I knew from the start that this would happen. It’s completely inevitable. I knew it had to happen, if things went well. And they have. Because now it’s happened.
We were laughing at something together, something funny, silly, light – and then I look up at the boy who for thirteen years has been my little boy and it dawns on me that this isn’t the first time I’ve looked up to him. I don’t know why I’m only realising it now, but at the very moment I realise it, my heart breaks, opening a bottomless pit of sorrow that will never be filled by the pride and happiness and admiration I also feel, and I know my inner landscape has been forever altered. A new topography of sharp, unexpected peaks of opinion and hazy lakes of secret emotion emerges within this childhood world: opinions that distance him from me and emotions I can no longer access. This world where I used to be his most important guest.
He’s getting further away from me.
And he’ll never, ever come back to me, not in the way that’s always been the way between us. The way we shared our lives. And he’s just the last in a series. The other two are already past this point, and there aren’t any more of them to come. I know that. That thought by itself rushes like a panicked ghost into the new pit of sorrow and abandonment, and I wonder – as much as I don’t want to – whether it really is too late for just one more, because otherwise I’ll never again bury my nose in his neck or drown myself in his childish scent or feel him surrender to me utterly, unconditionally; I’ll never again be the person he drops everything for, running to meet me as he shouts Muuuuuum!! and beams from ear to ear.
Now I’m a mother who’s smaller than all her children.
Who suddenly one Saturday discovers she’s been left alone, because they’ve arranged to meet their friends. Elsewhere. That Saturday evening I had turned down invitations, because of course I wanted to be home the weeks my boys were staying. Of course. But now the living room is empty, and a new, strange kind of loneliness coils around my feet, creeping slowly up and up and up until it tightens around my breath and I think I mustn’t let it cast me down, because this is just how life goes. Then my phone pings.
A text from him. With hearts.
The loneliness loosens its grip and retreats into its darkness. I smile a giddy smile and start to move again, into the bathroom to get ready for the dinner I turned down, stumbling almost accidentally over my own reflection as I mechanically draw lines around my eyes. There’s still sadness in them. But behind it is a spark of curiosity.
Yes, I miss feeling his little hand clutch mine – oh yes, I miss him sitting on my lap and tickling him until his laughter brightens everything – but I’m just so proud, so happy and thrilled and elated and joyful that he’s about to take on the world, to contribute to it, in a way that’s all his own.
Yes, I’m about to lose him and his brothers. But what’s happening is what has to happen. I’m on my way to being unnecessary. That’s the best thing a parent can aim for. Only once you’re unnecessary is your task a success. You’ve helped create a human being who can take care of himself and make his own unique contribution to the world. And there is no greater gift than that. But irrelevant? Never, I hope!