When my son was a baby, I knew his body completely. I controlled everything that went into it and saw everything that came out of it. I carried him around until I couldn't lift him any more. I could watch him sleep for hours.
When he was older I sat with him every night singing, until one day he said to me, "Don't sing." At that point I switched to telling stories about my own childhood. As an only child he is fascinated by the concept of sibling rivalry, and that river runs deep for me. I used to rub his back or head as he lay there; now I'm lucky he still wants to hear an occasional story.
I can't say exactly when he started to pull away, when the inevitable barriers to touch went up, but it was years ago. Now, as a teenager, he doesn't want me to hug or kiss him, walk near him, or even brush away a crumb by his mouth. It's been hands off for a long time as we separate out into independent entities, joined not at the hip but at the heart. I still give him a goodnight kiss almost every night, but that's the extent of physical contact, and I accept that.
He and I just returned from a quick New Year's vacation visiting my mom in Puerto Rico. We had two long flights, both of which he spent sleeping soundly. Thanks to some crafty seat selection and early ticket purchasing, we were fortunate enough to have a row of three seats on our redeye from Los Angeles to San Juan. He got to lie down and I got to put my arm on his shoulder. It was my first opportunity in years to spend as much time as I wanted looking at him, and the closest I've been to holding him since he was much younger.
The huge transitions in the mother-son relationship over 14 years parallel enormous physical changes. His chin is fuzzy and his voice deep. His hands started as tiny fists, then became pudgy and are now larger than mine, with long slender fingers. He's trying to be bigger than I am in other ways too, and that's the way it should be. I embrace his changes. It's just rare that I get to embrace him any more.
Originally posted January 5, 2008