For 18 years, I’ve been living with one man. Hanging one man’s shirts. Sorting one man’s socks (and picking his dirty ones up off of the floor). Folding one man’s underwear.
Last week, that man found another pair of men’s underwear in his drawer.
“These are not mine!” He said. But instead of freaking out and wishing I’d been more careful, I just giggled and said, “Oops, sorry.” Luckily, he gets along with the other guy.
My teenage son is almost as tall as his dad, so it’s no wonder I mix up their clothes. Lately the similarities between the two are uncanny – same stature, same smile, same mild temperament. In the evening after my husband gets home, I can hear two deep voices in the next room and wonder whose is whose. It’s a strange feeling…how quickly my little boy grew up.
After so many years of wanting me to play a game with him, read him a book, and tuck him in at night, he now prefers the company of dad. I can ask him how school was and he’ll squeak out a couple of words, but since dad keeps up with MLB trades and can discuss NCAA basketball, their conversation flows. Dad can help with complicated math homework and I can’t. Dad knows where to buy him a shirt that actually goes past his belly button.
But while my son may no longer want or ask for me right now, he still needs me. He needs me to be his taxi driver, his bottomless bank account, his laundry service, his chef — or whatever you call the person who puts the frozen pizza in the oven. I could be sad and feel used, missing the relationship we once had. But instead, I’m okay with all of it, because more and more as time goes on, I’m realizing that someday soon he won’t need any of it. Next year at this time he’ll drive himself to practice, he’ll be looking for a job, and not long after that he’ll go off to college. As a mom, my job is to let him know he can always come back.
No matter who he prefers to talk to or what he needs, I’ll be here. I may not be able to offer advice on how to shoot a layup, but I can support him in the stands. I may not be able to tell him how to solve an algebra equation, but I can reassure him that he’s smart enough to figure it out. I may not be able to tell him what to wear on a date, but I will be here to punch a girl in the face if she breaks his heart. (Oops. Did I write that out loud?)
The years of raising my young family have been some of the hardest, but no doubt some of the best. Our days of having little ones at home with toys scattered everywhere are dwindling, with the kids now asking more and more to spend time with friends. I value our alone time when we convince them to play board games or sneak away on vacation – just us. They are the times when I want to remind them that our core family is what matters most.
Last summer we took a cruise and it was the best trip we’ve ever had. Without Wi-Fi or cell phone signals, my sons (the other one is 12) weren’t able to text their friends or be buried in YouTube. Instead we played mini golf together, watched Broadway caliber plays and then laughed about the plots around the dinner table — and when I talked, my boys didn’t even roll their eyes. During those moments, I wanted to freeze time and keep all of my kids from growing – keep them from wanting to be anywhere but with me.
On the last day of our trip, we spent the day on a private island without a care in the world. After swinging on hammocks and snorkeling for hours, it was time to board the ship and sail back to shore — back to the real world of taxiing and laundry. My oldest, who towers over me, walked up beside me as I was standing in line. I put my arm around his waist and gave him a quick squeeze.
“It’s over,” I said. “I’m so bummed.”
In a voice so deep I still can’t believe it came from my firstborn, he looked down at me with his sweet grin and said, “Mom, we still have a whole night on the ship. It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”
My heart skipped a little beat and then stopped. He may have been talking about one night, but to me it meant so much more. He is destined to grow up — to not need me some day. But no matter how much time it takes for him to reach his destination — and no matter what he needs from me until then, I will be here. I will go along with him on his journey, and I will stay by his side, every step of the way.