Illustration by Timothy Sean Johnston
July already? As of this month, I am the mother of an 8-year-old boy. It seems like only yesterday I was doing my "Now He Is 7" column, and here we are staring 8 straight in the eye. I refuse to believe this is happening. It's too soon! I wasn't done with 7. I probably sound disproportionately maudlin, and I will allow that I am. But I have my reasons.
One reason is that I am milestone-oriented, and even though 8 doesn't sound like a milestone, if you do the math, you will find that it is exactly halfway to driving. The Boy, driving? I can't even! If I allow myself to give it too much thought, I have to go lie down with a cold compress. Overprotective? A worrier? I am definitely both of those things. But I don't think that my panic is without cause. Maybe you have managed to gloss over your own memories of being a 16-year-old driver, but there are a few of mine that are still terrifyingly vivid. For instance, the time I piloted my mom's station wagon, packed with siblings, friends and cousins, onto Cary Street Road after carefully looking one way. Because everyone knows Cary Street is one way, right? Except that we were past Malvern, where it is not. The westbound car I did not see must have missed us by millimeters. Thank God.
My driving almost-disasters are not the only teenage memories I wish were a little hazier. I also have total recall of every lonely, teary afternoon I spent locked in my room, listening to Blondie and being obsessively, hopelessly in love with various sullen teenage boys who did not know that I existed. Oh, and lamenting how, if only I were prettier, thinner and cooler, said boys would notice me. If only. I may gripe now and then about the aging process, but it beats the hell out of being a teenager. Seriously, being an old broad is not half bad by comparison! As I watch my perfect, handsome, happy boy getting closer by the day to miserable teenagerhood, my heart aches in anticipation of every sneering little teenage girl who isn't going to notice him.
And then, on the other side of the teen angst years is — what? It could be college. It could be backpacking through Europe. It could be playing seedy dives in a heavy metal band, or moving to New York to wait tables and chase a yet-undreamt dream. Whatever it is, it probably won't involve me — and if my own history is any indicator, my disapproval will not make a whit of difference. As his mother, it is my job to let him go. And as his mother, all I want is for him to stay.
The other day I got a call from a friend whose son just graduated from high school. "Every year closer we got to graduation," she told me, "I'd tell myself, you've only got him for four more years. Three more years. Two more years. And then we were here, and it was the last year, and I was counting every month. We got down to the end, and we only had two more months to be together, and I was telling myself we were really going to make the most of it, you know, breakfast together every morning and talking and stuff! And then he decided to get a place with his friend." What I took away from this conversation was don't blink. Blink and you missed it. Blink and he's gone.
I realize I'm being a horrible downer on the occasion of my son's birthday, which is not sporting of me. This isn't usually that kind of party, and seriously, he's only 8 years old! Hardly on the verge of adulthood. But lately I find myself, when I cuddle him to sleep, or read him a story, or kiss him in public, thinking there's going to come a time when this is a memory. When he's too big to be cuddled. Too cool to be kissed. I make a mental note to focus up and be fully present for every kiss and every cuddle. And then I feel like I am one step away from a Christmas tree sweater and bifocals, because I might as well be the central casting twinkly old lady who chides, "Tsk, tsk, tsk — enjoy it while you can! They grow up too soon!"
I actually did get bifocals this year. No one has ever accused me of being twinkly, though, and if you see me in a Christmas tree sweater, you'll know things have gotten serious. In the meantime, I'm going to keep kissing, cuddling and reading to this newly 8-year-old boy. For as long as he will let me.