March 1, 2014 8:11 p.m. - Updated: March 2, 6:59 a.m.
My son turns 20 today. He did not ask permission – he just marched right out of his teen years and into his new decade. I am neither sad nor happy, just a bit bewildered. When I look at him I see not one age, but many.
The infant, who snuggled into my chest, plugging his mouth with his thumb while his other hand stroked my neck, rests deep within the young man. When he snuggled as a toddler, he continued to rub my neck, cooing, “I whike your warm, Mommy.” But soon he found comfort in his own space, making forts and imagining characters no one else could see. We hauled blankets and cushions and boxes and old clothes, tipping chairs on their sides to keep the wild world out.
When we did venture out, his dark wavy hair seemed a magnet for anyone who came near him. He once admonished a stranger who reached for his head, “Stop that!” They did. Don’t mess with him.
The child grew and could rarely sit still in class, when learning was too exacting. Memorization of trite data felt ridiculous early on without imagination. But when lessons defined, improved, healed or threatened relationships, that kid listened. He kept details of Rosa Parks close and asked for years, “Mom, when did you or Dad stand up for justice?” He keeps us accountable.
His entrance into our lives came not on his birthday, but 135 days later when we landed in his birth country and met him face to face. And no wonder he loves the stage – arriving in America down a Jetway to waiting applause of loved ones. A family star. He checked us out for days with his furrowed brow, as if to say, “Who are you and where do we go from here?” He took us far. Our hearts traveling together.
When I look at the young man, I see the boy who wrote and drew his feelings into flowers and hearts and later sang them in the shower as I listened silently outside the bathroom door. He sings on stage now and tells me I will probably cry when I hear him. But mostly I hold my breath as if I could stop the moment, freezing it in time forever. I cannot.
He reminds us to continue our “family traditions,” rituals occurring through his whole life, but seem a recent add-on to me. On my birthday, he wrote and hid the clues, leading me to hunt for my gift. “Just like you do all the time for me, Mom!” Time teases us both.
My son turns 20 today and I do wish I could simply tip chairs on their sides to protect him from the inevitable uncertainty of impending adulthood. Even if possible, this young man would have none of it.
Still, I dream. Just the other night my sleep filled up with his toddler self – the giggles, the long loose curls bouncing as he ran down the hallway. I reached for him and scooped him up into my arms, but he squirmed in protest and wiggled toward the floor.
“Let me go!” he insisted.
(S-R archive photo)
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