It had been coming for quite some time. I could see it in the sideways glances, the shoulder turned a little too quickly away from me when he'd leave me in public. Sometimes, I would give him a casual wave and leave, sometimes a pat on the shoulder, but today, it was clear. His look said, Don't kiss me, Mom. He looked like a calf, panicking in a too-small enclosure as I approached him to say goodbye. I reached out my hand, offering it in a gesture of affection, but he nearly pushed it away. He turned to his friends. I, too, turned away.
I wanted to cry, but I didn't. I knew this was big for him, too. The newness of being self-conscious and aware of what's cool and what's not weighs on him as well. The learning never ends. It took us a long time to learn how to be apart, and this is just the next stage. Now we're apart without pomp and circumstance. Now we will wave, or he will run into the classroom without me. I made a note to talk to him about it when we got home.
I never want to be a source of embarrassment to my children. Of course this is probably impossible, but in so far as we are able to have conversations about their preferences and what feels comfortable to them, I am willing to be very flexible. But it's still sad. The soft, squishy, adoring love of my boy is still so present in my life, but he's moving on in the world that I don't occupy. As a schoolboy he doesn't want to need his mommy, and he needs to look as if he's holding his own. And he is, he truly is.
I did ache all day. I ached for that lost kiss, for the hand that nearly pushed me away rather than squeezing me affectionately. I ached for the sunny days spent doing puzzles on the floor and reading dinosaur books and making spaghetti out of play dough. I remembered how it was only seven years ago that I struggled around issues of dependence and sleep; it was around the President's Day weekend that we started to sleep train him. What I wouldn't give now to have him back in my bed, curled up against me, his warm breath on my face.
I tried to be very cool when I went to pick him up at three o'clock. Casual as could be, I walked to the table where he sat with a book and put my hand on his shoulder. Time to go, I said, would you like help getting your things together? I was expecting a no, I was expecting him to rush out ahead of me as he often does, grabbing his bag out of his cubby and arriving at Aoife's classroom far ahead of me. But not today.
Today he slipped his warm little hand into mine and we walked down the hall together. It was all I could do not to cry. He let me help him put his things into his backpack and carry his coat. As we exited the cubby area, he took my hand once more. He was my boy once again.
I cuddled him extra close last night, just for good measure. He'll always be mine, won't he?