Hello From the Other Side

tween, teen, individuation, growing up, teenager, parenting

I call home and a strange man answers, “Hello?” I’m silent for a moment, unsure of what to say.

“Hey,” I say, as I wonder if I’ve dialed the wrong number.

“Oh, Hi Mommy!” my 12-year-old son answers cheerfully. As he tells me about his day, I am only half listening to the content. I’m listening to his voice–the pitch, the tone, the cadence. Every now and then, I can recognize the eager, innocent little boy that once lived in my house. But mostly I hear someone growing into his own skin, growing into his confidence, growing out of my house. This has been happening daily for months now. Without fail, the deep “Hello” is still jarring and unfamiliar to me.

His voice is deep and rich now most of the time. I had been watching out for the squeaky, awkward voice change that’s a tell-tale sign of puberty. But he seems to have bypassed that and went straight to deep baritone, as he has hair sprouting everywhere like a Chia pet. Every now and then when he gets super excited, I can hear my little boy.

Most moments now, he’s pensive. He’s a thoughtful one, in that he ruminates and examines ideas in his head silently until it’s time to ask a question or make a proclamation. He’s a planner, he has long-term goals and over-thinks his plans to achieve them. He’s a dreamer, he loses himself in books for most of his waking moments. When he was little, I told him about this magic aspect of books. I had no idea he’d be so taken by the spell of losing oneself in another world.

Every now and then, I look at him in my rearview mirror or from across the room, and when his head is tilted a certain way, I can still see the 2-year-old version of his face. Every now and then, when I catch him playing with his Lego minifigures or Pokemon, I can still see the 7-year-old version of him.

This weekend I sent him off to scout camp for the week. Last year was his first away-camp, and I was fine with it. This year, I’m not sure why I’m having such a difficult time. Maybe because everything points to the fact that I have a man-child living at home now. Last year, he was still a child.

Maybe it’s because we live in a very polarized world right now, and I’m not ready to release him into it. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough with how to cope with sadness, anger, frustration, hope. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough to try to remember we belong to each other, and that love and kindness are always the next right thing. I don’t feel like I’ve taught him to see the greys in life instead of holding on to false, mutually exclusive certainties. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough to be a better person than I.

Sure, I don’t want to release him yet because time did fly by too quickly and I didn’t appreciate all the moments everyone told me to. But I’m also sad and scared for him, that this is the world I’m sending him off into. A world where it’s so easy to judge and criticize each other. A world where it’s so easy to follow or friend, but so hard to truly connect. A world where posturing and filters are more important than authenticity and vulnerability.

It’s in these moments that I find myself not knowing who he is anymore as he grows into his own self. It’s in these moments that I find myself not knowing what this world is anymore as people react from fear and hurts instead of acting mindfully and carefully and empathically. It’s in these moments that I find myself wondering how he’ll choose to navigate this world.

It’s all too fast, too much. I much prefer my illusion of certainty and safety when he was an infant and toddler, when being held by me was enough for him to feel safe. Enough for me to feel safe. When no matter how bad the day was, ending it with a story and lullaby made the world OK again, and we knew tomorrow was another day.

So tomorrow is another day. And tomorrow brings him one day closer to leaving this house, brings him closer to being someone completely independent from me. And yet it feels like with each day that he steps away from me, his home in my heart grows .


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