Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Becoming Progressively Unnecessary

"How was school?"


"Did you learn anything new?"

"No, not really."

"Any fun plans for the weekend?"

"Not yet."

"You know, we could go hiking Saturday..." 

He looks down, and shrugs his shoulders.


While I have often jokingly referred to my youngest as my manchild, he is not the Mowgli of Jungle Book fame. He was not raised by wild animals in the jungle; he can speak in complete sentences, and actually is well-versed in the English language, so his lack of conversation lately has been quite perplexing.  

When did the non-stop, stream-of-consciousness monologues... stop? When was I no longer privy to the antics of the school day, the blow-by-blow descriptions of his video game successes, and the verbatim re-tellings of movie scenes and memories?

If you've been reading Randomocity, you know I've been missing my boy. I wrote about The Silent Guitar as a way to deal with some of these emotions. Today, I'm exploring the conflict that comes from holding on and letting go as a mom.

It seems not so long ago Bridger came home from his first day of kindergarten with reports that he thought his teacher was pretty rude. His teacher also happened to be my best friend, and she was seriously one of the most loving teachers I've ever known. I stifled a laugh that day after school, and asked him to tell me why he thought she was rude.

"Well, she told us we have to raise our hands if we have something to say, and I have my hand up all day long, and she never calls on me." I smiled. Of course, he had something to say. Bridger always had something to say. He continued. "She just shakes her head at me, and points for me to put my hand down. She is RUDE." 

My poor, little boy was used to getting lots of attention as the baby of our family. I had to explain to him that he would have to take turns in school. His teacher had 25 other students to worry about, and he would be lucky to get called on every once in awhile. I'm happy to report that he learned to adapt to the school environment, and even grew to adore that kindergarten teacher.

These days, I would give anything to hear about his time at school, even unfounded complaints.

Just like all mothers before me; I had my turn with my manchild earlier. There was a season when he and I lived in our own little microcosm. That was then; this is now. 

Now he is in his season of friends. Friends are the confidantes, the companions, the family he has chosen for himself. I find myself on the outside looking in these days, left to wonder if I am doing anything right any more.

One way I show my love for my husband and children is by making things in the kitchen. I love to cook and bake for anyone who appreciates it. To hear contented "mmms" and "yums" just makes me happy. Lately, my offers to make him something special are falling flat.

When did my chocolate chip pancakes become too sweet for his taste? When did he decide he prefers bananas and tangerines to homemade chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven? When did Smuckers Peanut Butter and Jelly Uncrustables from the freezer section of Walmart become preferable to my home-cooked meals? When did containers of brownies and cookies go untouched until they were stale (or consumed solely by myself, which, unfortunately, is the truer state of things, if I am to be completely honest.)

Snack Pack pudding used to be one of his favorites, so today, I pulled out my secret weapon. I made him homemade chocolate pudding, hoping against hope it would be something he would actually eat. I set it in the fridge to cool while he was at cross country track practice.
When he was a toddler, I remember sighing when he entered the "I do it myself" stage. He was smart and strong, and very independent, but even then, he allowed for cuddle time in the rocking chair, and loved to listen to stories, and wanted to follow me around and be my shadow.

The Last First Day
of High School
I've been having a big old pity party for myself this week as Bridger has begun his senior year of high school. I remind myself that this exceptional child of mine is entitled to share some common traits with his peers. He likes eating convenience foods, spending time with his friends, listening to music, staying up late, and sleeping as long as possible in the morning. 

Did I say exceptional? Yes, and I am not just being a typical prejudiced mother. Our living situation is quite different than a traditional family's. Since I married last December, I have been dividing my time between Utah and Illinois. 

My son has been sensitive to my needs for one-on-one-time with him, and avails himself to me probably more than most boys his age. He offers to play his guitar for me in the living room, invites me to watch TV with him in his room, and sits down to meals with me when we are both home. I would wager some mothers of teenage boys long for these types of courtesies. 

As the last week of summer was winding down, he proposed we read a classic book to each other. After I closed my mouth from its agape position, I went to my bookshelf and started reading out possible titles. We compared notes on what we've read, and what would be fun to read, and we settled upon Tolkien's The Hobbit. Bridger asked if I would sit by him on the couch so we didn't have such a distance between us, and we wouldn't have to yell to be heard. So, there's that.

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary." Thomas Carruthers is the one who said it, and I am the one who copied it into my book of quotes back when I was listening to John Denver, and studying to be a school teacher. I kind of understood it then, but as a mom, I am thinking good parents make themselves progressively unnecessary, too, in some respects, and sometimes, it makes me sad.

It has been my privilege to mother three biological children, and to be a stepmother, too. Mothering is the hardest thing I've ever attempted because I love these people so much, and I don't ever want to smother them. 

Generally, when I am operating from a place of love, I do a much better job parenting than when I operate from a place of fear. I will admit it; as we approach the empty nest days, I find my head full of doubts and fears more often than I care to admit, and I have to be careful not to hold on too tightly.

Questions bubble up that trouble my thoughts. Am I no longer needed? Do we have anything in common any more? Does he wish I would just leave him alone?

This letting go, even before he has left home, is harder than I remember it being with the older two. He is my baby, after all. He will will be 18 in just a few short weeks. He's been driving for more than two years. He can fend for himself, and doesn't technically need me. Ouch. But does he still want me? I think he does. 

When he came home from track tonight, he could barely walk. He asked for ice to make an ice bath. I drove to the store for a bag of ice. I offered ice packs for his legs, and then I set up the electric blanket to wrap around his legs. He thanked me for bringing his Smuckers sandwiches to the couch for his supper. After his ice bath, he came back to the living room where we sat in companionable silence, each with our own laptop. I offered my small gift of chocolate pudding, hoping it might be something he would actually eat. 

And what do you know! He liked it!  

As he ate his pudding, I read this blog post to him. I told my Mowgli that I loved him so much, and I was trying really hard not to talk his head off, and just be grateful for the moments we have together. A smile spread across his face.

"I love you, Shrink," he said, his face illuminated by the blue glow of his computer screen.

"I love you, B." 

My Mowgli loves me. I guess I'm not completely unnecessary just yet. Whew.


  1. I have found that a mother is always needed no matter how things might seem or feel. How we are needed may change but a place remains in our kids hearts that only we can fill.
    I've also discovered that letting go, in love, was so much less painful than holding on in fear. It was much better received, too.
    Hang in there, friend. This is a challenging time but it does get better!

    1. Melinda, I am pondering your wisdom in letting go. To me, it's not loving less, when done with love, but loving more, in allowing our children to grow and stretch and become. Hm. I have much to think about.

  2. Dear Denise, a year or two ago, or a bit longer, as I was sitting at my desk, I thought to myself....I miss my children! Something I do frequently. As I sat there for just a brief moment, I started feeling very sad and even a bit frustrated until I hear this voice, as clear as a bell, "Your Children Are Flying!" "Isn't that what you taught them to do?" "They are Flying!" Well, how could I argue with that. Then, someone told me that I must have done something very good if my children are flying and living their lives without having to run to mom every time they have an issue. It is true. And then I thought, I guess I have. My children are four of the BEST people I know. I am so very blessed!

    1. Carolyn, thank you for always being so encouraging. We are both very blessed.


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