A good friend of mine recently had a son. The baby had sleep apnea one night which, of course, sent his mother running to the emergency room. He is fine, her fears were soothed, and she even managed to get some sleep that night! I well understood her panic, though. She thought the doctor had given her a look, and I told her he’s an asshole if he doesn’t forgive a first-time mother her jitters. What does he expect her to do if her baby stops breathing? She described how his breath lulls her to sleep, something I remember well. My son is nearly 7 now, and we shared a room until he was almost a year old. I had a monitor in his room until less than a year ago. I still check on him every night before I go to bed, to see him lying there sleeping lets me know on a deep level that it’s okay for me to do the same.
As he gets older I have to pull back. I know this from all the reading I’ve done over the years, and observation supports it, overprotective mothers do their children no good and sons especially seem to take it hard. When he was two he wanted to climb on the big kids’ playground and I let him, standing underneath with my hands up, ready to spring to his aid. He never really had a fall though, and remembering that helps me let go when it’s hard. He seems to be liking school more than last year, his first year. Yes, I kept him home till he was five. But considering the news – The police recently shot and killed a twelve-year-old in a park in my city, apparently not realizing they were being filmed. He was playing at the park. School shootings, the stuff of nightmares when I was in school, have become so commonplace that they don’t all even make national news – I don’t feel bad for enjoying those few years when I could know he was safe. I think a mother can be forgiven for maybe relaxing a little as her son reaches manhood, looking forward to his future might even begin to overshadow making sure he’s still breathing. I simply don’t want to imagine the horror of losing one so big…. Car accidents can happen to anyone. Maybe it’s macabre, but I try to think of this when he’s driving me crazy. Never, ever take people for granted, no matter how repetitive and obsessed with trains.
And I know that soon he may not want my company at all, and I will have to resort to spying on him to do my job. No teenager is fully-equipped to handle themselves, the very fact of their short-sightedness is what gives them the idea that they are. I’m going to continue to be as open with him as possible, but sometimes eavesdropping saves a lot of time. I admit I’m doing all of this flying by the seat of my pants, my own mother was decent at protecting me from the things that bothered her, but never took any time to try to see my perspective. Differences of opinion were not tolerated well. Discussion of how our collective lives should go was not interesting to her. I want my son to feel that he matters, that he belongs, yet still feel free to think for himself. I’ve done a lot of research but, generally speaking, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.
But so far, so good. He’s still breathing, he’s reading like gangbusters and is creative and loving. I feel like I got lucky, though, he came out with an even temper. All I’ve had to do is maintain it, which I find is mostly a matter of actually getting down to his level and paying attention to what he’s doing. Working with him has always proven more effective than punishments. We have rules and discipline, but I try to keep them rooted in what is going on. One of my least favorite memories from growing up is the feeling that the adults were just controlling things for their own benefit, maybe even with a little glee, and we were made to go along. As an adult I know this feeling was not all in my head. Plenty of us do this to children, usually with strong rationalizations but it makes me nauseous myself.
Again, though, I know I got lucky. I know some kids need to be cajoled and bribed and controlled. Some kids are more wild than mine, but since it’s the parents who begin the dialog, they go a long way to establishing attitude. Sometimes I come in the room and give mine a hug for no apparent reason, I’m sure he thinks I’m silly. I don’t see that need ever going away. We like to tell ourselves that one day they will be their own problem, that they will grow up and be able to handle the world. But the harshest lesson of growing up is learning that there is no such thing, that life is always filled with pointless suffering, there’s still always someone who would gleefully hold power over you. No man is so grown up he is immune to disaster and, though my role will get smaller, I will always need to know that he is okay, that he is still breathing. I can only assume most mothers feel similarly, all the more reason to appreciate my luck and hold him close. While he still lets me, that is.