Where We’re At

Things here at the reading room have been a bit erratic lately and I realise this probably has to do with more adjustments than the change in template and my issue with commenting on other sites (although that is still not fixed and causing me much hassle). We’ve had a very unusual spring, and one that has ushered in a lot of changes in our household. Nothing bad, I hasten to reassure you all, just different. For my son has his first girlfriend, and after all these years, fortunate ones for me and Mister Litlove, in which he has been mostly at home and content to meet up with his friends online, he is suddenly out late after school and often elsewhere on weekends.

I can’t tell you how odd it feels. We have grown so accustomed to seeing him in his chair at the computer, and now it swings around emptily in silence (when it is not colonised by the cat who stretches out over as much of it as possible, as if he knows this is the master chair from which the universe is commanded). Mister Litlove and I arrive home in the evenings to a dark house, we eat our dinner quietly, just the two of us. We always knew this would happen, and we could not be happier for our son. We like his girlfriend very much. But oh my goodness, it does feel strange.

I had been warned, and even told, by other mothers of sons, that no girl would be good enough for my boy. That I would feel jealous of the love that would be diverted from me to her. And no, I don’t feel like that at all, but I have felt emotional and churned up sometimes in ways I never expected. It’s been far more to do with the fact that I haven’t known where he is, or what he is doing, and whether or not I need to be responsible for him. Like mothers across time before me, I have learned what it is to lie in bed awake, unable to sleep until he has come upstairs himself. And though I know this is perfectly right and natural – and can remember being 17 and how fantastic it was when grown-up life began to start and things began to happen (and at that age any old thing will do, it’s all thrilling) – I haven’t liked it. I have felt at times bewildered and bereft. For the first time since I gave birth, I’ve felt broody, although do not worry, that’s NOT a choice I would make! But it is a symptom of the realisation that I am no longer essential to my son’s life, which is something all mothers must face up to, sooner or later.

As ever, I’ve been curious about what I’ve felt, and it seems to me that mothers are in love with their children, and this process of separation is about pushing us back to the place where we just love them. We have to be in love with our children – as far as I can see, motherhood is one long series of heroic self-sacrifices, and we couldn’t perform them if we weren’t actively in love, with a passion that transcends the usual limitations of self interest. I’ve found that love for my son to be one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had in my life. For all the anxiety and exhaustion of parenthood, it has expanded and improved me in ways I could never have imagined; my very best self has been bound up with it. But I can also see now how being in love with someone can be constraining and maybe even suffocating at times. Because he is too important to me, I don’t trust my son to look after himself. I think worse of the world and its pitfalls because he may fall into them. If I acted purely out of my own desires, I could so easily make myself a problem in his life that he would have to deal with; someone who fretted and fussed over him, who needed tiresome reassurances, who had to be satisfied and borne continually in mind. And I don’t want to weigh so heavily on him. I want him to spring forward freely into his new life, without me hanging onto his ankles as he used to hang onto mine, all those years ago back when he was a small child and in love with me.

I’ve realised this past week or so that I am growing more accustomed to our new routines. I still don’t quite know what to do with the hours between five and seven and I still can’t quite get to sleep until he has come up to bed. But I am not on tenterhooks all the time, wondering when he will be in. I still fret if he’s much later back than I’m expecting, though (and probably always will!). Mister Litlove has been a great support in all this, and my son has been so good too, always ready to negotiate with us and figure out how to keep us sufficiently informed. This must be an incredibly hard transition for mothers who have really rebellious teenagers, or less than supportive husbands. And goodness only knows what slip-ups, miscommunications, accidents or near-disasters will happen in the future. But I have to give him away to that chaotic outside world; it’s where he belongs.

I confess I do feel a bit tired at the moment, though not in an ill way, I’m perfectly okay. Just with the release of tension that comes after periods of big adjustments. I lack focus at present, and concentration. But I’m sure my blogging routine will settle down again and that I WILL find a way to comment on your sites. I’m going to try to figure out now how to tweet other people’s posts, which is one way to indicate I am still here reading!


