Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Waiting for Wings

Oh my goodness gracious. Behind our house is the home of our neighbors and friends, the Graveses. They live a few doors down from where Friday Night Lights is sometimes filmed. Directly across the street from them is a school that serves lower-SES ("at-risk") Pre-Kers. Today that school was closed for the next two weeks due to a probable case of ... you guessed it ... swine flu. Or to be more correct, the H1N1 Virus. Guess we won't be playing at that playground for a while.

On an entirely unrelated note, I had one of Those Moments a few days ago. It occurred while I was watching my 8.5-year old son run into our neighborhood grocery store, by himself, with a ten dollar bill and a list that read, "1 head broccoli. 1 bag gluten-free chocolate chips."

I don't think any of you, except my relatives and Jenny and Tracee, knew this child as a toddler or preschooler. He really wasn't the kind of kid you could ignore -- or forget. From his birth, I chosen to practice attachment parenting, which different people define differently but for me meant being open to his needs and allowing him time to mature and reach milestones at his own pace. Weaning, toilet learning, reading -- they all happened with relatively little fuss when he was ready and eager. BUT, my son had an intense personality that could be, well, draining. Exactly zero soap operas and bonbons were consumed by me during his early years. (The count is still zero, just for the record.)

Example: At two, he had developed an OBSESSION with Thomas the Tank Engine. We had catalogs for the house, the car, the tub. Not that he really needed the information, since it was quickly committed to memory. Tim and I were usually on call to play trains on our giant custom-made train table, which is normal enough for a toddler, but it didn't stop there. Every car ride meant a command performance of Thomas-related stories. A performance by us, that was. Every bite of YoBaby yogurt that went into his mouth, shoveled by one of us, must be named for a Thomas character. This went on until he was three and a half. Then he discovered dinosaurs. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When Ian was two, we took him to France with us for two weeks while Tim conducted business at the Michelin world headquarters. My youngest sister was kind enough to accompany us to the small city in France where there is little to do but find parks to play in and laundromats to explore. One afternoon on a stroll through the medieval section of town, Ian had a tantrum royale over something, and I had to haul him up some steps to let him blow off some lava and then cool off. There was little I could do but just sit there and let the storm pass, tempting as it was to march off in the opposite direction. My sister could hear him from the street below -- "MOMMY CAN FALL DOWN??? MOMMY CAN CRASH FREIGHT CARS??!!!"

Okay. You get the picture. We don't even need to get into the countless nights spent sitting by a bedside, calming fears and waiting for elusive sleep to descend. Or the season when I was the only parent sitting in the gym during tumbling class because my child NEEDED me within his sights at all times.

Were there moments when I questioned myself, when I wondered whether I'd created some sort of high-octane parasite that would need me with superhuman intensity for the next twenty-five years. Was all the effort worth it -- even the many mistakes made in my exhaustion? By letting him sleep in our bed when he felt the need, were we setting ourselves for a fifteen year old to come crawling in during the wee hours? Would he be expecting us to call his college professors to get the assignments he'd blithely omitted to write down? (Assuming college wasn't too big and scary in the first place, of course.) Is it true that a need satisfied eventually goes away?

So, last Wednesday night the two of us are home alone. After about an hour of doing our respective things, I realize that perhaps an opportunity for quality time is being squandered, and go in search of my guy. "Want to play a game or something before everyone else comes home?" I ask. No answer. He's into something. "Honey? I'm available. Do you want to do something together? Read? Play Boggle?"

"Um, maybe in a little while, Mom. I'm kind of busy right now."

This happens with increasing frequency. He's into a book or a computer game, or making a stop-motion movie by taking 300 pictures of his Lego characters. Life is too absorbing ... but he knows I'm there. Good roots make good springboards.

Back in the parking lot, I wait, grateful to be spared the unbuckling and rebuckling of daughters, the clamor for grocery temptations and the requisite refusals. A blond head emerges from the store, looks hither and yon. Blue eyes light up in recognition -- of course you're waiting right there. My son stops to check for cars and then races toward me, proudly offering up the broccoli, the chocolate chips, the receipt, the exact change.

"I decided to go through Annabelle's mom's line when I got to the register," he tells me, because of course it makes sense to find a familiar face when you're making a trial flight into the wide world.

I can almost see those wings beginning to billow out behind him.


Tracee said...

oh hannah that was awesome. proof positive that you ARE as awesome as we've always known; and that sweet, yet sometimes incredibly ATTACHED little cling-on babies who get their needs met on cue, DO learn to trust that when they need us, we are going to be there. lovely post. :)

Jenny said...

What a big milestone for Ian! Beautiful post!

Eclectic Mama said...

Oh Hannah, I'm in tears. That slapped me right back about 5 years. I could have written that post about my oldest (except for the grocery store part - we're still working on that one). I remember those days - they're seared into my brain - wondering if all the effort I was putting into this attachment thing was going to pay off. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. So maybe you don't get bonbons, but you should get a 55-gallon tub of pudding. Chocolate or vanilla? Your choice.

Vanessa said...

I very much enjoyed reading this post. I didn't know Ian as a toddler, but to know how needy he was as a baby/toddler/preschooler and see how independent he is now, is really something. It's good to see that every stage does end and yet another challenging stage unfolds.