They’ll always be your baby. They just will. Your kids will forever be little in your eyes. It can’t be helped. Sure, they’ll demand to be treated as an adult when they’re teenagers, and then again when they are actual adults. They will proudly state how old they are and how much they demand and deserve independence and freedom, but all you’ll hear is an infant’s babbling and cooing, or a toddler’s gibberish, or a young child’s sweet sentence structure. And all you will see is a vulnerable little person gazing up at you with wide eyes and soft cheeks. You just will. It’s like a form of parenting denial we all possess. We think our kids will ever grow up. Sadly, they do.
I remember as a teenager craving tons of freedom, and then during my college years craving even more. I was far from being a child, so why were my parents still treating me as one? I was invincible! I was a woman, hear me roar! I was 18 years old — a real and true adult, right? Now I just needed my mom to see me as one.
But still, much to my chagrin, my mom continued to often treat me like a child. I could not for the life of me understand why. My age was not the age of a child. I was more than capable of being on my own and doing more adult things. But still, her hovering, anxiety, and worry over where I was, what I was doing, and who I was doing it with was suffocating and unnecessary on so many levels. Let go already, Mother, I thought. I’m not a child.
I would ask her time and time again, “Mom, I’m not a child anymore. Why do you still think and treat me like I am?” Her reply was always the same, “I know you’re not. I really do. But in my eyes, and in my mind, you’re still a little girl. It’s hard to explain, but one day you will understand.”
A few nights ago, I talked to my son at college. Well, not talked exactly — we texted back and forth about what he has been up to. (I’ve succumbed to the fact that if texting is the only way he will talk, I’ll take it.) It takes more restraint than you can possibly imagine to take a backseat to your older kids’ lives and to just listen to them and have faith they’re turning out okay. I so desperately want to know every detail of his days now, the excitement of it all, and how he is handling it, but I resist. I have to.
He quickly mentioned that he had gone off campus recently. OFF. CAMPUS.
I panicked. I inhaled and exhaled, yet got no air. My heart started racing and my head started spinning. He what? He went off campus?!
He was fine, of course, but I couldn’t help ask him all the questions. “How did you get there? Did you go alone? Isn’t it dark out?”
“Mom, I’m fine! A bunch of us went. We took an Uber. No big deal,” he said.
But in my spinning head, as I tried to catch my breath and remember he was 18 years old, all I saw was a little boy, my innocent and fragile little boy, all by himself, walking down a busy street at dusk.
I still saw a boy. A little boy. As soon as he told me that he left campus, I no longer saw an adult going out into the world; I saw only a small child. Instantly, I wanted to call my mom. I needed to tell her something. I understand it now, Mom.
I understand why, when I say I’m going to run to Target at 9 o’clock at night, you still say, “Be careful and park close.” I understand that you don’t see a 44-year-old woman going shopping. You see a spunky 9-year-old little girl, twirling her way through a busy store parking lot.
I understand why, when I say I don’t feel well or I’m depressed, you still say, “Rest. Please take care of yourself. What can I do for you right now?” I understand that you don’t see a tired and emotionally spent mom struggling to raise happy kids. You see a small sad daughter who is sick, and you would do anything to make her feel better.
Mom, I finally get it. You were right all along.
You see, no matter how old my kids get, no matter how much taller than me they grow, or how far away they live, or how many kids of their own they will have — I will still, and always, see them as my little boys.
They may be 18, 28, 38, or 58 years old, and yet, I will always see them as 8 years old.
They may be married and may be holding their own babies, but they will always be my baby.
I will always, always see them as little in my mind’s eye.
It’s just what moms do.
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