Does he notice that I fold his towels in a sweet way? That I use natural laundry soap and make him take his vitamins and pay up for the all-natural body wash to keep him healthy and away from crummy chemicals?
Does he notice that I sneak glances at his 15-year-old self, trying to drink him in so I don’t forget what he was like when he still had traces of boy in him? Memories I can hold onto when I am standing on the front porch waving, brave face on, as he heads down the driveway and back to a life at a college that doesn’t include me or sweetly folded towels. A life in which he relishes throwing said towels on the floor because no one will scold him for doing so.
Does he notice that I try so hard to use the proper “growth mindset” parenting technique? The one I learned from the famous author who spoke at the school I paid far too much for but am so grateful he had for nine gorgeous years? The mindset where I don’t praise him for the “A+” but instead for the work he put in. And where I ask him how he feels about his grade because that’s what really matters.
Does he notice that I try to balance the green beans and brussels sprouts with homemade cookies and the frozen waffles I tell him are killing the world’s population with gluten? So that he isn’t the kid who thinks hemp-seed waffles are the best thing out there and grows up horribly deprived, never having tasted a real Belgian waffle.
Does he know when I ask him to watch the latest Democratic candidate debate that it’s about more than me rounding out his civic education? That I really just want him and the dog and my middle-aged self in the same room so I can soak it in, still feeling like I’m in mom mode?
Will he laugh, years from now when I’m dead and gone, at the phrase I use whenever he gets overly logical and dark about people and the world’s prospects? “Well, hello Debbie Darkness. What have you done with my son?” Will he say the same weird types of things to his kids to jokingly knock them out of teenaged pessimism? And will he smile, remembering his crazy mom, when he does it?
Is he aware that I beam when his math or argumentation teacher raves about him? That I puff my chest out proudly, trying to appear modest, even though his wonderfulness has little to do with me and everything to do with his brand of special sauce? And that I think to myself that the world may not see this wonderfulness, or may not understand it—but that I pray someday a really solid, light-filled woman who has some things in common with his mama sees that same wonderfulness and wants to share it for a lifetime.
Does he comprehend that when I’m particularly cranky at the end of a long day, that it’s not just about getting the clothes off the floor, putting the cereal box away, flushing the toilet—but rather, that I want to know that when I’m not around he’ll know how to take care of himself as well as I did?
And I’m sure he does not notice that I still tiptoe into his room some nights to peek at his peaceful sleeping face and the feet that hang out of the end of the covers. That it makes me smile and get teary-eyed at the same time and how the hell is that possible, God? Because it really makes no sense. I mean—one or the other.
I’ve learned that I can’t freeze time. When my dad was dying, I wrote about staring at his sleeping face, his hands, his shape under the covers and trying to memorize it so I wouldn’t forget. Guess what? You forget. The voice, the face, the hands—they are still in your memory bank but they lose their edges and begin to blur.
These two men—two of my best loved. We buried my father on my son’s birthday. Not by choice, mind you. But my father was buried in a military cemetery and there were so many soldiers dying at the time that we had little choice.
One I’ve already said goodbye to and Jesus, that makes me want to hold on like superglue to the other. But I’ve realized–only the love remains, whether someone passes on or grows up. You can’t keep them with you forever. Life won’t have it. We each belong to ourselves, in the end.
Morose. I sound morose. I’m not, truly. Just tonight I was so damn happy at dinner. My son, looking so nice in his suit after a daylong speech tournament. Us laughing over something he said. Talking about everything from which teams are going to win tomorrow’s NFL playoffs, to what his argumentation teacher said about his final argument, to why sleeping in on the weekends should just be a law. These dinners, all the more precious because they are numbered, make me feel so right. Like I’m here and have birthed my kids for a reason. Like all the New Age mumbo jumbo I read and espouse is real. Like I’m manifesting like a mofo, and it’s only going to get better, this life.
Can you stand it, the bitter and the sweet? Does the bitter make the sweet sweeter? Does the inevitable change in our mother/son dinners, our living arrangements, his eventual independence, make the moments right now more than what they’d otherwise be?
Yes. I believe so.
But does he notice?