It’s a puzzle of a Tuesday evening. Rose has soccer practice at a time that was once reserved for family dinner; she needs to be shuttled to and from the soccer field; Col has a friend staying late; our foster dog needs a walk; everyone needs to be fed; Dan is 11,300 feet up in the high country chasing elk with his bow.
Col and this friend are deep in the fog of brewing their next plan, and Col answers my questions with distracted monosyllables. This buddy seems to bring out in Col a thirst for adventure, for independence, for the kind of fun that is made of risk and hilarity and a few things you might not want your mother to know.
When I told them recently that I felt hesitant about them riding bikes downtown because of their history of pushing the envelope together, this friend said, earnestly and with endearing transparency, “Oh, that’s not just with Col. I push the envelope whether I’m with him or not.” Though I sometimes wish Col were enamored with say, the knitting club, I am very fond of this friend.
I assemble a meal that hits all the food groups currently existing in our fridge and notice that Col and his buddy are missing. Rose eats, grabs her soccer bag and we drive away, not knowing where the boys are. I feel annoyed, thinking they should have told me where they were going. They knew dinner was impending. Driving home, my mind simmers with satisfying fantasies of what I will say and do when I find them.
In the car, I resist the magnetic lure of distraction (radio, cellphone) in favor of what I advocate for my children: to acknowledge and investigate all feelings. Breathing a little space into my clenched chest, I notice that behind the anger is a slippery layer of fear.
It’s not that I’m worried for the boys’ safety. No, it’s more an existential distress about my children growing up and calving off the glacier of our family, landing in the fickle ocean of popular culture and trying to stay afloat. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the kitchen, a caricature of my own loneliness, prepping another meal in hopes they come home hungry. This is only part invention. When I volunteered to accompany Col to the flea market recently, he said, “But I want to go with someone, Mama. Like, a friend.”
The children needing me less is both wonderful and heartbreaking. They are free to prepare their own breakfast and also free to make bad decisions – decisions that are bolstered by the advisory boards of their own peers, who have equally, alarmingly undeveloped prefrontal cortexes. Sometimes, a winning strategy is to make really clear agreements with them; other times, it’s doing the heart-searing work of letting go.
I am grateful to see that underneath the hot kick of anger and the trance of fear is simply my desire for connection.
When I arrive home – the boys still missing – I hop on my bike and hear their voices less than a block away. They’re deep into mischief, the variety of which would be familiar to generations of boys.
I explain that not knowing where they are leaves me worried, and I want them to check in with me before they take off. No threats or punishments, just stating boundaries. They understand and readily apologize.
The three of us sit down to the spread that was warm and fresh an hour ago. The boys express their gratitude for dinner and are forthcoming in the specific brand of 12-year-old boys: an endearing blend of self-doubt and bravado. I can see that they’re wobbling on their own precipice, experimenting with who they are outside of family, and yet needing their home nest to be welcoming and steady. I feel a thread of connection, braids of their tweenhood and my own mom-ness, weaving us all together tonight.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.