Smack in the Face
Tears slid down my cheeks, unbidden. Why did they have to come? Pained and bewildered eyes looked down at me. This six-foot teenager tucked me under his chin as he embraced me, not knowing what else to do. But it was all wrong. How could this towering young man be the same creature I lifted onto my hip just yesterday? How could this person who ached for independence be the same boy I rocked in my arms last week?
“They grow up so fast,” everyone says. I never doubted the truth every seasoned mother repeated like a mantra. But they never told me how it can hit you all of a sudden. The time treasured, the milestones recorded, the hugs ingrained in memory cannot stop the smack-in-the-face realization that a nearly grown man stands before me.
First smile. First steps. First word. First day of school. I greeted each milestone with joy, thrilled at his growth. I celebrated his journey with no thought for tears … until the job. The toddler with the tiny baby teeth is now a lifeguard, ready and willing to rescue any who need his help. He has no desire to be rescued by his mother like he did when I taught the boy to swim.
The job is the smack-in-the-face realization. This is the first of many goodbyes. I thought I had more time. I thought I would be ready when the time came. I was not.
I expected it to happen when he drove away in a car, a licensed driver testing his wings. I assumed tissues would be needed at his high school graduation. I counted on struggling to leave the college student in his dorm room. I planned to find the best waterproof mascara before the day of his wedding.
I should never have dusted that frame — the one with the boy grinning as he steadied his baby brother, who was just learning to stand.
I asked when his first shift started at the pool, but the words caught and broke on the way out. I couldn’t finish the question. I tried to pull myself together as his eyes questioned me. It was no use. The tears came no matter how I blinked, took long breaths, and bit my lip. I felt the moisture on my cheeks; his face blurred as my eyes filled.
I finally answered his confusion: “It’s all too fast. You’ve grown up too fast.” I choked on the words as the knot formed in my throat. That’s when the six-foot teenager tucked me under his chin as he embraced me, not knowing what else to do. Feeling so small next to him just isn’t right.
Who knew it would be the job that did me in? Not me.