I read this email on my phone, keys in hand, waiting for everyone to gather their book bags and lunch boxes .
I’m grinning ear to ear.
My son is on the couch with his back to me, bent over tying his shoelaces. He’s been working hard to keep his grades up. He’s been choosing things like math club and chess club over video games and TV. Maybe it’s because he understands he’s working towards something more than just good grades. Something bigger. A good life, perhaps? I’m a proud mama, right there in the foyer and I want to celebrate.
“Wow Pup! You got a message from your math teacher.”
A bored monotone “Mmm hmm” floats up from his crouched position.
“Did you see it?”
“Mmm hmm,” says my son’s back.
“You did? You read it already?”
I’m not sure if he is just playing it cool or what. It’s something he’s been doing lately. It’s like he’s above having emotions. I think he should be more excited to get a message like this. I’m so excited I want to scoop him up and spin him around like I used to when he was a little boy. Surely he’ll turn his head any second now and give me that huge gummy smile everyone says matches mine exactly.
Finally he stands up and starts to walk away without as much as a glance in my direction.
I look at the time on the email. 8:07 am. Just a few minutes ago.
“When did you see it?”
He stops. His eyes roll. A loud sigh. With the slightest of sneers, he responds, “What message? I haven’t read any messages, okay?”
With that, he resumes his walk down the hallway into his bedroom.
My face falls in slow motion. My smile and my good mood dissolve like fresh bread in vinegar.
I want to yell at him. I want to demand an apology and lecture him about his attitude but I can’t. I’ve been stabbed in the gut by a look of revulsion when he’d finally turned to me. By the way he spit out the words as if my very presence had soured him to the core.
I can’t do anything but stand in the doorway and bleed.
Where is my son, I wonder? The little towheaded toddler who used to run to me, arms outstretched. Barefoot, chubby toes, sweet potato stained bib, fresh diaper crackling with every step.
Where is the little boy with the crew cut, who would ride his bike next to me on Sunday morning jogs? We’d tally up every duck, iguana, and butterfly we saw along the way.
Where is the sensitive little boy who’d write me notes on folded papers, declaring how great a mother I was and how much he loved me? The one who, up until just a few months ago, would flash me that fantastic grin, when our eyes met over the after school crowds?
I’ve heard other parents warn of how hard the teenage years are. I guess this is the beginning of it for me. For him. He is thirteen now, morphing into something new. Whatever it is, it’s starting to seep through, like cold water on thirsty soil. He’s marinating in prepubescent hormones and he can’t help his extreme mood swings. Right?
But it feels like something is dying and I don’t know how to revive it.
I understand he’s older now but so am I. And being forty-something is hard. It’s not fun to worry about mortgages and auto repairs. Homeowners insurance and hurricanes. Affordable vacations and mammograms. . Unrealized dreams, time moving way too fast and days that outlast my energy supply. It’s all hard enough without feeling like your kid hates you.
Without evidence that your favorite person no longer favors you.
I know he loves me. Even if he acts like he hates me. Even if he makes me feel uncool and annoying.
I tell myself he’s only evolving. We’re all caught up in a furious spiritual and physical tornado of evolution. Embryo to corpse and beyond. Everyone is trying to navigate a way through the changes that come with loving and living.
In the bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
So, I guess it might be time to say goodbye to the little boy he was and move forward with the adolescent he is. Just like I did when the creases on his chubby arms began to fade. And his plump thighs slimmed out and lengthened. Just like I did when he lost that scrumptious baby scent in the folds of his fat little neck.
I mourned for that then and I’m mourning for this now, in the doorway, waiting to drive him to middle school.
I also tell myself to toughen up. Grow a thicker skin. Shut up and stop being a baby.
Even though I’m stunned by overwhelming emotions that beckon me to curl up like a fetus. Even though I want to choke on the sorrow of no longer having a little boy in my life, I can’t. I’m his parent. I have work to do. I can’t give in to everything he wants or does because I’m afraid of the stony silence that will follow. I’m supposed to guide him through this time in his life. Not turn into a weepy puddle of ‘times gone by’ every time he doesn’t smile at me.
It’s hard but the only way I can do it is by rationalizing on the facts. All day today, I’ll tell myself this and probably tomorrow and maybe for the next few years. But I’m also praying that when I get my son back, when his mind and body have leveled out, we can make up for lost time and be friends again.