First off, I’d like to be clear about the fact that I am horrible at falling in love. And not in some adorkable/ Zooey Deschanel-ish way, I mean genuinely bad at it. I clam up just when I should be getting comfortable, jump on planes and trains in a bid to escape my freaked-out heart, and generally make a mess out of what should be a time-lapse video montage set to early Pixies songs.
So I was really lucky to stumble into J. when I did. Man’s got an ego like a Quarter Pounder—no amount of mishandling could make it less attractive.
And I remember being thrilled on our wedding day—not just because I was marrying the one person in the world who can tolerate me, but because I didn’t have to do it again. Love—DONE!—ta-da!
So when I realized I was falling in love with my son, all hell broke loose. And yes, of course I’d heard people saying that you “fall in love” with your kids, but I didn’t believe them. Weren’t these the same people who talked about babies “flirting?” The ones who co-slept until puberty and practiced elimination communication and logged poops like they were dispatches from the frontline? These are not my people.
For the record: My people are Indian. Furthermore, we are arranged-marriage-Indian, which means that we’ve used the past several centuries to breed out any romantic genes we might be carrying. Love just isn’t our jam. Spicy foods? On it. Good hair? Covered. Teeth? Better than most of the world. But love is awkward at best among my kind. My parents have never once told me they loved me (not counting that one time that my mother said I was “precious” to her, which happened for reasons I’ve never been able to figure out, let alone replicate).
Which is all to say: I wasn’t prepared to fall in love with Z. I didn’t even know it was coming.
Here’s the thing that no one ever tells you about falling in love with your kid: It’s the real deal. The full spectrum. The highs, the lows, the conviction that you might never get enough compounded by intense, get-me-outta-here claustrophobia. The incredible nervousness about whether or not the feelings are mutual, the looking for confirmation in crazy things, like eye contact and horoscopes. There is a sweetness to it, yes, the curl of an arm around your neck or the smell of the top of a head that makes you doe-eyed and useless, but there’s the undercurrent of panic, the unnerving notion that you are really at the mercy of someone who could wipe the floor with your heart. What if it doesn’t last? (It won’t.) Where will you be then? (Alone, chewing through what’s left of my dignity with my really good teeth.)
I mean, that’s the kicker, right? At the end of this love affair, if all goes well, the kid leaves. Goes out into the world. Finds a soul mate, settles down, maybe breeds his own little heartbreak. Moves on, except in times of financial distress or dirty laundry. Moves on.
And here’s the terrible thing I know about myself, that I imagine all parents know about themselves: I will never move on. I mean, yes, when Z. leaves me, I’ll still get up every day. I’ll go do the things I like to do with my friends, I’ll try not to wait by the phone on weekends. I might even see other kids from time to time. But I will never get over it.
So there it is, kid. The terrible truth about your mother, the thing that is going to make you want to rip off your own skin in your teen years when some punk friends find this piece and tease you mercilessly. And two things to know when that happens: 1) Your friends right now are jerks. Not all of them, but some for sure, and definitely the dude who is giving you the hardest time about this. 2) Give him twenty years or so. Chances are, his heart will be humiliating his kid by then, too.
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