Growing Pains

He’s struggling, stretching between the little boy he’s been and that older person he can see in the distance, the shadow of himself he thinks he’d like to be.

Already he’s rebelling, fighting against the life he has, asking for something different, though he’s not sure yet what that something might be.

Tonight I found him separating his belongings: things to keep (books, achievements) things to discard (Lego, costumes).  Resolute, he grows the one pile, the discard pile, faster than the other.

When I ask if he’s sure about this item and that, he gives me that look, the one that tells me he has been sure for some time, for as long as I’ve pretended time was standing still, for as long as I’ve tried to believe things will never really change.

Now I can see it coming. That moment he eventually casts home into the discard pile, when life for him consists of some hitherto unknown collection of not-home items, when the past remains and he is gone.

And so tonight, when he asks me to snuggle instead of reading to him, when he asks me to warm him up, I climb willingly into his soft, dimly lit world and hold him tight. When eventually I extricate myself, insisting it’s time to sleep, I do so wondering why I didn’t just stay the whole night.

First Flights

As I navigate through another quiet morning, another start to the day with my son out of the house, I realize I follow the same routine whether he is here or not. It is quieter, sure, but my mornings and evenings now naturally, instinctively, follow this routine. A routine that has been 10 years in the making.

Ten years of carefully cultivating a schedule. Predictability. Of feeling responsible and being responsible for guiding another life, ironically, to a place that I can start letting go, bit by bit, to see how he manages the first small flights on his own.

This is how it starts, the emptying of the nest, though there are years yet left to go. Years of adjustment for all of us. I wonder what our schedule will look like as those years change our patterns, what my routine will be when the nest is empty. But I don’t want to think about that eventuality just yet.

On Friday, our school board had a PD day. I realized this at 3pm on Thursday and almost enrolled the boy in his usual after school program, but my husband said he wanted to spend the day with him. Usually, my husband has so many work projects on the go that this just isn’t possible and he often laments the fact that he doesn’t get to spend the fun times with the boy that I do. I was thrilled that they would have some time together.

Friday morning, he told the boy to dress nicely and off they went to a fancy hotel for breakfast, while I threw some granola in my lunch bag and headed to work.

Mid-morning, they called me from the car. “We’re going to Montreal!” they shouted exuberantly into the phone. “See you tomorrow!”

All day, my phone silently flashed with pictures of their exploits. I watched from my distance, bemused.

Of course, my son heading on a road trip with my husband is hardly an emptying of the nest. But it is a change, even a small step in that direction; for 10 years it’s been my son and me, for 6 years it’s been my son and my husband and me. Only every now and then is it the two of them. This is a good thing. They are still getting used to each other, even now, after living together for almost 6 years.

Friday evenings we usually clean the house as a family. It’s an established part of the routine. Not wanting to have to face a Saturday with chores, I spent Friday evening cleaning in the solitude, my mind wandering. It took me 5 hours to get everything done but still I was in bed at pretty much the same time I would have been if they’d been here. The routine remained intact.

Saturday morning I still woke up at 7:30, still got out of bed at 8. Like clockwork. They returned home shortly thereafter but my son went off again, this time to a friend’s house for a sleepover, mid-afternoon.

My mother-in-law came for dinner, which we ate in the garden at the same time we have dinner every night. My husband and I, though we had all the freedom that comes with an otherwise empty house, were still in bed at the usual time, watching the show we’ve been watching for weeks. We went to sleep at the same time we do most Saturday nights and again, we were up at 7:30.

I have time to write before I pick up the boy from his sleepover, but that’s not vastly different from other Sundays, either.

So, here I am, writing, thinking about schedules and slowly emptying nests. I have glimpsed what my life will be like in 8 to 10 years when my son has moved out and perhaps superficially it won’t be much different, though I can only imagine (and I try not to) the size of the hole his absence will leave me with.

Maybe I cling to the routine because it makes his absence feel temporary. Maybe it’s relief that I’m feeling as I reflect on the extent to which my life doesn’t change when he’s out of the house.

Though I like to know he can fly, though it makes me proud of him, I’m glad it’s not anywhere near the time that he will fly away.

Two sides of the whole

I often try to look into my son’s soul, to understand who this growing, independent person is.

I’m not always sure what I’m seeing.

The times he spends with me one-on-one, he can be insightful, even wise; he comes up with solutions I can’t, he applies the things I tell him in unexpected ways.

Of course he can be silly, too, and manages to drag out descriptions of the perfect goal (his or someone else’s, doesn’t matter) to the point that I completely loose track of the subject. But for the most part, he is and has been for as long as I can remember, a fun little companion. I’m always reassured when parents volunteering at the school or hosting him for sleepovers say the same thing.

Then there are the reports from camps, teachers, some extracurricular activities. Tales of a bright but disruptive boy who does what he can to be the centre of attention. Pleas to me to remind him to be less silly, less overwhelming.

He’s not bad, they say, and yet the calls and emails do express some frustration. Are these systems simply not set up for rambunctious boys? Is this just the norm, something parents of boys have heard for generations? Do I, on those days that I worry about it, just take it all too much to heart?

I think about this question a lot, this “who is this person?” question. I try to look past the version of him that he offers me when it’s just us, when he has this adult’s full attention. I try to see who he truly is.

But the view I have of him is unreliable. It is shadowed by my own perceptions – of him, of life, of myself – and by the light he chooses to shed on parts of himself, while stowing the other parts in the darkness, just out of my sight.

And maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s the way a person develops their independence, their sense of self. This could be an important process I’ve been watching unfold.

