Sunday, July 29, 2012

Waking Up

Two years ago, I read a book called "The Ten Year Nap." It's a best seller by Meg Wolitzer, the only book I've ever requested from the library. I took it with me to Finland, read it on planes and during my rare downtime. I finished it before my month abroad was up, and spent many hours thumbing through it, reading particular passages while waiting for sleep. The particular characters and settings in the book I've long forgotten, having read about 150 more books since, but the basic premise I remember: as our children grow older, it can feel as though we are waking up from very loooooong naps. It's a subtle transition, this shift from being needed 24-7, from being on deck mentally, physically, and emotionally, from running to mend and kiss every boo-boo to suddenly not being called on at all. It's finding out much later in the evening, as bedtime rolls in and your child passes by in the hall with a scraped up knee or elbow, that you know they took a fall at some point during the day and didn't call you to make it better.

Independence and self-reliance are a major steps towards, well...everything. I'm a huge fan of them personally. Seeing my son embrace these attributes doesn't make me weepy or sentimental at all. I have been present in every moment of his life, and I celebrate each step he takes towards growing up. Each new skill, each lost tooth, each step he takes away from me. I don't wax poetic over his younger days because, sweet at they were and precious memories not withstanding, they were all steps in the dance that leads towards conversations like this:

"I don't want these DVDs anymore; I'm too big to watch Bob the Builder now."
"I like the shirt you got me, but I'd rather pick out my own clothes."
"I want to choose my own haircut. It's my hair, after all."

and yesterday morning's bombshell,

"Mama, I love you but I've been with you all week. I kind of want to do something different today. Is it okay if I don't go to Greenville with you and your friends?"

It was not so long ago that he was clinging to my leg when I dropped him off at daycare. It wasn't so long ago that he cried for me if I left him with a sitter while I ran errands. It wasn't so long ago that no matter what room of the house I was in, he had to be in the same space as well. Now...not so much. As I fold and iron laundry downstairs, I listen to the sounds of him playing in his room. They aren't much, because his idea of play has shifted from jumping, running, rolling, flipping and flopping (that's what little boys are made of) to building with legos or arranging little characters in grand cities on the floor. Occasionally I call to him, and he  responds. I step out to the garden and leave him inside watching television. The world does not end, he does not stumble or fall or climb up counters. Chaos doesn't ensue because I looked away for ten seconds, no...I come back inside and he's still there, watching television. He spends the day with someone else, and I go to Greenville with friends. When I call to say I am on the way to pick him up, he says he wants to spend the night. He has all he needs in the little bag he took with him, so I say okay. I hang up the phone and tell my friends we can extend our evening, and they laugh. They know this is a big deal for me.

My son did not spend a night away from me for the first five years of his life. But this summer alone, he's spent the night elsewhere at least half a dozen times. And each time, I've taken another step towards rediscovering myself, who I was before "Mama" became the word I heard most throughout the day.

Standing in a funky art, clothing and jewelry store yesterday, with adult friends by my side instead of a child in my arms, I took in the sights of Indian-style tapesteries, paper lanterns with intricate Eastern art on the side, incense burners and all kinds of colorful home accrouments, I remembered the apartment I lived in more than a decade ago. "This store looks like my old den, right after college," I say to my friends, and we laughed. But it's true. This was who I was back then, and I loved it. But my home today looks nothing like this, nor do I desire it to. My taste have *clearly* changed...but the funny thing is, I just don't remember it changing. I don't remember me changing. I just know that everything has.

And I know that I am changing still, and so is my son. I don't look back at how he was, how I was, how we were. Memories are precious, but all that matters is now. This now, this moment. My son is the love of my life, the most important person in my world, the soul of my soul. We still dance to steps we've memorized since his heart beat inside of my womb, but the music is not the same. And I'm okay with that. There are many tunes that call us to dance in this life; this is only one. There will be so many more, for both of us.

Independence? Self-reliance? These are fabulous things to instill in a child. Good parents know this. They also know as the dance goes on, the partners will change. They step back, smile, and let go, allowing their children to not only dance, but to leap, love, laugh, sing, try, fail, swim, sink, soar. They remain there, always, to mend boo-boos. But they don't hover. They know that if you smother a thing, even in the name of love, it will slowly die. Nothing can thrive without breath, not even a dream. Especially not dreams...
I am blessed with friends who have adult children, and they show me new steps to the dance. I listen. I learn. I laugh. I love. I live. I stay out past midnight (okay, waaay past midnight) and wake up much later in the morning than I'm used to. The house is quiet. I call my son, who is having breakfast. He's had a great time. I had a great time. I tell him I'll be there for him soon, and he says okay.

I hang up the phone and shake the glitter from my hair. There are sequins on the floor. My house oddly reminds me of Vegas, and I laugh. It feels good to wake up. It feels good to reach this milestone. It feels good to be so absolutely excited not only about my son's future, which I know is going to be bright, but also about my own. I'm a damn good mother. But it's taken over seven years for me to remember that as much as I love being a damn good mother, I was, am, and will continue to be much, much more than that.

Independence. Self-reliance. It's a necessary awakening for both of us.

I'm so grateful to be having it.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Worlitzer is available at fine book stores and here at