By Zsofia McMullin
I wake like this every morning: the first sounds I hear are my seven-year-old’s footsteps in the hallway as he makes his way to our room. He jumps on me, sharp elbows in my ribs, head butting against my chest, my chin, my nose. Then he settles and we breathe quietly under the covers together, his sweet, warm breath on my neck. I stroke his hair, kiss his forehead, rub the small of his back.
“Some day,” I tell him, “you will not want to cuddle with me anymore. And when I’ll want to hug and kiss you, you’ll say ‘Eww, Mom, leave me alone, that’s so gross!’”
Sam laughs. He’s heard this before. “No, mama! I will always want to kiss you.”
I wait for the time when I am not going to be kissed anymore. I know it will happen, this separation, in tiny, sharp increments. None of it is unexpected but still, every tiny tear in our bond is a shock to the system.
I am not ready.
I wait at doctors’ offices. I wait at swim practice— “no, Mama, I can get dressed by myself.” I wait at school in the pick up line, on the playground, at the library. At the basketball court. I wait at bath time—first sitting on the side of the tub, then just outside the door. I wait at the car—“hurry up, we are late!” I wait for fingers to be counted, for words to be spelled out, sound by sound, for backpacks to be packed. I wait for sleep, for the fever to break, for the vomiting to stop, the tooth to fall out, the rash to go away.
The official term our family therapist uses is “anticipatory preparation”—this getting ready for something that I know will happen, that has to happen because it’s normal, because it’s how things should be. Once what I am doing has a name, I feel a bit better, that I am not just being overprotective or insane. I know my boy is going to grow up big and strong and smart and he will not need me anymore—not in the deep, physical way he needs me now. And I am okay with that. I want that. For him.
And for me. I will take up painting, perhaps. Or travel. Anticipatory preparation. I am being sensible. Prepared. Organized. Totally in control.
This feeling lasts for a week. Maybe.
After we brush teeth and wash our faces, Sam scrambles for his slippers under his bed, for his robe hanging on the closet door. The house is silent, there’s dim light outside the window, but barely any in the hallway. I head towards the stairs.
“Mama! It’s dark! Wait for me!”
So I do. At the top of the stairs, I wait.
I wait for the week to be over. For second grade. For his first sleepaway camp. I wait for braces. For high school and prom and driving. I wait for meeting girlfriends, and for college applications. I wait for a gaggle of teenagers in my kitchen. I wait for phone calls in the middle of night. I wait for things I don’t even realize I want to be waiting for. But I wait for them anyway.
A few days later, we are walking to the car after Sam’s basketball game. He is sweaty, his cheeks rosy with excitement and exhaustion. I pull him close and kiss his forehead as we walk—just briefly, just for a second.
Later at home, between lunch and reading and playing on the floor, he sits on my lap. “Mama, when you kiss me like that in public, it’s a little embarrassing.” He notices my sharp inhale. “You can do whatever you want at home,” he reassures me. “Just not in public.”
“Just wait,” my mother tells me with a knowing smile, whenever we talk about Sam’s future. She has waited for—and seen—graduations and weddings and the birth of a grandchild and has been through moves to other countries and job searches and disappointments. She has seen the things I don’t even know about yet. Maybe it’s better this way—not knowing what lies ahead.
We have to climb over wet rocks in order to get into the water. Sam and I have just survived an exhilarating off-roading adventure that brought us to this secret swim hole. It’s hot outside, but the water looks dark blue, cool. He is ahead of me while I scramble behind. I wasn’t prepared for this terrain.
Sam climbs like he’s done this a million times and I fear that he will get to the water without me—and then who is he going to hold on to?
“Sam, wait for me!” I yell and he stops for a second to look back, but then keeps going.
I catch up with him at the last large, smooth rock that dips into the water. “Just sit and let yourself slide in,” our guide tells us and Sam does, barely giving me time to strap his vest on and hand him his snorkel gear.
I slip into the silky water after him. Small, colorful fish swim around us and we hang on to each other, bobbing in the waves, trying to catch our breath. I work hard not to think about the eel everyone around us is talking about, or the depth of the water, or the jagged rocks under our feet.
“Wait, wait, stay here,” I say, still fiddling with the belts on his vest.
But he pushes away from me, mask on, his face already in the water.
Zsofia McMullin is a writer living in Maine. Her work has appeared in several online publications, including two Pushcart-nominated essays on Full Grown People. You can find her at zsofiwrites.com.
This essay is part of a Motherwell original series on Motherhood and Waiting.