Life is good. Summer air feels warm and sweet on bare shoulders. Screen doors slam. Watermelon stains my children’s chins sticky pink. They gulp vivid blue drinks voraciously before returning to their bikes, leaving behind abandoned plastic Marvel cups.
Sand between toes. The little one needs his nails clipped. His blonde hair smells of chlorine. Hazy mornings wrapped in cool sheets, we watch TV and eat questionable breakfasts. Soon we won’t be able to go barefoot. In the evenings we need a light sweater.
September is here, shaking off the lingering heat, leaving a collection of red leaves on the ground. Their edges are curled. It’s starting. Summer slowly folding like the waves at my favorite South Carolina beach.
There’s a melancholy beauty to the fleeting last days of late summer. I was a little reluctant to begin the back-to-school shopping, as if eschewing the purchase of new Vans for my son will stave off the hectic days that lay ahead.
This year the oldest is in high school, and the little one 8th grade. Funny how I still refer to him as the little one. This gives me pause, as I try to find my footing in this new phase of parenthood—mother of older children.
Quite honestly, I’m a bit lost. I got my first taste of how independent my son is when I dropped him off at high school orientation and attempted to walk in the auditorium to sign him in. A teacher gently stopped me, telling me that wasn’t necessary.
“A lot of parents have trouble with this,” she offered when she saw my confused and quite possibly crestfallen face.
That night I took comfort when my younger son needed help pulling on a too tight sock.
He needs me I thought, a wave of relief washing over me followed by a wave of embarrassment.
I need them to need me. This truth exists right next to the truth that makes my eyes well up with tears. A truth that makes me want to go back to heating up dinosaur nuggets and spending endless hours watching Peppa Pig with two sticky fingered boys in graphic tees. The truth is they are growing up.
For me, September has always been a month of reflecting—more so this year than ever before. A house littered with flip-flops, beach towels and shrieking boys is replaced by sweatshirts, three ring binders and from 8-3, silence. It’s within that silence I think about the brevity of childhood, the short period of time that we can call children ours. In the grand scheme of time they are ours for seconds, the world’s for the rest of their lives.
For me, these seconds that have defined my life the past 14 years are changing. In some ways it’s wonderful. My sons take out the garbage now. They can lift more than one bag of groceries. They make hysterical YouTube videos. They heat up pizza in the oven, and know that when the washing machine dings, it’s time to put the clothes in the dryer. This frees up time and allows me to actually do things for me. And for the most part, I like it.
I have some time to write. Trying to drum out an essay was impossible when they were toddlers. Someone always needed a Lightening McQueen car fished out from beneath the fridge, or help opening a pack of fruit snacks. Once, when my son was 10, he got angry over a difficult fraction assignment and punched my computer, permanently breaking the G key. I spent weeks trying to avoid words with g in it before I could afford to get it fixed. Now that the boys are teenagers and basically do their homework on smartphones, my computer is all mine, and they have enough finger dexterity to open most household snacks. They also know punching anything will result in confiscation of any electronic devices. Yes, I definitely like this.
But there’s something, a soft touch of sadness that creeps into the day to day activities that keep my calendar full, and my mind busy. A whisper thin shift that I feel as September rolls in, ushering out the lightening bugs, lackadaisical mornings, and impromptu visits to the dairy swirl. For September reminds me of days past.
I’m not the first mother to send her son to High School, or her baby boy into his last year of middle school, and I won’t be the last. I remember, as a teenager my own mother still calling me her baby, and getting so aggravated with her. Now I completely understand.
As mom, it is my job to gracefully let go. The next few years will test that as my sons move further away from childhood and quickly approach adulthood.
Yes I will loosen that grip with grace and love, allowing my children to become what they are meant to be—men.
But let go, I won’t. At least not completely.
Because even as men, they will still be my babies.
And that truth shall always exist.