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In the countless conversations around parenthood in which I was either a participant or observer, the topic of a child’s death is not unusual. The death of a child is rightfully deemed an aberration on the natural order of things and as such, a source of grave anxiety for me. But 9 years into my parenting journey, I find myself navigating an emotion I never anticipated: Grief for my son getting older.
Among the countless things said about grief, the one that resonates with me most at this juncture is the one by Jamie Anderson which says that grief is “love with nowhere to go.” I am not talking about the cessation of love because that is simply impossible. I bet not one parent who’s ever fallen head over heels in love with their children can ever stanch the outpouring of devotion, no matter what. It is the receiving of that love that changes over time. As my baby inches closer to the cusp of a significant developmental change, I am actually grieving the inevitable shift in our dynamics. Someday I won’t be the first person he thinks of confiding in when something eventful happens in school. Bear hugs and sloppy kisses will be in short supply because apparently teenagers abide by a strict code whereby any type of parental affection is considered fatal to their budding reputations. Conversations might be reduced significantly to a few mumbled pejoratives because parents “just don’t understand” the travails of teenagers. But even if I manage to avoid the hellscape of pubertal hormones and parent-child hostilities, there will still be changes in the way my son and I relate to each other. As they say, things will never be the same. You might think, “Well, you’re probably a long way from that or your fears may not happen at all.” I am inclined to agree but I just can’t shake the nostalgia-tinged melancholy when I catch myself staring at my son and marveling at how much he has grown since the first time I cradled him in my arms. For the last nine years, I have been my son’s world and he, mine. For better or worse, our relationship will evolve into something I cannot fully envision but fret about all the same. It feels as though I am nearing the end of one story and the beginning of another; like a seismic, transformative shift that is both sublime and terrifying. It all seems outlandish. But what can I tell you? Motherhood is a maelstrom.
I am scared of a future where he is no longer the child I have built my life around but I will unfailingly urge him to venture outside the world we’ve made together and carve a path that is gloriously his own.
So, what does one do while in the throes of such compelling and confounding emotion?
For one, I have to make the conscious decision to soak it all in. To be rather than do. I can’t let motherhood be all about troubleshooting and getting things done and dusted. Maybe I ought to just linger every morning to watch him sleep before launching into the day’s routine. Or maybe for one glorious day, we can throw away the routine altogether and fly by the seat of our pants. We should laugh at our blunders more than we fuss about it. Perhaps, instead of lurching through our days, we can take it slow and gentle. I’ll allow myself to be enraptured by his effusive narration of the raucous adventures of nine-year-old boys because before I know it, I am no longer his captive audience and I will miss it terribly. I’ll be present in every moment that he calls for me because as time unfurls, I won’t be all I am to him now and, yes, I will miss it terribly. I know he’ll always love and need me but never in the same way as that little boy who couldn’t even let me pee without throwing a monumental fit; or that boy whose tiny face would explode in a smile as bright as fireworks upon seeing me at his preschool pick up area. So today, as he mopes and begs me to brush his teeth, I will quell my impatience and indulge him. Because my heart tells me we are treading the chapter of “lasts”. And I suspect there is no bigger regret than neglecting to rhapsodize and savor this part of our spirited journey.
My boy is the luminous sun I orbit. Soon, his light that has set my world ablaze for almost a decade will be refracted onto other things, other people. And my world will dim a little. But his will be brighter. And that is enough for me. I am scared of a future where he is no longer the child I have built my life around but I will unfailingly urge him to venture outside the world we’ve made together and carve a path that is gloriously his own. I don’t know what role I’ll play in his story someday, but I’ll be with him every step of the way. I don’t know what roads he takes or how far he’ll go but I am his home, always. I honor the grief for the most exhilarating and joyous adventure that is about to conclude and, with bated breath and slightly stricken nerves, wait for the next uproarious one in the offing.