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Our Children Were Never Ours to Keep

Image source: Lori Garcia
Image source: Lori Garcia

Life as the mom of a teenager isn’t easy. There are days when my son barely speaks; days when his laziness knows no bounds. But then there are days when he really steps up, reaches out, and gives back. While I may never understand the hows and whys of his fickle ways, I’m keenly aware that things won’t always be this way. My time as the mom who tucks him in at night is running out.

In fewer years than I can count on one hand, my son will be grown and gone. Sure, he’ll text. He might even pop over unannounced to raid the fridge, but he’ll be his own man instead of my little one. It’s strange to consider a not-so-distant someday without him here. For as long as I can remember, this bowl-cut boy wonder has been my whole life. He’s taught me everything I know (and don’t know) about motherhood. He’s humbled me, challenged me, and made me better. But now, as he crosses the finish line of childhood, all that’s left is a numbers game I know I’ll never win.

Five more summer vacations.

Four more Christmases at home.

Three more orthodontist appointments.

Two more years until he’s driving.

It sucks, this countdown to adulthood. The constant growing and insatiable appetite are one thing, but the independence? That’s something else entirely. I’ve been thinking a lot about the inevitable process of letting go. What if I can’t do it when the time comes? What if I’m not ready?

“Motherhood was never about being ready,” a friend with three grown sons assured me, “You let go because you don’t have a choice. You stress and you cry and you worry, but you do it anyway.”

“I know,” I told her, “But this is big. This is flying away stuff, and I already feel it happening, at least a little. I guess I’m just scared to lose him and it hurts.”

It really hurts. When I think back, the pull on my maternal heart strings always hurt. There were all those “my baby!” moments  that first day of kindergarten, the spring morning he no longer needed training wheels, his first missing tooth. Time continued to mercilessly tug on those very same strings when he turned 10 and we celebrated the marvel of double digits. Now, a mere blink later, he’s a peach fuzz-growing teenager choosing educational tracks designed to prepare him for (gulp) college.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m just too sensitive. I never really expected motherhood to break my heart this way.”

“The more I reflected on a world better off for all his gifts and talents, the more I realized he was never mine to keep.”
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My friend paused for a moment in thought. She placed her hand on my shoulder and softly spoke. “When you look to the future with your son, try not to think about what you’re losing. If you can focus instead on what society is gaining, you might begin to feel a little differently.”

What society is gaining. Whoa.

I let that idea sink in a little. There is no doubt my son has incredible gifts. He’s clever, curious, and exceptionally righteous. He’s a lover of history and science who has big adult plans to eat his way around the globe, adopt about a million rescue dogs, and one day become a doctor.

The more I reflected on a world better off for all his gifts and talents, the more I realized he was never mine to keep. Growing up affords him the opportunity to fly far beyond the confines of his bedroom down the hall.

Maybe the closer my son gets to his independence day, the closer I get to my own in some small way. I may stress and I may cry and I may worry, but I’ll let go anyway. And not just because I have to. Because I’m too damn proud not to.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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