Motherhood and Waiting: from boys to men

watercolor sketch of two men walking with their arms around each other

By Lisa Romeo

Here you are again. Waiting. It’s what parents do, or at least what you think most mothers do, or anyway, it’s what you do.

First, you wait to conceive, wait for the fertility tests to reveal what flaws and whose, wait for the drugs to work, wait for that positive pregnancy test. You try to, but can’t describe the fearful waiting through a high risk pregnancy, the anxious waiting of prenatal testing, the watchful waiting for boy number one to blossom. Wait for the right time to have the second baby, wait after the miscarriage to try again, wait for that strangle-throated boy number two to leave the NICU.

Wait. Hope. Pray. Wait.

Two years later, you wait for boy number one’s neurological testing to reveal something, confirm anything. Wait for all the therapies to work—or not. Wait to see if boy number two is similarly affected. Wait and wonder if it’s true that he’s not.

Time moves, and you move, and there is always waiting.

Wait for boy number one’s grades (and wait until you understand what they do and do not mean), wait for his bullies to tire, for friends to show up. Wait and worry and wince and wish for kindness for that boy.

Wait and encourage and guilt boy number two to be his older brother’s helper, and wait to see if he also learns not to disappear in his brother’s shadow. Wait to see if it lasts when, despite the four-year gap, they are each other’s best bud, wait to see if it doesn’t last when they are each other’s proclaimed foe, wait when they go to different schools and develop divergent interests and make distinctly different choices in—everything. Wait, because they approach and avoid, come and go, love and despise. And you wait because they also stand, defend and unite. You wait to see if their loyalty lasts.

Then a new waiting that catches you by surprise though it shouldn’t. Wasn’t it your own mother who said, “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems”? But they aren’t problems exactly, they are puzzles to ponder, conundrums you can’t unravel, algorithms whose calculus you cannot decipher.

And the boys, the growing, the calendar, all make you wait. Through the end of high school, through the matrix of college.

You wait to find out if everything you waited through before, all the years of doing and hoping, praying and sculpting—you wait to see it if worked, if it did any good, any good at all. You are waiting to find out: did you make a good person, a decent adult human? Did each of those boys become the men you were waiting to meet? You wait to find out if the adults you and your good husband made and tried to shape are the kind of young adults you would want to wait with you, years (you hope) in the future, when you are waiting for bad news, for the doctor to return from the operating room, for the biopsy results.

You wait through the gobbledygook texts sent from dorm rooms at 1:00am, the phone calls that don’t come, the unauthorized credit card charges, and you wonder as you wait, if just waiting it out will be enough. As you wait, you also talk with your boys on breaks and on holidays and on summer vacation days that may never come again, not like that, not all of you together at once in the sand, and as you are waiting and talking, you are also watching and listening, trying to get a glimpse of what is to come, what is nascent, what’s struggling to find its way out.

Wait. What is to come? Wait this time for yourself to grow, to change, wait for your own new role.

You will still be a mother and they will still be boys number one and number two, and you will wait to hear their good news and their bad news. And you will wait to see if they continue to talk to you and to each other and to seek one another out. Wait to see, as the age gap seems to disappear, if the one they tell all their news to first is still each other.

And if you are very lucky, while you are waiting you will see, you will understand, you will know and witness: they are grown and they are still growing and where once there were seeds and shoots and scrubby toddlers and scruffy grade schoolers and silent, sulky teenagers, and crabby college kids, there are now two beings that are tall and something like mature and akin to adults.

And the waiting is not over, but inside the waiting, there is a pause, or at least a moment when you understand the wait is never-ending, and also necessary, crucial. After waiting, while waiting still, you witness: what you planted has bloomed, is blossoming. Some, or maybe just the right amount of what you did, took hold. You did something right, or at least not too wrong.

All things come to those who wait.

You tell them, your boys, that you waited for two good men. You waited, and there they are.

Lisa Romeo teaches writing to graduate students, and publishes a blog for writers. She is proud of her two young adult sons, boy number one and boy number two, and is committed to the never-ending practice of motherhood and waiting.

Brothers, by Melody Greenlief

This essay is part of a Motherwell original series on Motherhood and Waiting

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