Many years ago, my husband and I were getting ready to go out of town. I do not remember where or why, only that we were flying. I remember this because one of my sons begged me not to go. He did this not because he was worried about being separated from me, or scared of his babysitter. He was concerned with my safety.
“What if your plane crashes?” he asked me, his eyes wide with fear.
“I don’t think for a minute it will,” I reassured him.
He stared at me for a minute, thinking, and then said in a pleading voice, “If it does crash, will you promise to try your best to get out?”
And I had one of those rare moments of knowing I was needed. I realized that even though we battled over plenty of things at that time, from riding Big Wheels down the highway to doing chores on time, that my returning home safely was the most important thing in his life.
I think about that moment plenty. Last week one son prohibited me from coming to watch him perform, saying I would embarrass him beyond any return to good graces amongst his peers, Crushed, I took this personally, knowing all the while he was in the process of adolescence, and busy breaking away. It didn’t matter. I wanted to say, “Listen you little *$%**, I spent two days birthing you and I’ll come see you do any damn thing I want!”
Instead, I said I understood and wished him well.
To me, this parenting of adolescents is the hardest part of parenting so far. I heard this when I was in the throes of nursing and changing diapers and keeping track of my three little boys. “Enjoy it while you can,” the parents of teenagers forewarned. And all I could think about was how nice it would be not to be holding a crying infant while I ate my dinner. And have both my hands to myself so I could read, shop and make up the bed without balancing a baby on my hip.
I thought that after my babies slept through the night, the dark circles would vanish from my eyes and I would be able to have a conversation that was not solely about exhaustion with my husband. So far, this has not been the case. On the few nights we fall asleep before 11, the phone wakes us up, and no, it is never for us.
Now, with my boys mobile and not dipping their heads in the toilet and pulling over lamps by the cords and eating out of the dog’s bowl, I am much more wary. At least when they toddled, they were in my presence; now even my eleven-year old is “outta here” as much as possible and my fifteen-year-old, well, even when he’s here, he makes it clear he doesn’t really want to be. And of course, I have seen my nineteen-year-old about twice since he left for college last summer.
There is so much out there that I want to shield them from. I don’t want them exposed to alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex and everything else that is an option to them. Really, I would like to put them in a box and keep them in it until they turn thirty.
The problem is, they don’t want to get in a box. They don’t even want to get in the car with me. And so I yap about the evils of cigarettes and the dangers of alcohol and the wreck drugs will make of lives.
Lately, when my son leaves the house for the night, I have the very same feeling he had as a little boy. I look at him, and make him promise that no matter what, he will return home safely.