head out into the biting cold. 

I have exactly two hours to do whatever I want before I have to retrieve my son. I contemplate a quick manicure. Or I could give myself a facial, pour a glass of Arbor Mist, and curl up with that copy of Mrs. Dalloway I’ve been trying to read. Instead, I do what any normal mother who has a child on the brink of manhood does. I climb into the attic, dust off the blue gingham baby book, and settle in for a bittersweet and bumpy trip down memory lane.

I’m immediately transported to the early 2000’s by the slightly faded images of a tow-headed baby with arresting azure eyes. There he is with his frosted Elmo cake on his first birthday, gazing up from his high chair with a perplexed expression on his sweet face. His grandparents were there, both sets, still alive. I wore a pair of corduroy knee length pants with tall saddle colored boots. I remember I didn’t want to look too “momish.” In retrospect I looked like Puss In Boots. 

To say that it goes by so fast is putting it mildly. Of course when you’re in the thick of it- the tantrums and the homework and the endless buying of Marvel T shirts, the days go about as fast as a slug crossing the street. The time he had a fever of 103, and threw up in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, that day couldn’t have gone any slower. Or when he was crying and screaming on the kitchen floor because you wanted him to eat just one more bite of his dinosaur chicken nugget. Yeah, that day could have gone just a teeny bit faster. 

But then one day you offer him a juice box and he tells you he’s not a baby. You buy him bigger pants, put in the Big Time Rush cd, and he tells you he listens to Twenty One Pilots now. You buy even bigger pants, this time in the men’s department of Kohl’s, and he asks to borrow your razor so he can shave the dark fuzz above his triangle tipped lips. One day you’re buying undershirts with pale blue whales on them at Gymboree, the next, you’re perusing the cramped, dark aisles that is Hot Topic, looking for Manic Panic and concert tees. 

As mothers we’re asked a lot. We grow this tiny seed that we are utterly in love with before we even know who it is. We give birth. We raise. We worry. We guide. We love beyond what we ever thought possible, then, we are asked to let go. We mothers are in a perpetual state of trying to find that delicate balance between holding on and letting go. And if done right, one day we stand in the shadows, watching a strong, well adjusted, self assured person dance in a crowded gymnasium on a Friday evening. 

We mothers are a strong lot. 

Because that letting go, it can sting just a bit. Yes, you’ve accomplished what you set out to do-raise a fine young man-and you’re proud, you really are-but there’s a piece of your heart that feels raw, maybe even hollowed out. There’s a small vacancy in your soul that you may try to fill by staring at the photographs of a blush cheeked cherub who once thought you were cooler than Thor. You can almost feel the warm breath on your neck, the podgy fingers pulling at your slacks as he clamored on your lap for just one more snuggle, one more kiss before bed. 

The hours creak by but the years move swiftly. It’s those mundane tasks that trip us up, tricking us into thinking there’s so much time. The spilled milk on the floor. The common core math problems at the dining room table. The cleaning of vomit and folding of shirts. The wiping of noses. The noisy bath time with a wet, squirming, fiercely independent toddler. Minutes that drag, moments that feel like they could drown us. 

And then there’s the moments that lift us. Moments that shine and glisten so perfectly, so beautifully, they are like poetry unfolding in front of your eyes. 

Like watching your baby dance in a crowded gym on an otherwise ordinary Friday night. 

Claudia Caramiello

Claudia Caramiello is a certified pharmacy technician by day, freelance writer by night, mother of two teen sons both day and night. Hailing from New Jersey, she survives single motherhood on caffeine, humor, and listening to Twenty One Pilots. Her articles have been featured on Scarymommy, Bluntmoms, Sammiches and psych meds, Elephant Journal, and Moms & Stories. You can find her on Facebook at Espresso & Adderall and read more from Claudia on her blog,