33 thoughts on “Where We’re At

  1. My boys are only 4 and 6 so all this sounds a long way away. I can’t imagine how quiet it would be around here without them and so I can understand how strange it must be for you. I guess you’ll slowly get used to the separation and then enjoy it all over again with the grandchildren!

    • Jackie, you are still on the cliff face I see! But your boys are at a lovely age, when they are starting to develop their personalities; they must be a lot of fun to have around. I’ll bet what happens is we just get used to being without children and then the grandchildren arrive! But grandchildren look like a good deal – all the fun without too many night shifts!

  2. If you think things seem strange now, just wait until he leaves home! Our younger daughter spent three years at uni, then returned for a year (which rook a bit of adjusting for her and us) before setting up home with her boyfriend, and our elder daughter plans to move in with her boyfriend when her course finishes in the summer. It’s quite scary to think we will be on our own for the first time in 25 years!

    • Oh I know! This is nothing compared to that final act of leaving home for good. Well, I suppose it’s the first step on that long journey…. I send every good wish to you and your daughters in this next phase. It helped me to realise that my son feels just the same way about us, even if he isn’t around to say so as much. It’s just making the adjustment that’s hard (and it is hard for a while).

  3. Boy Litlove is growing up! It must be strange, and I can see how it would be hard to not worry about him all the time after spending so many years doing it, but isn’t it exciting too? After all the caring and work, watching him become a fine young man must be so very wonderful.

  4. Eh, litlove, I have a long time until I reach this experience but I feel for you. However wise you may be – and you are very wise – it must be hard. I’m glad that things are settling down for you though.

    Being ‘in love’ with your children is so true! Literature, if not life, seems filled with mothers who could not let go.

    • Helen – and I have to thank literature for showing me all the ways I could mess up! 🙂 Parenting is so odd. There is always something awkward going on, whether it’s fights over bedtime, or eating vegetables, or sitting exams, or being autonomous. It’s just that the issue keeps on changing; there’s often an issue lurking about. But enjoy your child (and I am perfectly sure that you do). It really scoots by so very fast.

  5. I am not a parent, but your experience is so similar to the experiences of two of my friends. One of my friends expressed similar feelings of worry when her son started dating, and she had a hard time falling asleep until she knew he was home safely! And my hair dresser has a daughter who is 15. If you think you are dealing with drama with a boy, I think it might be much worse with a girl. The last time I got my hair cut, my hair dresser shared with me how her daughter’s boyfriend brought her daughter home from a dance early–and my hair dresser’s husband ended up reprimanding the boy! Just a whole lot of drama all around. But I can only imagine how hard the change must be for you. I will be thinking of you and hoping for the best!

    • Ali – I have heard that too! That having a girl is much trickier. I confess I found it hard not to worry when my son caught the last bus home from town for the first time. But I suppose because he’s a boy, it seems like the right thing to do not to say much about it. So when he arrived home perfectly fine and everything had gone okay (except that the bus passed him as he was walking to the stop and he had to leg it!) we feigned nonchalance and said oh good that’s fine. Thank you for your lovely comment – and I will write you properly very soon!

  6. What a lovely post. And I can assure you that the “symptom of the realisation that I am no longer essential to my son’s life” is far better than realising you will always be essential and worrying what will happen when you are gone.
    Good luck to the 17 year old and to both you and Mister Litlove.

    • And you are so right about that! Much better to see him managing perfectly well (although our city’s decidedly odd bus schedule is a challenge to us all in the evenings!). Thank you for the good luck wishes, I do appreciate them.

  7. I only have this from the perspective of a twin who found it very difficult when my brother and I both went to university, and discovering that I wasn’t needed in the same way any more, whilst I still needed him. A different situation, of course, but we have settled down into a closeness which is not the same as before, but still positive. I think the pain of change is a useful way of realising how good things have been. I would hate not to value it.

    And I wanted to say how much I love and adore the new look – it is beautiful!

    • I’m so glad you like the new look! Yay!

      As for your brother, well, I feel like I wish I could give you a hug. You will probably find out in years to come that he missed you just as much, but at a different time or in a way that you weren’t expecting at all. I think you’re quite right that pain does remind us how close we are and how necessary we are to each other, and how important it is to keep our relationships healthy and stable. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a twin, but I’ll bet it’s rather nice.

