We both ordered lasagna, and I smiled to myself thinking he inherited my love for wide noodles and cheese smothered in red sauce. Watching him peruse the menu, placing the linen napkin gracefully across his lap (when did he learn to do that?), my eyes moved from his aqua blue shirt to those milk chocolate eyes laced with hazelnut. He was more handsome now than cute. Few remnants of the once little boy remained.
Charming our waitress, he said, “No, thank you,” to her offer for a kid’s menu – signifying the end of an era. He was done with chicken fingers, mac and cheese, coloring books and crayon appetizers. On the cusp of manhood, he was growing up, and I swear, it happened just like that.
This month he started middle school, that awkward time when most adolescents get caught in the middle – hairy legs, voices sporadically changing octaves, chaotic sleep patterns, voracious appetites. Occasional “attitude.”
But tonight there was nothing awkward or uneasy about his demeanor. Confident and chatty, we conversed about his school schedule, the double-digit shoe size, navigating a college-sized middle school and the fact that he got his first choice elective: peer counseling. With unworldly ease, he offered a nonchalant story about being bullied in elementary school, adding he hoped to make a difference for other kids – making sure they didn’t have to suffer.
While we ate our salads, he added he liked picking out his own clothes, cooking for himself. He was growing self-sufficient and independent right before our eyes.
Between courses, a flurry of thoughts drifted to his arrival and those early years now blurred in the distant past. Thankfully, he was the first grandchild so every milestone was well documented and carefully archived. His birth, baptism, first steps, first birthday, preschool and each year thereafter had been an excuse to grab the camera or upgrade my iPhone.
Just last month, I found myself in a back-to-school frenzy, determined to clean closets, cupboards and streamline emails, deleting some 9,000 messages crowded onto my server. Every other one carried an attachment and memory of this not-so-little boy. Letting go was not going to be easy.
As luck would have it, I was also invited to speak before staffers in his new school district – to share a message of inspiration and hope for the future. I decided to advocate for his safety and well-being while under their watch. After all, I’m his grandmother, and this is that juncture when kids spend more time at school than at home. I begged them to be kind and gentle and to please make eye contact in the office, classroom and out on the playground.
I feel my sentimentality getting the best of me. I want to permanently keep him in the land of childhood where he can play outside, not worry about homework or girlfriends or what he’s going to be when he grows up.
I can only imagine what this feels like for his mom. This is the hard part of motherhood and parenting. The “letting go” phase, the part of the story that says if you’ve done things right, you eventually make yourself obsolete. Seriously? Well, sort of. One morning you wake up and they have a mind, thoughts and independent spirit all their own. I mean, isn’t that the goal?
Resorting to my usual tactic, I started jotting and scribbling, never imagining I’d be writing a letter to a faceless number. But it’s the best I can do in this state of melancholy.
Please be kind to him. Don’t force him to grow up too fast. No major curveballs. No squelching of his passion, compassion, or that superhuman sensitive side.
I implore you to let him unfold on his own terms, which I promise you will make this world a whole lot gentler and kinder. Trust me on this one. Preserve enough innocence to keep him open, curious, playful and comfortable in his own skin.
Help his mom and all the rest of us tempted to hover over him guarding his every move to simply step out of the way so he can blossom and bloom. Remind us that to truly hold on we must let go and with that comes inevitable moments of failure and heartbreak.
Teach him to get up, brush himself off and keep moving forward.
Before I sign off, assure me one more time that no matter what, he will not only survive this game called life – but also thrive in all its wonder. Times being what they are, we could all sure use a happy ending. Thank you.
Yours very truly,
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship.” (Globe Pequot Press, 2012) and a collection of essays, “My Name is Armen: A Life in Column Inches.” firstname.lastname@example.org, @ArmenBacon