I’m thinking about all of this as I lie in bed, looking at the night sky through our open blind. The moon is a thin sliver tonight, just barely rising above the skyline. I can see its dark side, too, but only just. Venus shines brightly higher up in the sky.

I am struck by the beauty of the thin sliver as it floats serenely, glowing golden, so thin, its dark side glows, too, if darkness can glow. It’s a simple, everyday sight, easy to look at without seeing, to take for granted. But every now and then if you really stop and look you see more, you see the deeper things in that orb.

I’m really looking now, and it’s hard to be sure about any of the details I think I see in that mostly-dark side. It is a darkness that is pregnant and full and seems to threaten to overwhelm the small sliver of light floating along attached to it.

Before I have a chance to find out whether the darkness will win or if that bit of brightness can hold on and grow, the moon touches down on the roof of the cityscape. Then, so quickly I almost wonder if it was ever even there, it slips behind the buildings and disappears, leaving only Venus shining brightly – easily mistaken for a large, vibrant star – in the expanse of night.

All of these things – the moon, Venus, my son – are perceived differently from the way they actually are. The observer will never see its subject the way the subject sees itself. We can only watch from our own perspective.

Venus is not a star.

The moon is in darkness because it is shadowed by us. The only parts we mere mortals know are those parts we manage to see when we get out of the way and let the sun shine on them, however fleetingly.

Like the moon, there are multiple aspects to people; we can never know them the way they know themselves. We can’t be sure whether they are more darkness or more light, or simply different than our perceptions.

The best we can do is stand back, appreciate the beauty, observe what we can see, and let as much of who they are shine back at us.

That Whole Empty Nest Thing

It is early morning and the sun is blazing at angles I don’t usually get to see. My toes are still cold from waiting for a bus that was late, a bus that is currently taking my son to yet another ski hill on this very cold morning.

I’m feeling a bit bittersweet as I drive back through the barely-plowed streets towards home. It’s nice to be up so early, to see the rising sun golden on the blue snow, to know that I have a very long weekend day all to myself to do with as I wish.

But it’s also the first year since my son was 2 that we aren’t heading off to Winterlude, which has just started. He’s older, able to go off snowboarding on his own each weekend, to all sorts of hills, many of which I’ve never even been to. Of course that sounds more fun and more age-appropriate than lining up for 45 minutes to slide down a short little ice slide – the same one we lined up for 7 years ago – though I never minded standing in line chatting with him.

He’s having experiences that are all his own, without me. And so he should.

It’s good for him to be independent and it’s probably good for me, too. I’m proud of him, his ability to get on a bus full of strangers, spend a day with them, and come home with new friends and new stories to tell. Week after week. I would have cowered at the thought of doing that at his age. And now, I would probably be too lazy.

I know I will get things done today that I can’t always find the time to do. And I will do the regular things at a more leisurely pace because I have all day. And I will probably still run out of time, and will vaguely but not really wish I had just another hour to myself.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, letting your kid just go. I mean, I know he’ll be fine and I don’t worry about him, but it’s not easy in that big picture sense. It’s not easy doing the things we always did together, alone. And it’s not easy watching as he eagerly stretches his wings and starts to take little test flights away from the nest, no matter how much I might encourage him to do so.

Ugh. Parenting. Sometimes the only thing to get you through is a good book, a glass of wine and a bar of chocolate.

this is NOT diary of a wimpy kid

january 4, 2015

kids are always in a hurry to grow up. i know because i used to be like that too when i was young. but not anymore. now I know that growing up doesn’t mean things get better or easier or more fun.

here’s an example: i have more chores now than i did a year ago and i still don’t get to stay up late.

is that fair?

no.

my friends have no clue. their biggest wish is to get older faster, and maybe to have more video games. but boy are they in for crushing disappointment when they find out how good they had it, well, how good they have it, now.  they’d never believe me if i told them that it’s all downhill from here.

look at today for instance. i’m out in the freezing rain by myself. i waited for the snow to come all through the Christmas holidays. that’s two weeks of reading and playing board games inside and, alright, some pretty awesome movies. but after a while, all you want is an excuse to go outside, right?

so, here i am on the last day of holidays, finally outside. the snow fell all through the night, but now it’s raining on top of that. not great, but still, it was exciting to just be able to do something outside. i made some snowballs and a fort and i whooped and hollered a bit. i was sure that would bring mum out to shush me, but it didn’t. so I’m kind of bored again.

when i was little, and i guess because i was an only child, mum would come out to play with me. she’d shovel with me and toboggan and walk around the neighbourhood, even have a snowball fight. but now that i’m almost ten she doesn’t really do that anymore. because i’m old enough to make my own fun.

see? getting older sucks. why was i ever in a rush? why are all the other kids in a rush?

i figure i’d better hold onto being a kid as long as i can. so do you know what i do to get out of having extra responsibilities?

(this is a huge confession, but here goes.)

i try to screw things up. like, chores and stuff around the house. mum says dad is a neat freak but he says he’s just precise. i don’t understand why he can’t be both. anyway, he likes things done just so. i know if i really screw things up, i’ll get in trouble. but if i kind of screw things up, like do them mostly but then get a bit lazy at the end, he’ll come along and fix everything for me. i have to get the right balance, though, or all the free time i worked so hard for will be taken up writing lines and doing long division.

this is the only way i can think of to keep my kid privileges a little longer, to get something back.

so, moral of the story? this is as good as it’s going to get, kids. have fun now! stop trying to be older.

ok, that’s enough serious thinking for one day. grandma always says, “what’s that burning smell?” which means “you’re thinking too hard.” and she has it right because she’s at the end and can look back over all those years. she understands this whole thing about it being better to be a kid. i’m going to listen to her and hide before someone finds something for me to do!

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