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Roots and Wings and All That Stuff.

His voice is changing. I didn’t notice it until it really, honest-to-goodness was the Eve of His Thirteenth Birthday. First it seemed like cosmic synchronicity that on that night,  as he laughed, I heard a break into a lower timbre completely different from the charming giggle of the past twelve years. First there was this moment of saying to myself “nothing like hitting a milestone of puberty at the exact chronological moment of crossing the ridiculously arbitrary barrier between Child and Teenager.” Because that seemed funny. Then it seemed terribly, terribly sad, and I had to keep up my end of the conversation we were having, lounging on my bed after school, amid dogs and cats, a laptop and a half-eaten bowl of Lucky Charms.There would be girlfriends and college and road trips and distance and some day, possibly quite soon, there would be an end to lounging on the bed as there had been an end to carrying him with his fuzzy head in its corresponding spot in the nape of my neck. My brother doesn’t lie around on beds laughing with my mother, my husband doesn’t play hide-the-dog-in-the-pillows with his mother…clearly, it all ends at some point.

Everyone says that your children will slide so gradually into growing up that you won’t really see it, but I see it. There are changes that occur under my radar, to be sure; I can’t pinpoint the night when bedtime became a struggle, or the first morning that getting up and dressed for school was a battle of exhausting proportions. He grows out of his clothes, grows a little broader in the shoulders and narrower in the torso, and his feet, which fit into my shoes only 6 months ago are now too big to slide into my Nikes when he’s too lazy to find his own. I don’t see any of these things happening, but I see a lot. Last summer, on a group work trip to Louisville I saw a girl go after him for the first time, and I observed (with no small amount of pride) that he lacked the maturity to play along in the way she would have chosen, but that he was sweet, and kind and had the grace to behave in a way that left him unencumbered but embarrassed no one.  I also saw, on Christmas Eve, that he had gone out of his way to talk to a girl who got all pink and bright-eyed when he talked to her, and that he looked pretty enchanted, too. Then his voice started changing, then yesterday he turned thirteen, and then she made him a box of beautiful cupcakes with “scratch” frosting, that bright-eyed girl.

I have seen too much to pretend that I don’t know what’s happening, and it doesn’t feel “gradual” at all. I know that it’s all “normal,” and even desirable; we have raised a child who is maturing at an average pace, beginning to explore adult relationships, and showing the first signs that the hormones have been triggered. From any sort of rational, scientific point of view there is much for which to be grateful. He does not have a hump, he is not the kind of boy at risk of being beaten up every day at school (or likely to beat up anyone else), he has friends and is loyal to them, his teachers (mostly) like him, and his messy room, late nights and occasional bursts of irrational adolescent ridiculousness seem to be right on time. It would be wrong not to want this for him, this next stage of development, and our job is to mentor, monitor, guide and walk that nearly invisible line that keeps us all communicating but makes it clear that we are still the boss of him. I know all of this; I’m trying to get on with it briskly and without sentiment, but it makes me so damned sad.

I never thought I would be anybody’s mother, but once he was born, I found my son more interesting, more beautiful, more totally absorbing than anyone I had ever met. I don’t feel that way every waking minute; I get angry, I feel disappointment, I sometimes want him to “get out of my sight,” but he has always been, up to now, a part of me. He was not some separate, grown up person, he was my child, who called me “mumma,” and snuggled with me when he was sad, or tired, and foot-wrestled with me on the couch. I am sure that he doesn’t see himself as attached to me any longer, I know his friends have relegated me and my kind to the “somebody’s mom” category, and the girls who grow luminous in his presence are thinking of him not as mine, but, potentially, as their own. At his age, I found my parents (particularly my mother) to be the most embarrassing people in the world. It is all right and proper and heartbreaking and makes me want to create a special exception for the two of us, in which he will grow into a successful and well-balanced man but still love me best.

Which can’t happen.

Two nights ago, the night before he turned thirteen, he asked if he could fall asleep in our bed, and if I would lie down with him for a while. He hasn’t done that for a long time, although it used to be a regular thing, that falling asleep in our bed while hearing a book or a story, and then moving into his own bed with barely a ripple in the surface of his sleep. He asked me to tell him a story, one of the “Sam the Chef” stories I have told him since he was three or four. (Sam is a child prodigy chef, with a mother who cooks things like Spam and boiled potatoes, and a mentor who is a real French Chef. Adventures ensue). I told him a story, he burrowed into a blanket with the beagle, and began the signature rocking that has marked his descent into sleep since birth. I had a rare moment of grace, fully present and aware that I was witnessing something important; we needed to touch base one more time before he took off, headed for places that I cannot, or at least should not follow. He needs to know I’m still here, where I’m supposed to be, but he really can’t hang around too much longer without losing his Visa.

So I’ll be here, reminding myself on as as-needed basis that this is Not About Me, that I am the Grownup here, etc. ad nauseum. Roots and wings and all that stuff, you know. In public I will go along with the banter about teenagers, and their terrible, funny behavior, and college plans, and dances and crushes and drinking scandals, but inside it may all just be noise as I retreat to the truth of the matter, the truth being that I miss my little boy terribly, sometimes, and he isn’t ever coming back.

