When my husband and I decided to have a baby many years ago, we had no idea what we had signed up for. There have been more dips and dives, more heart-thumping, brain-rattling, stomach-flipping fears than a carnival ride.
From the day he was born, my son adored me. Okay, maybe at first it was the readily available teat, but eventually, I am pretty sure it was all of me.
I carried him everywhere, his tiny arms around my neck, my nose buried in his wispy blond hair, taking in that delightful newborn baby smell.
But soon I began to have disturbing thoughts. Thoughts like, “Someday he will grow up and leave me. How will I bear it?” Or “One day he’ll love another woman more than he loves me.” But then I would sniff him again and my worries disappeared.
He was about 13 years old when that roller coaster car threatened to derail. I remember making the mistake of asking him, “How do I look?” when I was dressed to go out. He responded with a snarky, “Geez, Mom, you really need to do something about that mustache.” I sniffed his head, but all I smelled was musty teenaged boy fragrance. It did not do the trick.
What’s happening? I thought. He used to tell me, “Mommy, you look so pretty I can’t stop looking at you.” And foolish me, I believed him. He used to beg me to take him anywhere I went. Now when I asked him to go anywhere with me, his usual answer was, “Get a life, Mom,” which I am pretty sure means, “No thank you, Mother, I have better plans that do not include you,” but sounds much ruder.
If I insisted that he go with me, he would trail far enough behind that no one would suspect he was with me, wearing his cool shades and a sullen expression, his lips pursed in detachment and disapproval. And I’m fairly certain that behind those shades he’d roll his eyes anytime I said something he considered embarrassing, which was apparently ALL THE TIME.
When something or someone made me laugh or smile, he would admonish me to, “Stop laughing and smiling all the time. People will think you are nuts.”
And heaven forbid I try to give him fashion advice. Me, the woman who had dressed him since the day he came shooting out of me in his birthday suit. But now whenever I’d suggest he might look good in something, he’d scoff, “Geez, Mom, are you trying to make me look like a geek or something?”
What happened to that sweet little boy who thought I could do no wrong? Would he ever come back? I did not have a baby so that 13 years later he could point out how stupid and square I was.
As he neared 16, that roller coaster took a rapid 90-degree turn and begun another steep descent. He started pointing out expensive cars that he planned to get as soon as he turned 16, even though he had no source of income other than my wallet. He frequently pointed out what he considered my driving errors, even though he had no driving experience and I had decades of it.
He was with me when I filled out a sweepstakes entry with a prize of a new sports car. He asked, “If you win that, can I have it? I will be 16 soon.”
“Heck, no,” I said, “I will keep it for myself.”
He shook his head in disgust and said, “Mom, you can’t drive a car like that. You have to be kidding. You would have to maybe lose a few pounds and maybe get some new clothes and change your hair.”
Gee, thanks, kid.
When he finally turned 16, I bought him a used pickup truck. I also paid for the outrageous insurance and its upkeep. His response to this gift? “Maybe if you got a better job, you could make more money and could afford to get me the cool car I really want.”
I was beginning to wonder if this carnival ride would ever end. I also was beginning to understand how parents are able to let their children go off on their own. Every mama bird knows when it is time to kick the fledglings out of the nest. After all, isn’t it our job as parents to raise that helpless newborn to be a responsible, self-supporting adult?
By the time he was 18, he came and went as he pleased. Between his part-time job, his college classes, and his social life, he seldom was home at all. My husband asked, “Are you sure he still lives here?”
“Well,” I said, “groceries disappear from the refrigerator at an alarming rate and his dirty clothes stack up on the floor in front of the washing machine, so I am guessing yes?”
My son began to balk at the house rules. I informed him, as all parents do, that “as long as you live under our roof, you will follow our rules.” I really wish I had come up with something less cliche, like, “Every time you break the house rules, you will owe your father and me $5,000.” We could be rich by now. But I don’t want to guess where and how he might come up with that kind of cash.
He decided to leave the nest. He got an apartment nearby with two friends. I did not want to know what kind of debauchery might be taking place there. I deluded myself into thinking it wasn’t.
His pickup truck of belongings (which included some furniture and household goods which technically were not his) had barely left our driveway before I had turned his bedroom into a home office/craft room. I wasn’t sure whether the message was, “See what happens when you desert me? I get all the space.” Or “come back! I don’t know how to craft!”
He is an adult now, married with children, with a job and adult responsibilities. I have my sweet, respectful, affectionate son back, albeit a six-foot-tall one. His once downy blond hair is a graying buzz cut and doesn’t smell nearly as good. But he hugs and kisses me hello and goodbye and never asks anything of me except advice, which I am happy to give. I couldn’t be prouder of the man he has become.
It has been one hell of a roller coaster ride. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, but I have turned in my season pass to that carnival. My stomach couldn’t take it anymore.
There is not much chance of that at my age anyway. If I became “in the family way” at this point, someone had better advise those three wise men to saddle up those camels and head east. Another miracle is about to take place.