If I could go back and bottle the sweet years when my boys adored me– when I was “mommy,” their “girlfriend–” when they told dad that they were going to marry me, and I laughed, but my heart skipped a beat– I’d fill that bottle and store it somewhere safe.
If I could go back and enjoy another day when my little boy held my hand and squeezed it, or simply threw his arms around my neck because he liked to burry his face in my hair. I’d sit a little longer, reading a favorite book; I’d play in the yard a little longer. I’d savor it… more than I did, when I was exhausted from being mommy, and keeping so many balls in the air. If I could remember what those moments really felt like, versus the fading memories of these moments and hours, that passed by so many years ago, I might only miss them more… now that my boys are men.
Both of my boys are young men now. They don’t hold my hand anymore; their hugs are often perfunctory, or fleeting. They have other women in their lives now, and some days we can barely speak civilly to each other. They are both good men, on their own paths, and there isn’t a lot of room for mom on the trail. It’s amazing to see what they’re accomplishing, what they think about, and who they are becoming. And yet, some days it’s really hard to accept that I don’t hold the same special place in their lives.
My 19 year-old is still happy to get my advice and have my help as he figures out college. He wants to have lunch with me when he’s home; he checks in with me just enough so that I don’t worry, and while he let’s me know that he doesn’t need my advice for everything, he generally tolerates my advice even when he doesn’t need it. He’s just reaching a point where he lets me know that he’s forging his own way, and that my role is shrinking, but he still appreciates my presence.
My older son is 23 now and things are much less easy between us. We are very different people, and much of our conflict stems from our inability to really hear the others’ perspective. We often talk past each other and sling arrows when we’re frustrated. He speaks Russian and I speak Greek. On a good day he’s one of my favorite people, and on a bad day it seems unbearable.
There are moments when I catch a glimpse of the boy who loved to snuggle, the boy I tucked in each night and came back to for “one more kiss.” In these moments, the discourse feels that much harder to fathom. How can love not trump change? But it’s not about love; I love him, and he loves me. If love were enough, the picture would be very different. I’ve learned that the process of growing up is just a hard road sometimes. When they’re little, our children trust our intentions; they believe we’re smart and have most of the answers. However, in figuring out their own paths, in working out their personal boundaries, they must discard that leap of faith that was the glue in childhood.
They are working things out for themselves now. That’s what I wanted: I wanted my kids to think for themselves. I want them to choose their own paths, and find their passions. I just don’t know how to navigate the gaps sometimes. I don’t know how to find my way beyond issues that run deeper, as they determine their lines in the sand, and I try to figure out new ways to communicate. I get that it may just take time. Just as my boys are growing up and figuring their direction out, I’m getting older and navigating a new path too. The two junctures don’t always meet. Détente isn’t always possible at this stage. With such divergent needs and expectations, there are bound to be speed bumps.
I have been fortunate to love and be loved by several really special boys, who are all becoming men now. I have 6 incredible nephews. Five of them are in college and all six are moving on. One of them used to like it when I tucked him for bed, when I visited. We’d talk about all kinds of things; I’d hug him, and he’d say “Aunt Dawn, you smell so good!” I’d bottle that moment too. He’s still a sweet heart; I’d lay money on the fact that he always will be, but, he’s way beyond goodnight stories and cuddles. Another played on line Scrabble with me, for ages, where we would exchange notes about our days. My cabinets would be filled with bottles. Each of my nephews, like my sons, are navigating new paths– with relationships, career paths, friends that fill their lives, as well as new personas that they try on, as they figure out who they will be as lovers, partners and husbands; fathers, in careers– out in the world, as men.
In August, my daughter had her first child, a son. He’s my first grandchild, and another chance to savor the delicious world of little boys. Watching him interact with his mommy, my girl, in the videos she sends me most days, is a reminder of how enthralling that love affair is. She pours her love and hopes into his adoring little self, the same way I poured mine into my children.
Even across thousands of miles, I can see the power of their connection. When she Skypes with me, he kicks his tiny feet and reaches through the screen to grab me, and I can feel myself pulled back into the intoxicating world of little boy love. It is no less amazing than the love I felt for my little girl, but the dynamic between mothers and sons is different than the equally complex ties with our daughters. He smiles at me through the screen, and reaches out for me, and I am already sunk.
My boys are men now. For a short sweet time, I got to be special in their worlds, in a way that is only sustainable for those few years when magic and love are the same thing. A kiss made any boo-boo better, and my opinion was sacred. Now I’m surrounded by men. Disagreements have a sharper edge and a sweet spot is harder to find. We are all figuring out how to be in each other’s lives, in this new normal. Suddenly, there are so many men in my life, and looking back, it seems like so little time that I got to embrace those other moments that came when I was preoccupied… with the raising of young men.
Do you have grown sons? How do you get along, as they move out into the world?