In 2006, I turned 50. That was also the year menopause finally decided I’d had enough. But just when I thought my life might return to normal, my only child moved out.
As for birthdays, my favorite was 30. It sounded mature and sophisticated. Turning 40 was fun. I was still healthy and attractive (if you’re grading on a curve), and there was still time to do the things on my bucket list.
Then came 50.
50 kicked my ass. I gained 10 pounds in my sleep, and my new metabolism now meant I had to limit my food portions until dinner looked like gerbil food, and oh, join a gym asap. Awesome.
The menopause? It lasted for years, and Hubs started wearing fleece pj’s eight months out of the year, as I repeatedly ran through the house yelling, “IT’S TOO DAMN HOT IN HERE.” When I insisted we keep the bedroom window open year-round, he began to refer to our bedroom as “that meat locker we sleep in.”
But just as I was beginning to relinquish my youth and come to terms with the senior menu at the local Tacqueria, and the hot flashes began to subside, my only child moved out, having registered for college and enlisting in the National Guard, which included a year-long deployment to Iraq. I was intensely proud of him. I also cried for a week.
It’s not that I think that offspring should never leave the nest and get an adult life. That’s normal, healthy, and as it should be. But when you’re the mama being left behind, it’s life-altering. I had to come to terms with the fact that my life been irrevocably changed.
When my son was very young, I realized quickly that I was never going to be a “regular mom.” I don’t do macaroni art, I don’t have the patience for making Halloween costumes, and my bake sale goodies were always store-bought.
My job with my only offspring was less about making paper mache volcanoes on my dining table and more about keeping him safe and in his happy bubble as much as possible. My primary purpose was to stand between him and anything or anyone that could ever cause him pain.
Experts often say that we should let our kids experience disappointment, failure, frustration, and even a broken heart or two. They claim it teaches them compassion and empathy. I say those experts are idiots. This was my baby. I wasn’t about to sit back and watch some pony-tailed mean girl from the local high school do a tap dance on his heart, or do nothing while a bully, posing as a teacher, told my son he’d “never amount to much.” Not. Going. To. Happen.
Of course, protecting someone requires information that’s often extremely difficult to get. If you have teenage boys, you already know it’s virtually impossible to get a boy cub to dish about his real day. And the stuff they won’t tell you is exactly what you need to know.
One weekend while the young progeny was staying with friends, Hubs and I did a sweep of his bedroom. We needed information, and this was one very closed teenager. He told us nothing. So we decided to take a moment for some parental exploring in the great abyss known as a teenager’s bedroom. 45 minutes later, we’d found enough clues to piece together the path he was on and who the key players were.
The teen in question, big surprise, wasn’t wild about the “No Privacy” laws of the house. I assured him that he’d understand some day if he ever had a boy. (His son is now seven. I told him to call me in 10 years and we’ll walk him through the room sweep.)
Over the years, I’ve tossed out his phone because his friends on speed dial were iffy at best. I taught him how to extricate himself from a relationship without putting the girl in therapy. I helped write more letters and fill in more applications than his high school guidance counselor. I loved it. I felt needed and relevant.
Then he married a beautiful young woman and they became a family, with two small children. For months, I watched as he naturally found his own way as a husband, a father, and a military officer, while going to college full time. I was home, struggling with my changing relationship with my only child and wondering what my role would be. I vowed daily never to be one of those mothers that called her son every day or insist he call her weekly so she knows every detail of her grown child’s life. His life was now separate from mine, and I had no choice but to wait for my place to unfold.
Then one day, I got a call. “Mom, I need help with my college loan applications.” And then another, “The boy is acting out. What should we do?” And yet another, “Will you help me with my resume?” This pattern continued, and still does to this day. I felt like Sally Field, only I was shouting “They need me! They really, really need me!” I’ve become the Git ‘er Done mom, where they come when something needs to happen, preferably now. I’m thinking of ordering some business cards that say, “The Go-To Mom, For When You Want to Get Shit Done.”
I can live with that.