We were at the grocery store the other day and you walked right past the penny horse without even a pause. I keep pennies in my purse for moments like these, when you and your brother would practically tackle me to get the little copper gems that held promise to a one-minute gallop on the mechanical horse in the corner. This time, you didn’t ask for a penny. A knot in my throat rose, because at that moment, I realized, you’d probably never ask for a penny again.

Instead, you ask me for permission to download the latest version of your favorite computer game. You ask me to stop giving you so many hugs in public, and I know better than to kiss you, so you don’t have to ask me to stop doing that.

Instead of begging me for one more book at bedtime, you ask me to turn out the light in case you fall asleep reading the latest chapter book.

Instead of hanging on my legs as I make dinner . . . or try to shower . . . or clean the house, you run past me as the doorbell rings, knowing it’s the neighbor boys wanting to play.

You don’t ask for bubbles in your bath anymore . . . actually, I don’t even think you remember what bubbles are judging by the untouched bar of soap I gave you weeks ago for the shower.

I’ve swapped buying Spiderman hand soap pumps and sparkly toothpaste for sticks of deodorant and minty floss.

We can’t afford to go out to eat anymore because you won’t be caught dead ordering from the kids’ menu and you’d probably devour two entrees if it were up to you.

You’re growing up, my sweet boys, but despite the lump in my throat and holding back the tears, I refuse to mourn.

I remember that growing up is an experience some children don’t get and making it to adulthood is sometimes a feat in itself for others. I remember it’s a privilege and an honor that I get to stand by your side to watch you grow up, something your daddy doesn’t get since he died when you were still in diapers. That’s the phrase that keeps me from falling into a puddle of my own tears: I get to watch you grow up. I get to.

So maybe we’re past the penny horse days but, dear sons, we’re walking into exciting new territory together. And I know you need me more than ever. You may not need the pennies in my purse anymore but you do need me to listen, still give you hugs (not in front of your friends, of course), guide you, and stand beside you not pushing you from behind or blocking your way in front of you, but beside you—there when you need me and watching when you don’t.

That day in the grocery store, when we walked past the penny horse, I reached into my purse and pulled out several pennies and set them on the horse, knowing that surely there’d be a little boy approaching with excitement in his eyes, begging his mama for a few more minutes to ride into the sunset. I won’t look back—I’ll look forward with you, dear boys . . . and sneak a hug as we walk out the door.

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Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a is a widowed mom to three children. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.
Facebook: @JustAMomNicoleHastings