By Melissa T. Shultz
It’s the first night of break, and my oldest son goes out with friends. Ten minutes after he leaves home, I receive his text: Here. It’s the same message I’ve received from him hundreds of times before, our agreed-upon shorthand to reassure me, and probably him, that he’s arrived safely at his destination. In a matter of months, he’ll be headed for college, and this routine, along with many others that have framed our days and nights, will come to an end. It triggers images stored safely away in my memory--a tiny flipbook of our lives together.
My constant companion of nine months emerges with his eyes wide open. He’s placed on my chest. I feel his heartbeat through mine. Friends who visit caution that time is elusive--that he’ll grow up faster than I can imagine, and to savor every moment. But I can’t hear them, it’s all too cliché and my child has only just arrived. All I see are beginnings. He’s intoxicating, unique--the exquisite bracelet-like creases in his wrists, the way he sounds like a little lamb when he cries. I am filled with a renewed sense of purpose, of hope, and of love.
The first few months after he’s born are topsy turvy--day is night, night is day. When sleep finally returns, so too does work. My business suit is tight, my mind preoccupied. At work, I pump milk in the cold bathroom stall.
His teeth begin to appear. Baby bottles give way to solid foods. He points high above his chair to the clock on the wall. “Clock,” he says. It’s his first word, minus the “l,” and it makes me laugh. Soon, he is walking, skipping, making angels in the snow.
I receive a job promotion. He calls me at work with the help of our babysitter. “Hi Momma,” he says. “I’m making you a present.”
He discovers knock-knock jokes, learns how to add, subtract, read. The tooth fairy leaves him hand-written notes. He builds giant castles with giant Legos, rides his shiny bike down a country road with his feet off the pedals.
I quit my job and do freelance work, often into the wee hours of the night. There is never enough money, but now, at least we have time.
There are countless sporting events. He tries baseball, soccer, and track, then falls head-over-heels for basketball. He swings from tree limbs, wears superhero costumes, develops crushes, friendships, and fevers.
I volunteer at his school: cut, paste, read, nourish, fix, fundraise. I like this job.
There are marathon bedtime story rituals, endless questions about how things work, and monsters under the bed. Lego pieces grow smaller and castles more intricate. He writes about mythological heroes, tries the guitar, plays the trombone, saves quarters to buy video games, and collects trading cards which he keeps in a shoebox under his bed.
We get a dog. He loves this dog with all his heart. The dog loves him back.
One day his height surpasses mine, and seemingly the next, his father’s.
He reads an essay by a sportswriter. It lights a fire in him. He starts to write his own, wandering into my office as I write, especially in the wee hours.
I feel privileged to read his work.
Orthodontics are removed to reveal straight, pearly whites. He earns his first paycheck as a baseball referee but wishes aloud that it was as a writer.
He learns to do the laundry, scrub the bathroom, and make pasta, though he often professes to forget how to do all three.
He turns 18. On a cold and rainy election day, we head out together to vote. After two hours waiting in line, he is the only teen in sight. It’s not lost on him--by morning he’s written about it all.
He gets a job as a blogger for a website. He starts his own. And all the while there’s macroeconomics, physics, and college applications.
This flipbook is down to its last pages. I’ve defined myself as a mother for 18 years. Who am I now? Truth be told, in my quest to help him grow wings, I forgot to grow some of my own. Why didn’t I know this about myself? I need to learn to be okay with focusing on me. It’s an issue of purpose, really, and of rechanneling the love. But is purpose the result of nurturing--of the kind we give our children--or is it inherent in all of us?
I will soon put the nature versus nurture theory to the test.
As I sit down to write this piece, I receive his text: Where are you?
Here, I text back.
The author’s first book, From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life, was just published.
Buy it on Amazon, and follow the author on Twitter, Facebook, and SisterhoodofMothers.com.
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