By Sarah Smiley
While at a stop light the other day, I watched a young mother walk her toddler son to the other side of the street. Although the mother walked swiftly and purposefully, her son skipped and galloped beside her, sometimes in front, sometimes behind her, and all while holding her hand. Metaphors about the mother as an anchor instantly came to mind. He was like a kite bobbing in the wind without a care. She was the line keeping him close to the ground. He was the puppy pouncing and playing. She was the pair of legs he’d return to to hide behind.
My mind wandered on like this, even after the light turned green, until suddenly I realized this: there is only one person left in this world who dances around me in that same way. His name is Lindell, and he is 8 years old.
My older boys, Ford and Owen, once did the same, but now that they are older, they are more likely to walk several blocks ahead of me than they are to skip in circles around me. When did that change? Surely it was long after they were 8 years old, right? Surely there is still more time to be Lindell’s anchor?
I wondered if the mother on the sidewalk knew this time would eventually come to an end. She seemed bogged down by the day, seemingly unaware of her son. Did she know that right now she was literally and figuratively the center of his world, but that in a certain amount of time (9 years? 10 years?) he’d be holding his own line to the kite?
Several months ago, I embarrassed one of my older sons by mentioning in public how much he had grown. I could almost feel his discomfort, his eyes boring into me, as soon as the words had left my mouth. I tried to smooth things over by saying, “It’s okay that you think I’m the most embarrassing person in the world right now.” And when that didn’t help, I blabbered on: “There was a time when you thought I was the greatest person to have ever walked the earth.”
I know, right now you’re just glad I’m not your mom.
But from the back of the room, Lindell, who had only been half listening, said, “Mom, you ARE the greatest person in this whole wide world.”
Every mother out there knows how it feels to be loved that much. But with sons, in particular, it’s somewhat fleeting. Society pushes them forward, to be a man and independent. Their goal, it seems, is always to be apart, separate, and without needs. Popular wisdom says they will leave their family and start their own. A son is a son until he takes a wife …
Or is this all garbage?
Soon after I saw the mother and son duo crossing the street, I had to leave my kids for a week while I attended a class out of state. For Lindell, this was tragic. He cried for days leading up to my departure. He wanted to cuddle on the couch and read books together. We made plans to talk to each other every day that I was gone. And I knew that saying goodbye would be torture.
On the other hand, it probably took my older boys several hours to realize I wasn’t at home. They might have panicked the first time they needed a turkey sandwich or clean socks for baseball, but they didn’t cry, and I didn’t hear from them while I was gone. Actually, I take that back. One of them texted me to ask where the salt and pepper was.
Lindell called often in the beginning. His sweet voice came through my phone and tugged at my heart. I couldn’t wait to get back. He needed his mom at the other end of the line, holding him close.
Except, when I finally came home, he sort of didn’t notice. He came through the kitchen and said, “Oh, hey, Mom,” and then went out the back door with the dog. The dog, by the way, moaned and howled when I came in the door. His tail wagged so vigorously, it shook his whole backside. So, there’s that.
That night, I cried to Dustin. My boys are all growing up. I don’t know my place anymore. Who’s on the other end of the line?
“The dog,” Dustin said unhelpfully.
Then he went on to preach about independence and raising the boys to be grown men. Blah, blah, blah. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
The next morning, Lindell drew me a picture of a flower with a big “I love you” written across the top. Owen wanted me to watch him hitting baseballs. Ford wanted me to read something he had written. And I wondered if maybe the line is always there, just the reason we are holding it—how tightly we cling to it—changes.
Wait, don’t answer that. Let me believe awhile longer.