Words, phrases, entire sentences left my son’s mouth at the dining room table as if he were speaking a foreign language: cryptocurrency, NFTs, digital reality, avatars, metaverse real estate. Not unlike the time he used his eight years of Mandarin to order dinner at Tang Pavilion.
My husband nodded and responded in the same dialect. The words floated in the air as I sat with a dopey look on my face, like a toddler seeing a soap bubble for the first time. The years of skipping the Business section in favor of The Arts had finally caught up to me.
My son, now 27, was born five-and-a-half years after his sister. I planned the large age difference after learning that chimps wait five years between births. I figured our hairy ancestors knew more about parenting, having been around longer than us.
He breastfed easily. I’d wake up in the middle of the night a few minutes before he cried, scoop up his warm little body, and carry him to the overstuffed beige couch in the living room. Two pillows shoved behind my back. The room, dark and silent, except for the low sucking sound at my breast. A warm tingly feeling spread through me. I’d lift him for a burp, breast milk dripping from his chin, a cockeyed smile on his face.
Will you remember this? I thought.
A few years later, I’d snuggle next to him in his “big boy” bed, to get a whiff of his breath. The odor reminded me of my own as if we were still one. He’d twist a piece of my hair around his forefinger and thumb and say, “I’ll love you until the whole world breaks.”
At two he struggled to breathe and my mommy superpowers were useless against his asthma. Nothing makes you love something more than confronting the risk of losing it. I had spent so much time watching his little chest rise and fall that I couldn’t be in the same room with him without worrying about his breathing. I lost weight, couldn’t sleep, and my mood darkened. It was like wearing sunglasses, permanently. I went on anti-anxiety medication.
In middle school, he made a best friend. They’d watch endless episodes of The Apprentice, sprawled out on the couch, drained Capri Sun juice boxes everywhere. I could still get him to sit with me if I suffered through an Austin Powers movie. But more often than not, he preferred to watch it with his friend.
In high school, his best friend was replaced by a girlfriend. She was pretty, with long blond hair and big brown eyes. At first, his door remained open. Her skinny long legs dangled shoeless off his bed. They’d snuggle together to watch a movie on his laptop or eat a snack at the kitchen table, sitting so close their shoulders would touch. For months, her black lace-up boots sat at the front door. One day they stayed there until dawn. I can’t say I was surprised. I had poured so much love into my boy that it was bound to spill over into someone else.
I told myself I still had most of his tender young heart. He was only 17.
Freshman year of college, his girlfriend broke his heart. The pain in his voice was troubling so I took the train to Philly. We sat, side by side, on my hotel room bed, his head resting on my shoulder. “You will get through this, your heart will mend, it will be better next time,” I said.
He did, it did, it was.
A few years later he found her. She was everything I would want for him: smart, beautiful, and kind. When a wounded bird landed on my front step, she wrapped it in a towel, and we drove it to the animal rescue center. “I like birds,” she said. A piece of his heart had floated away, like an iceberg, to this bird-loving beauty.
Back at the dinner table, I ask, “Where exactly is the metaverse?”
My husband and son trade-off answering my questions, but it all sounds like science fiction.
I’m convinced they will move into the future and leave me in the present.
What’s left to talk about? The weather? Should I drop Spanish and take “Metaverse for Dummies”? Where is the little boy who used to twirl my hair around his finger?
And just when I’m convinced I’ve lost him, my son looks at me. The corners of his eyes crinkle, his face softens, and he peers into my eyes as if he can see directly into my heart.
My stomach flutters. And for one split second I know there is nothing I have to do. He remembers us.