My son used to scream as a baby if I wasn’t in his line of site, or holding him in my arms. When I say scream, I mean emit a ferocious, high pitched wail so intense, it caused panic in people who did not know our family well. Once, when he was about nine months old, I was on the phone with a lady who sold PartyLite. As I attempted to book a party with her and score some free, clean burning votives, I placed my son down for a minute so I could flip through my calendar. As expected he began to scream – long drawn out yowls punctuated by desperate gasps of air- until his cheeks were cranberry red. I, of course, was completely used to it, but the candle monger on the other line was aghast with fright, insisting she never heard a baby cry like that, and for me to please get him checked out by his pediatrician. I did, and my motherly instincts were realized when the doctor calmly told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with my baby, he just liked to be held…a lot. And I liked holding him a lot.
One time I was washing dishes and my son pulled himself up into a standing position using my slacks. Steadying himself with my thighs, he rested his small head directly under my nice, wide bum. My then husband walked in the kitchen, and upon seeing our son with his head wedged comfortably beneath my cheeks, shook his head and said, “this kid is literally up your ass.”
It was flattering, being adored like this. I liked feeling needed. He was my first child, and I had the time and energy to devote my entire being into this exciting new role of motherhood. I reveled in it all. The nursing, the co-sleeping, the attachment parenting. My baby needed me to survive, and I needed him. Every day was met with new, exhilarating wonders, but also tempered with tender loss. One bitter January night, I lay on my side, looking at my son as he nursed contentedly. The light of the moon had bathed the bedroom in an ethereal yellow glow, and I could see tufts of hair beginning to sprout at the nape of his neck. His small, glittering eyes peered up at me, and I suddenly thought, I am the mother of a baby who will grow up.
And just like that, he did. He grew up.
Remember when you would meet older people in stores with your baby and they would say niceties such as, enjoy it, they grow up so fast? They were right.
It’s soul shaking, what our children become. Have you ever looked over at your child as he balanced a personal pizza in one hand and an iphone in the other and thought you used to not know how to use a spoon? I used to choose outfits for my son in muted blues and charcoal because I was afraid of him looking too much like a big boy. I waited to the last possible second to cut his glossy locks (people started to refer to him as my beautiful daughter) because I didn’t want to let go of that cherubic baby look. Now he decks himself in Walking Dead t-shirts ,loose jeans, and keeps his hair clipped neatly above his ears.
For years, even in sixth and seventh grade, when my son was sleeping, I would be able to detect traces of residual babyhood in his face and hands. Once he hit eighth grade, the button nose, full cheeks, and dimpled knuckles morphed into lanky limbs, sculpted cheekbones, and lean hands. Another loss. But oh what a gain. I can’t scoop him up in my arms anymore, feeling his warm breath, fruity with apple juice on my shoulder, but I can talk to him about movies, music, politics, God.
I feel like this on the brink of manhood stuff isn’t so easy, but in a good way. When my boy was just a boy, bonding with him was effortless. Organic. I mean he was in my arms constantly, and I was well schooled in cuddling, kisses, and being needed. I used to think my son loves me so much, look how he needs me. Now, today, when he wraps his arms around me, pretends to be a zombie and playfully chomps at me, he’s not hugging from a place of need, yet a place of want.
Have you ever heard the closing song to the children’s PBS Kids show It’s a Big Big World? It’s called Try to Touch the Sky. Don’t listen to it if you have a boy about to go into High School. It will break your heart.
You have to go I know it’s time.
I cried listening to those words when my son was a toddler, and I cry even more over them now.
It’s easy to bond with a baby, a toddler, an elementary aged child. This teenager thing trips me up a bit. Our relationship, even despite some hard times, was breezily solid. Then puberty hits, and I’m all, let’s listen to Phineas and Ferb, and he’s all – Mom! Have you ever heard of these guys Avenged Sevenfold, I feel like they were influenced by the grittiness of Metallica’s sound. And I’m like dumbfounded. Not only does he know how to use a spoon, but he has his own opinions and ideas, and sometimes…more than sometimes, I like his ideas.
But I had to learn this new role of mama to a young man. I can’t rest on my laurels and rely on my old bag of tricks. My son’s way too astute for that. Our relationship has grown and bloomed into something way more complex than the days when all I needed was a diaper bag, teething tablets, and patience. As a toddler, when he asked me why the sea is blue, he was content with simple answers or even I don’t knows. Now the questions are harder and the answers often fall into that hazy grey area – nothing is black or white anymore. And he looks to my answers as a compass that will help him navigate his way through adulthood.
Should I go to technical school or regular high school?
Why are you nice to mean people?
When you die does eternity get boring?
Oh this boy, the one who used to scream for me, the one who was mustard yellow with jaundice and uncooperative during his newborn hearing screening. The one who was impossible to potty train, the one who used to yell I HAVE DIARRHEA in the middle of Wal-Mart, when in fact he was actually constipated. The one who dressed up as Captain Feathersword for Halloween. This boy is not a boy anymore.
Once I wished he would hurry and grow up. Can you believe it? We were in Kohl’s and he pitched a fit because I wouldn’t buy him a lavender Vera Wang shoulder bag. He threw himself down on the floor, kicking the metal display of that season’s It bags, and carried on as agitated shoppers shot dirty looks at this incorrigible kid. In his defense he was three, tired, and the purse, studded with iridescent crystals, was fabulous. In my defense I was embarrassed. I take that wish back.
Now he’s graduating eighth grade. I’m planning a graduation celebration for him, and will probably tell that story at his party. We will eat chicken francese, dance to Ariana Grande, and take lots of selfies. As I give a speech, my son will stand next to me in the pressed shirt and slacks I forced him to wear, looking devastatingly handsome with his noble chin, thick wavy hair, and clear cerulean eyes.
I will lament and rejoice equally.