Maybe, though, if we’ve done our job well, he’ll send us postcards as he travels forward and away.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

19 responses »

  1. Elizabeth Ramos

    Oh Ann, you’ve absolutely ruined the little makeup that I wear, and it’s only 9:20 am! Copious tears raining down on the keyboard…and we are not supposed to have liquids near said keyboard. Everything you’ve written here so touches my heart because I see it all unfolding in my own home, before my own eyes and in my own heart…four times over, in both the girl and boy variations on the theme. I found myself so sad on New Years Eve mainly because as I stared down the new decade I realized that this is the decade that my kids become adults and leave my nest. The idea of completing that part of our journey together made me very sad. I already miss what was in the past because it was so beautiful, so joyful. Oh geez, here come the waterworks again!

    • Geez Louise, i didn’t mean for this to be a tear-jerker. Syick with me; I’m going to work on understanding and accepting that this is all good, really, and that those little people are still in those hulking, texting adolescents.

      Plus, if we hang in long enough, we get grandchildren…..

  2. Oh Ann, thanks for a good cry. My coffee tastes better with tear drops in it anyway!

    • I hope it really was a “good” cry. I think I delude myself that those of us in the mothers-of-one-beloved-boy-child category (in which you, and two of my other friends are included) take this harder than most folks. But above you is Elizabeth, who has four children (although only one boy) and she is feeling it, too. So apparently it’s normal, in it’s own sad way.

  3. Ann,

    Its all good. Follow your own advice, fasten and adjust your seatbelt carefully. Take pictures now for the days you will be needing reminded of today. Double check the brake, just to be sure. OK, your ready…………. Hope your ride is as smooth as mine was.

    • Ah, but you see, when I’m spouting advice it’s at times when I’m trying to look sane. It’s when I’m unable to find the brake pedal that I get in trouble. I’ll keep trying; I guess it would be worse if I didn’t love him so much.

  4. I was about to write that you made my cry, but everyone else already has. What does that tell you about the tender chord this piece strikes?

    • I guess I’m glad to know that it isn’t just me – I’ve spent a lot of time lately with people who either have no children, or who seem (at least externally) to be models of practicality and detachment about all of the growing up and away stuff. I start to think I’m too clingy, in some unnatural way. I think the responses should tell me that it’s just a thing that happens….

  5. Another winner. Another delightful piece. Although I have no children, I can appreciate this post vicariously. Very touching, Ann.

    • well you kind of do have children…thanks for liking this. 🙂

      • One thing’s for sure, he doesn’t seem to be headed for a tortured, never-want-to-repeat-or-remember high school experience–not with you there, watching over him (lucky Sam)

  6. Ann…I really do sense, often, that Tommy and I have something extra special goin’ on. The cry was good because there is this recognition that we all feel it, and others have felt it before us. And then there is that sense of appreciation I feel sometimes for people who pave the way for me. Thanks for paving…

    • i suspect that you do have something special. It’s funny, sometimes people express their regret that I “could only have one child.” I NEVER regret it.

      I hope I pave a good path {bites nails}.

  7. Dear Ann

    I love your blog. I have come back every day since I first found it, just before Christmas. This post is my favorite so far, though, and even though everybody already said so, I must confess that I also cried. Also into my keyboard at work, by the way. Also into my coffee.

    I have two boys, six and three. Hard to describe what this post made me feel about them but it is high up in my chest and tight and tender.

    Anyway, thank you for all your work and please keep it coming! I’m loving it.

    PS- I also liked when you told off that arrogant rocker dude and also the one about the omelettes. I had just taught my son (the six year old) to make one the day before and was happy that the effort did not go to waste.

    • Sibi, thanks so much!! As I said above, as long as it was a good cry, it’s okay. 🙂

      I feel that feeling all the time, and I have for years; I guess it just kind of broke through with this barrage of voice-changing, milestone birthday, girls-with-cupcakes stuff. I’m so not ready, but i really have to buck up. He needs not a clingy fruitcake, but someone who loves him as he is right this minute.

      The work will keep coming…I’m kind of addicted.

      As for the rocker dude, that was NOT a popular stance, but I don’t regret it one bit. As for the omelettes, one can only assume that your son will look back some day when he’s whipping up some eggs, and be hit with a rush of memories about when you taught him how to do it….

  8. stunning (deep breath), how beautiful. You write the way I want to think. maybe someday.

    How precious your relationship with your son.

    • Thank you. It is precious, although not in an icky way. 🙂 I hope you do think like this some day, although I’m not sure it has to be a child, and I’m quite sure it doesn’t have to be a biological child.

  9. Ann, this is my favorite of your posts so far, perhaps because I bracing for the same changes with my 12 yr old (some aspects have started, but both he and I seem to be comfortable with delaying the inevitable.) Both my boys are gonna be wondering why mom is extra-huggy this week. An early stage I’m noticing is that the relatives who don’t see Ben often seem to think he’s less interesting (because he’s a little less interested in them and somewhat more interested in being perceived as odd than in being understood). And all I can think is if only you knew him like I do–he’s MORE interesting than ever! I don’t have just one, but I think the relationship between a mom and a first-born son is a unique relationship that I had never anticipated being as interesting and intense as it is these days (and likely to get more intense soon enough). Good to be reminded of how special it is, in the midst of “did you practice your bass?” and “is your homework in your backpack? And why not?”

    • I’m so glad it spoke to you. I think Ben is temperamentally a lot like me, so I don’t doubt that he is very interesting despite his unwillingness to be adorable on command or to hustle to be understood. Keep remembering how special it is; as you’ll see when you read later posts, there are still big bumps no matter how much one cherishes one’s offspring…..


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