I can see clearly now…

Levi sans specs

Levi sans specs

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.

Letting go

imagesI think I have completely lost it. My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in exactly one week and I just broke down sobbing in the middle of Summer Winds plant nursery while trying to select a few trees to beautify the front entry of our home. My husband, a bit taken aback by my sudden onset hysteria, asked me what seemed to be so upsetting about two Red leaf banana trees and a flat of succulents. To which my only reply was, “They’re going to die. They’re all going to die.”

You see while many may miss the logic of my distress, it is more than obvious to me what is transpiring inside my twisted psyche. My baby boy is becoming an adult, at least in Jewish terms. What does that mean? It means in 5 years he’s off to college, then grad school maybe, a job, a marriage, his own family. The cycle continues. The same will happen with my youngest, at least that’s what I hope and wish for. But it also means that my reasons for existing are only temporary and will go off to live their own miraculous lives and leave me as a distant (and likely annoying) memory. This feels unbearable to me.

I complain bitterly about never having enough time to do the things I want to do, to read the books I want to read and write the stories I want to write. The pressures to work and mother and create meaningful art overwhelm me most of the time. But the reality that in the not-too-distant future I’ll have nothing but time is the most painful acknowledgement of life’s tragic progression that I’ve ever experienced.

I am fully aware that I was somebody else once; before I was a mother. I was somebody who lived alone and went out with friends, who always cleaned up her dishes after she ate, who worked 80 hours a week and went to the gym whenever she felt like it and sometimes just laid around the house watching reruns of “Dick Van Dyke” and “I Love Lucy.” But I don’t do those things anymore, mostly because I’m too busy running errands, supervising homework detail, carpooling or doing perpetual loads of laundry. Yet suddenly it seems impossible to imagine meaning in any life that doesn’t include my eternal sorrow over dirty socks on the floor, unpicked up dog poop in the yard, or two day old breakfast dishes still sitting at the table wistfully hoping that some thoughtful child will place them neatly in the dishwasher.

I don’t enjoy every moment I have with my boys. For that I am grief-stricken. I waste the precious time we have being angry about stupid things and longing for time to be alone, with my own thoughts, my own agenda. Can it be different? Can anyone keep her eye on the essential reality that everything is fleeting, that each moment brings us closer to loss, emptiness and solitude? How can anyone live life with that kind of uber-awareness? Ernest Becker explains in The Denial of Death,“To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.” Getting caught up in the minutia is our only escape from the devastating reality before us.

I long to appreciate the fleeting moments I still have with my children. I promise to try to relish every second in this tumultuous week of family drama, party plans and Bar Mitzvah preparation. My goal is to celebrate the amazing young man my son is becoming, to love him with every ounce of my being, and to joyfully release him to become his own man and forge his own path through life.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Sniff sniff. It’s not likely to be an easy week.

Oye, he’s a man already?

Yesterday was a milestone day for me. My almost 11 year old son, Levi, got his Bar Mitzvah date for 2013. That may sound a ways off to you. But to me, it sounded a lot more like a speeding train careening out of control. I laughed. I cried. It was totally surreal. I mean, how could my baby, who I’d swear was just born last week, be approaching the Jewish equivalent of manhood. Yikes.

In addition to that, I had to take both boys to the orthodontist for their first appointments. Learning that braces are in our future was another minor shock to my system, and not just because of the impending financial commitment these wire jaw molders will require.

Finally, I took Levi shoe shopping and was astonished to learn that the petite paw that once fit easily into the palm of my hand, had reached the substantial size of 9 mens, surpassing my impossible to fit size 9 and a half AA in women’s. Honestly, my 11 year old son has shoes that are bigger than mine? How could that possibly be?

We went to the pool that same day. Levi begged to race me across it. Suddenly I flashed back to my youthful self, a summer’s day, at the pool with my dad. “Oh, come on,” the tween me begged. “Just race me once, the width of the pool!” Finally, my dad acquiesced and we prepared for one all out swimathon across the Olympic sized public swimming pool in Prosel Park, across from our home in Lincolnwood, Il. “On your mark…get ready…set…GO!” I tore across that pool with the determination of a Gold Medalist. When I reached the other side, winded and panting, I emerged from the water to a horrible sight. My heart sank as I saw my infallible pop swimming the final strokes towards me at the side of the pool. At first, I gleefully chanted a few bars of “I won! I won! I finally beat you.” But after a moment, I saw clearly what that victory actually meant. That time was passing. That life was fleeting. That one generation makes way for the next. It was sad. Heartbreaking in a way I will never forget.

“No racing today,” I announced definitively. My fragile heart couldn’t take one more jolt. No. I was still faster, stronger and physically omnipotent in a way I wasn’t willing to risk losing. There’ll be time for more races. Time for his growing body and soul to surpass me in all of its endeavors. Just not today. Not yet.

Instead, I grabbed him and twirled around as fast as I could. I spun him round and round madly until he was giggling hysterically, all the while reciting the familiar hymn from years past, “…Motorboat, motorboat, go so fast. Motorboat, motorboat, step on the gas!!!!”

Granted, it was silly, I’ll even admit it was cheap. But at that moment, I would have done anything to hear that boyish giggle and watch his sweet eyes flicker with glee as he let go of his body and fell deeply into my strong embrace.