I have a dream that I am looking at a baby. He is mine, all wrapped up in a blanket on a hospital bed. He is hooked up to machines and I am worried. Every time I pick him up, his heartbeat gets weaker. When I put him down, it gets strong again. The doctors and nurses assure me that this is normal. I have done nothing wrong. It will be our life from now on. I can hold him sometimes, but not for too long. More often than not, I will need to give him space, let him be. I am told it is the best thing for his heart. I tell them it is the worst thing for mine. In the dream, I surrender, willing to care for him the best I can. The message is clear, I need to learn a whole new way to love. I wake up in a deep state of longing and realize, I am grieving. My child is changing and I am mourning.
I cannot remember the last time I sang you a bedtime song, shared a blanket with you, trimmed your fingernails, pushed you on a swing, tied your shoes or cut your chicken at dinner. I do not know what the inside of your locker looks like, who you sit with on the bus, or what you choose for lunch in the cafeteria. You are messy. You hurl your backpack down and raid the cabinets for food deemed only mildly satisfactory. You bark orders for money, slam doors, curse under your breath, and list things you hate. I have made this list more than once. You demand a cell phone, R rated movies, and endless time on the computer. You listen to music with swagger and edge that blares into headphones for only you. You are fresh and fast with a comeback, always.
It has become my job to remind you that a pile of blankets in a heap doesn’t mean that a bed has been made. I push you to finish your poetry project, change your socks, wear your retainer, write your thank you notes, lay off the candy. I can’t be too excited or too disappointed. My heart must not shatter with sadness or burst with pride or I lose you. You ride high and bottom out almost daily. But I cannot join you. I try to stand back, offer support, let it play out. The impact of my consequences have almost no outward effect, my approval seems to matter the least, and it’s becoming rarer for you to back down.
Whenever you lash out, pull away or retreat, I want to reach inside you and pull out the boy who loved Buzz Lightyear and never criticized the Red Sox or his mother. I long for the boy who would wear costumes in public, leap from furniture, and dance wildly, red faced and sweaty from play and imagination. I desperately want to capture you and frantically run away to a distant amusement park on a random Wednesday when you’re scheduled to take a math test. We’ll race together from the giant water slides to the crazy roller coasters and eat fried dough until we’re sick. We’ll waste money, laugh until it hurts, and you’ll hold my hand and squeal that I’m the greatest… of all time… ever. We’ll return home to a permanent state of bliss and skip the betrayal of a temporary fix.
I stay at your bedside, aching for you to share one piece of your day. I am consumed by the potential of a meaningful conversation. You start to share your social woes and I am on the edge of my seat, undivided attention abounds. But you trail off, mumbling that I won’t understand. I scrounge for details from my middle school days to validate you and show I can relate. I get it! I was just there! You assure me things are different now. I nod. They sure are.
I look over at your younger brother, waiting patiently to be tucked in, while I’m all consumed in your adolescence. This is a harsh reminder of your growth and the precious passing of time. He needs me more constantly. You, in more intense, immediate spurts. But tonight I must go to him because the days are slipping on all of us. And when I find him where you are, I will long for this night and these struggles and victories — so overwhelming to me now, so strangely simple and innocent to me tomorrow.
We are crossing over. You are my baby. But I cannot carry you now. You walk alone into a new world. I want you to linger here, but you constantly push. You will change. You will grow. You will stumble. You will rise. I will be soft and firm. I will guide and step aside. I will lean and I will pull. I will be lost and I will be certain. I will reach for you, and if you do not reach back, know that my heart remembers your heartbeat. And I will always be holding you there.