  8. Lovely post, I still have a few years ahead of me until it happens but I can imagine your feelings. (Especially lying awake until he comes home)

    My son is 8 and for his birthday he asked for Playmobils and more precisely “girls, babies, dogs, houses” when boys of my generation asked for He Man & Skeletor. I’m grateful that these former eight year old boys have become such great fathers and good role models.

    Ps I don’t understand why you can’t comment on other blogs.

    • I didn’t understand it for quite some time, either! But happily Mister Litlove has fixed it for me. Eight is a lovely age, I remember. Still a child, with all that tenderness and innocence, but growing a personality and an awareness of the world that is just fascinating to observe. He sounds a delight, and as if he has some good role models around him, too.

  9. First there will be problems, as where there’s life there are problems. Second I’m sure you will manage them. You have come through such a lot already and here you are to draw on those libraries of experience for inspiration and support. You are also a thoughtful and wise person as those of us who have followed your blogs have reason to know. i know you will wish to contradict me, but it’s only misplaced perfectionism, as we never feel we are as good as we should be in that illusion – the perfect world!
    As you know my daughter is of an age with your son and I have this to come. I’m surprised it’s not already arrived. Therefore I shall be following any further instalments with the greatest interest, especially for advice I may be offered. And tell Ali, thanks for the cheering advice above, concerning the terrifying nature of daughters and boyfriends. Good to see you are able to reply now and hope your other computer issues are soon sorted. Hope the batteries also recharge. Imbibing a little (or more) of this wonderful sunny period could do the trick. Off to the garden myself!

    • It’s funny, isn’t it? Mister Litlove and I say to each other all the time how lucky we’ve been, that he’s been such a homebody up until now and we’ve had lots of lovely time just hanging out together. But then some children his age are still deeply attached to their households – and long may that last! But like every developmental stage we’ve been through, things are just different. Not particularly better or worse, just different. I can cope with a lot of things, but I do just hope I don’t have to pick him out of casualty one of these days. That’s my least favourite location! Thank you for your kind and encouraging comment, dear Bookboxed, you are a sweetie. And isn’t the sunshine lovely? I’ll bet your garden is going bonkers.

  10. For sure, you’ll worry about him no matter how old he is. My son is 5 years older than yours, away in U. for 5 years, in professional school now, but we still maintain close contact. And yes, still is even after he has a girlfriend. I’m glad about this. He still asks for advice about courses, jobs, and day to day chores like how to remove a stain on a shirt. A mother is a lifelong calling… and I think a son knows that too. 😉

    • Arti, aww bless him! Well, I will hope very much that my son is still emailing or calling up for the same sorts of reasons. I have a nasty suspicion that a shirt with a stain on is one he will just put on as normal, barely noticing….. 🙂

  11. Believe it or not (probably while you were writing this post), I was just thinking the other day, for some reason, that your son is getting so old and that it won’t be long before we’re hearing about his university years. Why I wasn’t thinking about his first love, I have no idea. Anyway, this is why I don’t have children. I would never be able to handle such stages with anywhere new the aplomb that you and all the fantastic mothers I know out there do. As a result, I would have had completely rebellious kids and an unsupportive husband, I’m sure. Much better to leave the child rearing to those who can handle it and just to enjoy being “Auntie Emily,” never knowing that it’s 1:30 a.m., and a beloved teenager’s bed lies empty (I’ve got enough neurotic thoughts keeping me awake at 1:30). Good luck to you during this new stage (and ALL the new ones to come).

    I was recently having trouble posting comments on WordPress. I wonder if Blogger and WordPress are in some sort of war, keeping us civilians from communicating? Hope you get it resolved soon. I’m not on Twitter (Ms. Luddite) and didn’t even know one could Tweet blog posts. Good luck with that, too!

    • Children train you up, you know. They arrive not able to do anything much of anything except cry and then they start the intensive parenting programme that keeps you on your toes for the first five years or so. And when they sense you have relaxed a bit, they send you on a refresher course. 🙂 Mind you, I think the aunt role is a pretty excellent one – a lot of the fun and a lot less of the hassle!

