Zach insisted this fall that we sign him up for the more competitive, traveling soccer team. He lives to play soccer, and I assumed that he wanted to challenge himself against the best players. Halfway through the season, though, he lamented that the travel team wasn’t as great as he thought it would be.
“But you love your team, you’re getting so much better, and you’re in first place. What’s the problem?” I asked.
“I thought there was carpooling.”
“I thought that if you were on a traveling team, you got to carpool to the games. And we haven’t carpooled even once.”
My son’s dreams surprise me.
Two days ago, I glared at Ezra for his lack of focus and effort. We were in the middle of making a poster for Thanksgiving (or ‘The 1621 Harvest Celebration’ as we call it here in Cambridge). Ezra was copying down a Wamponoag riddle off the internet and it was taking an interminably long time. He spent more time staring into space than writing letters on the paper. And when he did bother to write, it was illegible, off the line, scribbled out, and squished together. I yelled. I accused. I threatened: “This is not your best work! You’re not trying and you think it’s funny. If you don’t stay focused and work harder, we’re not going to the park this afternoon.”
He eventually finished, but I felt terrible for being impatient and nasty. I apologized and we headed for the park.
When we got there, I told the other mothers how I had lost it with Ez. Then Lisa told me that dyslexic kids have an impossible time copying text from a computer to a paper. I felt worse than I did when I was just a raging mother who repays her child’s laziness with disdain. Now I was the mother who takes her child’s vulnerabilities and rubs his face in them.
I went home and apologized a second time. “Hey buddy, I was talking to Lisa about how much trouble you were having copying the words from the computer, and she said that people with dyslexia often have that problem. I’m sorry that I accused you of being lazy. I know you were trying your hardest.”
My son’s sense of who he is surprises me.
These moments are almost trivial; they might pass unnoticed. What parent hasn’t overreacted, or overreacted to the wrong thing, or been unaware of her children’s fantasies? But these moments stop me short every time.
I used to think that I knew everything about my boys. I took pride in knowing their every facial expression, their every thought. I knew when they were lying, when they were afraid, when they thought a girl was beautiful, when they had to go to the bathroom, and when they were about to throw up. I knew how much longer we could stay in our loud church service before Zach would break down, and I knew how long it would be before Ezra told the man in the store just how fat he was. I knew every story by heart that they knew by heart. And I knew which owies needed booboo smooches and which needed magic booboo smooches.
Maybe was I was kidding myself back then. Maybe I never knew as much about the boys as I thought I did.
Either way, with each passing year, I know less and less. They lie better. Their emotional lives are more complex. They stay up at night telling each other secrets and making plans I know nothing about. As someone who homeschools primarily because I like being with my kids, it’s hard to reconcile myself to the fact that they are already leaving. They’re not apt to leave our house anytime soon – they are seven and eight – but I am surely watching them leave, little by little.
I have no wise words to add about letting go, or whatever it is we are supposed to do with these little people who used to live inside our bodies and continue to live in our hearts. I don’t believe my friends when they say it will be wonderful when my sons are grown and on their own. I don’t know how to do this well – this preparing my children to leave, preparing myself to be left. I just know that it’s harder than I expected. To watch them grow up and become, if we do our job well, people who will leave and have entire lives about which we know little. It’s harder than I expected.
And the sorrow of it continues to surprise me.