“Where is she?”
I was in the bathroom, having just come home from a late night out downtown with a friend, something I rarely ever do, when I heard my thirteen year old son asking my husband this question, “Where is she?” a hint of desperation, even a touch of exasperation, in his voice.
The friend who I’d been out with happens to have a fourteen year old boy, and after more than a few cocktails we had spent much of our night commiserating about the neediness of our sons. Apparently my adolescent isn’t the only one who still likes to get backrubs from his mother, nor are he and I uniquely locked in a push you/ pull me embrace over how hard he should be working in school and why it’s important to always do your best work even when it “doesn’t count for college.”
Having recently celebrated my son’s bar mitzvah, I’ve been thinking a lot about his development, and at his party gave, I freely admit, one of those earnest but too long speeches in which I both endeavored to sum up the entire thirteen years of his existence and also implore him to use the, oh, next thirty or so years as wisely as he could. I had been writing the speech in my head for the past year every time I went for a run, and though I knew it was too long and even a bit too weepy, I was determined to give it anyway once I realized that the next time I would be talking to him in such a public forum would be at his wedding, and as he would already be in love by then with, yes, another woman, I had better get my thoughts across while I still had the chance and wasn’t yet irrelevant.
Back when my son was an infant, of course, I was anything but, and I remember, in a particularly exhausted, sleep-deprived moment thinking that his cries for me and my milk were his way of shouting “Get me my slave!” or, when I was feeling a little less bitter and exhausted, his way of saying “Where is that fool with the milk? She just keeps on coming back. . . . .”
Thankfully those days are long behind me now. And yet– But still– When I emerged from the bathroom the other night to find my son waiting for me like some kind of slightly deranged late-night stage door admirer, I knew that when he said “I can’t sleep,” what he meant, but was too embarrassed to say was, Can you tuck me in? I did, of course, and I even gave him a backrub. And by the time I myself was ready for bed I snuck down the hall and ever so quietly opened the door to his room. When he was a baby I would hover right over him to make sure he was breathing. But my son is big now, and so are his breaths. He was sleeping deeply, and soundly, and at least right then, there was no more need to hover.