That might seem like an odd opening statement, but stay with me here. I am in no way saying that caring for a new life, tending it’s every need, heeding it’s every whimper and seeing three o’clock in the morning, every morning, for what feels like an eternity is not difficult. It absolutely is, and I’m not planning on going back there, ever, but here’s the thing. Short of a serious health situation, when your child is young almost everything can be fixed by a cuddle and a bandaid. As Mother, you are fixer supreme of all things. Whether it be a scraped knee, a broken toy or a lost teddybear, they come to you all teary-eyed and snotty-nosed and they have absolute faith in your ability to make it better .. and make it better is what you do. The demands of parenting a small child are high, but for the majority of the time, the answers are easy. Not so when parenting a young adult.
I was what you might call extremely bloody lucky with my teenaged son. He never seemed to become a teenager, at least not in the same way that my wide-eyed, terror-stricken friends and colleagues spoke of. My son is self-contained, by which I mean he’s a hermit like me. I know that this is not necessarily something to celebrate, and rest assured that when he is called upon to be social, he does have the requisite skills. It’s just that he chooses, most of the time, not to be. Again, like me.
I have rarely had to deal with teenaged mood swings, door slamming or grunting. There have been no (known) issues with alcohol, drugs or law enforcement. He may have struggled, but he made it through school and he is (and I know I am his mother so no one is going to believe this is objective in any way, shape or form but I don’t particularly care) one of the coolest people I know. I told him he should put that on his resume. “My mumsy says I’m cool.” He thought that was funny, and that is why he is one of the coolest people I know.
Maybe it’s because for quite a large chunk of his early life it was just me and him against the world. Sure, I had family to help me, but I was a single mother, and we operated more as a team than a parent and a child. There have been times over the last nineteen years when I have had to pull on my parent boots, but for the most part we are a co-operative unit, and that is one of the things about our relationship that I most treasure. It also makes things difficult as he takes his first strides into the big, bad adult world.
I’m sure all mothers, or at least most of them, have trouble pushing their baby birds over the spikey edge of the nest and encouraging them to fly. Some more than others, (and I fall squarely in the first camp) do so with white-knuckled terror and against ever fibre of better judgment they possess. It is hard to step back and let go of their hand. It’s been hard enough to realise that hand isn’t little and covered in dirt and chocolate any more. I am having trouble finding where I end and he begins. I don’t feel irrelevant or unnecessary in his life. We haven’t come to that point yet. I just feel afraid .. for him and what challenges, fears and failures he may face, but mostly because I’m not sure that I have done everything I needed to do to prepare him for life as an adult.
My job as protector, comforter and supreme fixer of all things is over. I’m not sure what my role is now. I know that I cannot make the world work the way that he wants it to like I could when he was little. I know that I can’t spare him the hurts and hardships of reality. But .. I really wish that I could. Sometimes I wish that I could scoop him up, bounce him on my hip, pat him on the backside like all mothers seem to do instinctively even though no one ever taught us, sing him a little song and .. just for a little while .. make everything alright again. Make him feel safe and reassured in the knowledge that mumsy can fix it, everything is going to be alright.
But mumsy can’t fix it anymore. Now is his time. All I can do is something my Dad has told me ever since I can remember. “Pick him up, dust him off and set him back on the path.”. Harder said than done, Dad. Now I understand.