      Ach, what was up with the blogs? Happily I am commenting again now (just waiting for blogger to blatantly ignore the fact I HAVE put the right letters in the box and to hold me in limbo etermally – so frustrating) and have a humungous backlog of blogs to catch up on, as well as comments on my own. I never did learn how to tweet posts, however! As you know, I feel exactly the way you do about technology!

  12. I can’t believe that your son is 17 already! I can understand that you would feel a bit churned up, proud and sad all at the same time. It’s a huge credit to you and Mr L that he can “spring forward freely into his new life”. I love that feigned nonchalance when so much is said with so little. And I think you’re still essential to your son’s life although he may not acknowledge it.

    • You would not believe how old I feel! I go round repeating: Remember, I was a child bride! Bless you for your lovely comment, dear Pete. I am very much enjoying a vicarious early parenting experience through your pictures and stories. It does bring it all back.

  13. First, I agree with Pete’s final sentence in particular. I don’t doubt it and I am sure your son would be the first to agree, though of course we’d never dream of mortifying/burdening him with the question!

    I experienced so many emotions reading this post, Litlove – there was the shock of it, and knowing my own day must come, then the wrench that made me fear I’d cry as I imagined your subdued dinner table, followed by the wry acceptance of your experience as universal as well as so heartwarmingly particular, and finished off with a kind of awe for your grace and wisdom. I am going to need this post handy in too few years to countenance – remind me of it then, will you? Thanks, my friend! x

    • Happily you have a many a year still in hand! You’ve got all the good bit to come, all the fun child stages when they are just so funny and adorable. But doesn’t motherhood teach you some tough lessons? But they DO come with grace… eventually! 🙂 And you already have under your belt the realisation that you can’t ask boys direct questions, only indirect ones (and those in an offhand manner – lol!). I’m looking forward to remembering all sorts of things about my son’s childhood through your posts, too. It’s lovely to have the experience of friends to bring it back.

  14. Your writing about this brought back so many memories – having had my own little family of three, I know so well how disorienting it is when the fledgling begins to fly. On one hand, you are happy to see them begin to test their wings and experience life on their own, but there is something inside you that desperately wants to keep them close by where you can hover and protect.

    I think you’re absolutely right about the “in love” versus the “loving” part of parenthood. You have to move from that infatuation which borders on obsession into a more mature loving relationship that allows you to respect one another’s independence.

    T’isn’t easy, though.

    • Oh Becca, it isn’t easy is it? But then there have been quite a lot of tricky bits of motherhood, I’ve found. I can’t say I’ve been a ‘natural’ at so much of it, although I’ve had bountiful compensation for everything I’ve had to struggle through! Infatuation is a good word – it is how we feel, in a quiet way, and it is exactly respect for independence that needs to come in its place. And look at you with a grandchild now! Isn’t it funny to think of your son going through this whole parenting process too? How lucky he is to have you to help him.

  15. I’m sure you know this poem, but it moves me to (joyful) tears every time I read it:

    On Children
    Kahlil Gibran

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable.

    • Joanna, I don’t think I have ever read this before – thank you for sending it to me! It is exquisite and so very true, and somehow comforting. Definitely a poem to return to over the next few months, I feel!

  16. Why did I think your son was just barely a teenager still? Time passes far too quickly. What a lovely post and it sounds like you are being very good about it all–give him just the right amount of independence to do his own thing–scary though to think how quickly they grow up and are ready to leave the nest–so to speak. Since I don’t have children and am unlikely to ever do so now I can only sort of understand–my niece is thirteen this year and is almost as tall as me. She is very much becoming her own person and sometimes surprises me with the things she says and thinks (not in a bad way–just a ‘how did you learn’ that sort of way). Of course I now sort of feel like I’m not the cool aunt anymore but an adult who is not very cool and doesn’t really know very much (did I act like that, too?) since she is learning so very much now. Has your son brought his girlfriend to dinner? And is this the last year before he does go off to university? The cat is probably happy he spends so much time away from home! 🙂

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