A Familiar Stranger

I keep writing about the Girl growing up, keep on finding myself doing double takes when she walks by me and I see that another inch of girlhood has left her shoulders and trails behind her like the edges of a comet’s vapor trail.

The other day, when we were driving to school, I caught myself staring at her, once more, in the rear view mirror and feeling like I was seeing double and seeing single all at the same time.

She and I are so similar.

We are nothing alike.

But, in twelve days, my son will turn fifteen and I’m finding myself double taking even more than usual.

He’s taller than me by at least six inches, possibly eight.  And yet, a moment ago, I found him asleep in my office chair, listening to his music.  I gently set his feet on the floor, helped him stand, made sure he was awake, and prayed with him.  I said, “Amen.”  He merely went limp, relaxed his knees, and laid his head on my shoulder.

He hasn’t done that in a long time.

His voice has deepened.  He keeps on growing a mustache despite his attempts to keep it shaved with a rather dull razor (in his defense, he keeps on asking me for a new razor and I always promise to buy him one when I go shopping and then I forget).

His feet are huge.  From a distance, especially when he wears dress-shoes, his feet look like they would be double mine.

I keep on waiting for him to start shrinking as rapidly as he has grown, for his voice to change again–return to a higher pitch.  For him to lisp his words because he broke his jaw and lost three teeth…because I spoke German to him when he was a baby and though he didn’t pick up on the language he picked up on the dialect.

I don’t want to shove my son into a nautilus shell, force him to grow in reverse and become my baby once more.  I don’t miss diapers.  I don’t miss potty-training and soppy cups and children’s television.

I do miss my baby who would sit on my lap and would let me rest my cheek on the top of his head.  I realized, quickly, that God must have designed women’s cheeks to perfectly match the crown of a child’s head because my son’s (and daughter’s) head was the jigsaw-puzzle-match to the hollow of my cheek.

In the last year, my son has learned that being social extends beyond the walls of my home and he has taken to spending hours in his room, the door closed, while he messages his friends using his iPod.  He has deliberately started to listen to rap so that he can pull away from the musical tastes of my husband and me.

In some respects, I feel a little lost when I stand next to the young man who is becoming the future adult of my current teenage son.  I look at him and can still see the baby, can still see the toddler, the little boy who, one day, thought he was complimenting me when he said in the most loving tone, “Mommy, you’re a bitch.”

He really did think he was complimenting me.  I was good.  I didn’t laugh because I knew he would take this as a sign of approval and start sayings something similar to all of the women he knew.  I did get in his face and tell him that he hurt my feelings because he said a very bad word.  He cried.  I told him that I loved him and reminded him not to repeat it.  Then, once he ran inside for a popsicle, I crowed with laughter.

I’ve also told him the story and we laugh together now.

My son alternates between being my greatest source of frustration and my greatest source of comfort.  On Friday, we went to Starbucks to celebrate the last Friday of the month.  As we were preparing to turn at the stoplight, a crow suddenly flew over traffic and dropped its burden to the ground.

An adult, red-breasted robin.

The crow immediately landed on its prey and attacked the poor animal, lifted it into the air again.

Dropped it again.

The robin lay on its side, dying, shaking, gasping for air.  Trying to get its feet under it, summon enough strength to fly, to die with dignity.  Scattered around it were the white feathers of its down…its undercoat.  I don’t know the right words.  I know they were its flight feathers.

For a moment, I stared at the bird as it shuddered.  My daughter begged me to do something.  Without taking my eyes off the robin, I explained to her that the I could do nothing.  From the other side of the road, staring in haughty expectation, the crow just waited and I waited.

“Mom, stop staring.  You’re going to upset yourself,” my son said.

I wanted to scold him.  Tell him I wasn’t weak and fragile.  That he had no right to tell me not to upset myself.

But, I reasoned, he was trying to care for me, trying to protect me.  And I had no right to reprimand him for compassion.  So I bit my tongue, turned my head, and followed the car in front of me to the lane and on to the road.

Behind me, the robin died.  The crow had its meal.

The world continued to turn.

And I patted my son’s leg and thanked him for his kindness.

In some respects, the teenager living in my house is a complete stranger to me.  I look at him and I see nuances of myself, of my husband, of our families.  When my son gets excited, he lisps like my husband’s youngest brother.  When the Boy turns his head in just the right way, he reminds me of my own brother, especially with his senior year picture, a photograph of a confident, proud, strong young man.

But my son is steadily learning how to cast his own shadow.  He has a speaking role in the play I’m helping direct and I have learned to keep a distance between us, to let him develop his own friendships.  It took the other actors at least a week, maybe two to realize that the Boy was my son.  Or, rather, that I was his mother.  I did my best to let my son have his own identity with his peers before they realized that we shared half of a double helix.

In twelve days, my son will turn fifteen.  In six months after that, he will start learning to drive.  A year from then, and he will earn his driver’s license.  And then he will truly start gaining his freedom.

Today, I watched him drive away with a friend to go to the river.  As I stood on the front porch and watched the car pull away from the curb, my son in the passenger seat, I felt a touch of loss.  This really was the first time that he independently left.  A corner of the house temporarily broke away.

And then I smiled, shut the front door, and went to my office.  Outside, in the pear tree about thirty feet from my office window, a robin went from branch to branch, combing for any leftover fruit.

Nothing happened, save a few songs, a quick bite to eat.  And then the robin spread its wings, and flew away.

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