“So do you think that some time this school year, you’ll want to walk by yourself?” I asked my kid. We were unpacking Amazon boxes of notebook paper and No. 2 pencils, and as I envisioned hauling them down to the school building where he’s going to be starting fourth grade today, I suddenly thought, “What if he doesn’t need me to walk him with him anymore?”
Then: “What if he doesn’t need me anymore?”
That was quickly followed by a sad mental montage — set to Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye To Yesterday” — of him crawling on the living room rug stashing binkies under the couch to now, doing wheelies on his bike. Poignant sad face. Much emoting and walking mournfully in the rain.
My best friend always says that the essence of parenting is about your own planned obsolescence — getting your kids to the point where they are self-sufficient and able to get along without you. In theory, that’s always been my goal. When my son was about 3, I pronounced my refusal to raise a helpless person and decided that learning to put his Legos away or hand me his plate after dinner was the start to a growing level of age-appropriate responsibility. I’m proud to say that he’s not only accepted that autonomy, but embraced it.
Still, there’s something bittersweet about not being needed in the same way. He’s tall enough now that he can reach the lowest kitchen shelf to get a cup, or maneuver his own container of macaroni and cheese into the microwave, which lessens the amount of times during a day he screams “Mom! Come make me some mac and cheese!” I don’t want a relationship with my son ― or with anyone, for that matter — that hinges on my usefulness. As Blink-182 sang, I guess this is growing up. It’s just … different.
This kid has been the focus of my life since I knew of his existence, and that intensified when my husband died and I became an unexpectedly single mother about two months before his second birthday. My mother moved in soon after, and was my co-parent until she got married and moved out last year. Since then, we’ve been a two-man band. It’s not like I don’t have anything else to do with my life — I’ve got a busy schedule of work, friends and family, and trying to keep this house from looking like 22 people live here rather than just us. It’s a lot.
But I notice that he spends much more time outside with his friends, and he should. I want him to! He still wants to cuddle on the couch and watch shark movies when he comes in. It’s sometimes annoying to be expected to turn off whatever Hallmark movie I’m into now that he’s deigned to grace me with his presence, but I secretly love it, particularly because I know that time is quickly fleeting. He’s almost 10, and he is soon going to be in the “please walk five paces behind me and drop me off at the corner” stage. I’ve been bracing for that, and as we edge ever closer to it, it feels lonely.
Understand that I am not the single mother who thinks of her kid as her little husband, who is responsible for my feelings or sense of purpose. I’m the adult, the sole responsible party for my own self-worth and all that. Brooks has always been a social person, whose preschool teachers observed him being the one to get up and talk with children who were sitting alone and offer them his toys. He’s being raised by a Type A social butterfly, which I wasn’t sure was going to rub off on him or become the bane of his existence.
So far, it’s working.
I am proud of this kid ― proud to share him with the world, and accepting of the fact that he’s increasingly going to want to do the sharing on his own. But for all the time I’ve spent complaining about being asked to fetch apple juice from the kitchen when you see I just sat down, dude, I’m going to miss it when I don’t get asked anymore. It’s going to happen and I just have to get used to it.
So back to that conversation about walking to school by himself. Last year, when I’d asked him if he was ready to go solo in third grade, the answer was a resounding “No.” But last week, I could see him mulling it over, maybe because he wanted to figure out the answer, and maybe because he sensed that the answer was meaningful to me.
“Well, not just yet,” he decided. “But this year, for sure.”
So now I know. And I’m going to cherish every step we take, even if I know that the ones he is taking are away from me.