I stood there, watching my son preparing to head back to his senior year in college. He was everything I had hoped he would be at this stage in his life: happy, determined, self-sufficient, independent, capable. However, all I wanted at that moment was to be given a Mom task. I wanted him to say, “Mom, I really need you to fold this shirt.” “Mom, I really want a batch of those molasses cookies you make.” “Mom, could you please do a load of laundry for me?”
Finally, he looked up and saw me still there in the doorway. My facial expression must have said it all. He motioned toward the table; “You can sort my change for me, if you want.” I nodded a little too eagerly and sat down to sort, to stack the coins into neat piles, throwing myself into the task with just a little too much zeal. Sonny Boy looked over and said, “Whoa, Mom, it’s just change, you know.”
I suddenly remembered all those times he had come to me as a little boy as I hurried to get dinner ready. “Can I help, Mommy?” he’d say. I was in a hurry. I had no time to involve him and yet, I wanted him to feel good about helping. “Yes!” I’d say. “You can sit right here and put all the spoons together and all the forks together.
Ah yes. Two similar tasks. Two similar tables. Now turned.
This transition from Active Mommy to Observer Mom is not an easy one to make.
My younger son has been expediting my training in this area. He is a senior in high school. Clingy, he is not. He makes it clear that he can handle most things that come his way. He is a good egg and we are the Teflon that he is ready to spring from when the time is right. He’ll begin his college applications soon.
I imagine this whole parenting adventure as a shopping expedition. Around ten years ago, my cart was full. It held heavy items associated with kids and school. In one corner of the basket was my full-time job. In the other corner was marriage and extended family, but in the middle was the messy, colorful, wonderfully surprising and complicated pile of parenting paraphernalia. Doctors' appointments, birthday parties, soccer practices, big spur-of-the-minute dinners with families, games, school activities, all there at the center of my life.
Yes, it was heavy and more than unwieldy at times. Yes, there were times when I got tired of pushing it and more than once I resented the work. Occasionally, a wheel would stick and I had to re-adjust everything. Occasionally, I knew important things were getting smashed and neglected at the bottom of the pile and most of the time it was my stuff, my growth, and my enjoyment.
But that pile of stuff in the middle was also pretty great.
That cart was heavy, but pushing it gave me muscles and when I leaned on the handle, I felt secure and steady. I knew who I was and what I was doing and, best of all, I knew that what I was doing had weight and importance.
Little by little, over the years, as the kids became more and more independent, the load got lighter. Hey! This is nice! I thought. I could move a little faster. I could stay a little longer at work. I started throwing a few more small items in the cart that were just for me. The boys could stay home alone while I did grocery shopping. I could actually work in a trip to the drugstore and look at make-up this time without having to hurry. Heavenly!
But then, shockingly quickly, the items in the cart got sparse. Fewer and fewer responsibilities, while sometimes good, also threw me off balance. “You can drive yourself to basketball practice? Oh, that’s right, you can.” “You want to go back-to-school shopping with your friends and not me? Oh, OK.” “You leave for college when?” When I leaned against the handle of the shopping cart, I could feel it tip back on me a little bit. I missed the heaviness, the gravity, and the ballast that my role of fully-involved, fully-needed Mom had once given me.
Now, I know they’ll always be my boys and that they’ll always need their mom in one way or another. And I am oh so grateful they are growing up and becoming independent young men.
But now I look at this big shopping cart and sigh. It’s time to fill it up.
My writing, walking, baking, photography all go in there. More time with friends, more time with HOB, more time reading-- it’s all good, so why is it that I hesitate? Why do I reserve a ridiculous amount of space in the basket for a role I no longer play? Why is it so hard to give up the Mom-as-Participant role in exchange for Mom-as-Observer role? Why does my basket seem so darn empty even with all of these wonderful things in it? Why is it that I look around, linger at the doorway, waiting to be given a task?
I know this is just a transition. It’s what most moms go through at this stage. That blue light is flashing elsewhere and I’m bound to follow it, to discover new, exciting areas I’ve never been to before. I have stayed too long in one, overly-familiar department, dreading my departure from it, but I know soon it will be time to move on.
When I do make my move, and it WILL be soon, my cart will be overflowing again, just the way I like it. Then I’ll be able to lean against it, balanced once more, looking forward to the adventure ahead.
Sonny Boy was right. It’s just change, after all.