Slow Loss: My Little Boy Is Growing Up, and It Hurts

“Stop babying me, Mom.”

My 11-year-old is in the front seat of the car. I’m driving. It’s pick-up time, he just finished his after-school cycling class. He’s sweaty and smells like onions, grass, dirt, and heat. He wipes his face, underneath his glasses, the black rims over his perfect, straight nose, and he stares out the window, far away from me. He’s been doing this a lot lately–looking away from me.

The first day I ever saw him, when the doctor lifted up his naked body, slick and wet from placenta, blood, and mucous, his big blue eyes stared straight into mine, fixated, curious, amazed. In the baby videos, the blue eyes stare back at me with wonder and love. To those infant eyes, I could do anything, and I was everything. I parted the oceans, walked on water, turned water into wine.

Now, as we ride home in silence, those eyes, his entire face, are suctioned to his phone screen, staring intently at something he will not share with me. When we get home, he’ll head straight to his chair near the television, put on his headphones, turn on his Xbox. Disappear from me again.

Stop babying me, Mom.

All I had said was I wanted him to be very careful on the road when he’s riding with his friends in his class. That’s why I don’t ride my bike on the road, I had said. Because of cars. I had asked him, did they drive around the streets downtown? Of course, they did, he had answered, rolling his eyes. What a dumb question. “I just worry about you on the road with all those crazy drivers,” I had said. All those crazy drivers. Those other people, who don’t, who will never, love you like I do. All those people who wouldn’t jump in front of a train, burn down villages, do anything, for you, my little boy, this pre-teen, who is now moving away from me, there in your seat. You are only inches away, physically, but you occupy another planet now. One in which you don’t want me to ask you certain questions, or say certain things in front of your friends, or hug you for too long.

Stop babying me, Mom.

I steal a glance at him as we ride home. I’m always doing this lately, staring at him when he’s not looking at me, catching his papery blonde hair and his little grin in my peripheral vision. I feel like a thief or an uninvited guest, whenever I do this. I can’t help myself. I’m seeing my little boy leave me so quickly and I’m trying to catch my breath, I’m trying to slow things down a little, because I know that, soon, in a puff, my little boy, my baby, the one who would never sleep in his crib, the one who insisted on me holding him every night in my bed until he fell asleep, that one will be gone forever.

He’s scratching his left ear now, hard.

“What’s wrong with your ear?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he answers. He continues to scratch. If nothing’s wrong with your ear then why are you scratching it so much? I want to ask this, but I don’t. Because now he’s turned in his seat, away from me. I can see only the words on the back of his t-shirt, his sweaty nape, the back of his head. His body is now literally crooked in the seat, and I realize he has intentionally placed himself in an uncomfortable position to get a few more inches of physical space between us.

Stop babying me, Mom.

It used to annoy me when he asked me questions all the time when he was little. Now, I’m the one asking all the questions. I stare at his profile. His chin, once plump, soft, and open, now has points and angles. These days, that little chin has opinions. It judges me.

I often wonder what he’s thinking about, what he’s thinking about me. I never seem to know, anymore. At the same time, I realize that I don’t really want to know, just like most people don’t really want to know when and exactly how they’re going to die.

Stop babying me, Mom.

Some days I get my little boy back for a few minutes. He might ask for a hug, or try to tickle me. Occasionally, he even asks for me to snuggle with him on the sofa. I know he still loves me. He will always love me. That’s not the point. The point is I know he doesn’t believe I’m magic anymore, not like he used to, and he never will again.

And for some reason I can’t explain and don’t fully understand, that really hurts.

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