The milestones are flying by me so fast I don’t know where to look first. Bar Mitzvah, overnight camp, his own set of house keys, laptop, cell phone, the list goes on seemingly endlessly. He was a toddler like two days ago. Really. But the most recent milestone affected me more than I’d anticipated. My thirteen year old son, Levi, just got his first set of contact lenses. Now Levi’s been wearing glasses for as long as I can remember. They were unobtrusive at first. But as time went on and his quirky style began to emerge, we were able to find specs that matched his personality and charm. In fact, one of my proudest mom moments was when I bought him a pair of non-returnable, retro, tortoise-shell frames without him even being in the room. They fit him perfectly in every way. “That’s how well I know my kid,” I boasted to anyone within ear shot.
But this contact lens thing has me shaken. He looks so grown up, and so…handsome suddenly. His bright, happy face is now unobscured by frames. He’s more open, more vulnerable, more himself. Can a pair of contact lenses make someone more of themselves? Not sure. I suddenly feel the pain of losing him. I’m scared that he’s growing up too fast. He talks about driving all the time. How am I ever gonna cope with that?
I’ve always insisted that I was the type of parent who welcomed each stage of development. Not one to linger in the past or lament the “good old days,” But what happens when they do grow up? When they go away? When your life isn’t about them anymore? Then who are you? Who do you become? How do you still matter?
It’s really unfair that you go through these huge identity crisis when you’re young. You struggle to figure out who you are and how you fit into the Universe. By your mid 20s you think you’ve got it nailed down. Then by 35 you realize you weren’t even close. You settle into a comfortable routine in your 40s, meaningful work or building your family and fortune. Then suddenly your kids grow up and you have to start the whole darn process all over again. It’s daunting to say the least.
My youngest son, Eli, is in 4th grade. He’s still somewhat dependent. But his stubborn individuality reminds me daily that he too will be flying the proverbial coop just as soon as his minor status terminates. He’s in the stage where everything I do embarrasses him. I remember that stage with my parents all too well. My father used to insist on holding my hand as we crossed busy streets and my heart would crumble with shame if anyone saw us. Sure wish I could hold his hand one last time today.
I think about my father a lot, about how much he taught me and how much I miss him. In my son, Eli’s, fleeting serious moments, he begs me not to die and leave him, ever. Not sure it’s right to promise him what I surely cannot deliver. But I do so anyway. Just like my dad promised me. Life is about broken promises.
In the meantime, I find myself often tearful, lost and afraid of what the future holds. I want to protect my boys from everything and everyone. I want to be able to shield their eyes from pain and stand between them and any potential heartache. The realization that I can’t do that is what’s breaking my heart. For their lives to work, they will have to see beyond my horizon, to see for themselves. I guess the whole contact lens thing signifies something a whole lot deeper than I first imagined.