something’s lost and something’s gained


It’s possible that I’ve lost track of Col just a little this summer. I’m wanting to take him to the Triangle park to test drive the new play equipment and he’s wanting to stay home, build fires, and practice knife skills. It’s like The Ghost of Col Future is here to show me a few things. At 8 1/2, he’s precisely in the middle of the long dock of his own childhood, craning his neck eagerly to see what lies ahead. He struts down the dock, trying out: “why should I?”or “I don’t want to” like he’s been coached by the Childhood Alliance on Questioning Authority (of which I was chapter president in Berkeley, circa 1984-1990).


Col’s current appetite for time with friends is like a vitamin he’s deficient in. He carries a knife, and became instant hero at a recent birthday party, brandishing it to separate two conjoined legos. He does heartclenching bike tricks, covets lighters and announces after breakfast, “I’m going in Dragon Room for twenty minutes alone time,” shooting eye daggers at the possibility of Rose interrupting him. He soars down hills on the longboard some former tenant left here and I’m like one of those Russian nesting dolls: if you remove the outside, terrified shell of me, the next layer is like, “wow, that kid has some killer balance.”


And, though I’m more equipped for discussing children’s literature on the couch (we just read and loved this book), or administering lessons in canning tomatoes, I supervise while Col shoots his BB gun at the skunk in our chicken coop, or builds chokingly smoky fires in our fire pit. When Col comes to the garden with his knife, asking what he can cut down, I show him to the withered squash vines and try not to hover. The floodgates of boyhood are open. There is no turning back.

And really, all I want is to stay close and connected to my son. Whether Col becomes one of those boys who haunts the local skatepark with ear buds plugging up his head, or another unimaginable testosterone-inspired incarnation of his current self, my job is to furnish love, support and helmets. And yet, “love and support” is an arrow stalking the moving target of a child growing up. Sometimes I wish it worked more like the high school biology “lock and key” model of neurotransmitters clicking precisely and statically into ready receptor sites (or my Mama hug clicking precisely and statically into a child’s sadness…bing!). But there is nothing static about growing up.


And yet, The Ghost of Col Past is always—thankfully—lurking in the shadows. If you’re looking for Col between the hours of 6am and 7am, try between the sleepy bolsters of his parents. This morning he snuffled in and I opened the door of our comforter for him to scoot under, and he said, “thanks for getting right on it, Mama, and not complaining that it’s too early.”

Evolutionarily-speaking, it all makes sense. Kids have to grow up, gain skills, annoy us some, separate. Bedding down with us every morning at 18 years old would be more weird than cute. And surely, it’s the same genetic coding that allows for (semi) uninterrupted morning coffee and newspaper time that also brings an appetite for skateboarding and knife-skills. Something’s lost and something’s gained. It’s the math equation of growing up.

19 thoughts on “something’s lost and something’s gained”

  1. How wonderful to see, in Col’s gaze and gestures, a hint of the young man growing up in him.

    Kids getting into their own personality, and revealing themselves to us and to the world, is something that always makes my heart sing.

    Balancing on a bike or board, acquiring independence, or handling a knife with precise and serene moves – these tastes and skills can bloom in Col because they are rooted in the deep knowledge that he is loved just as he is, with his tender heart, wise thoughts and all. So his parents can be doubly proud :o)

  2. “The floodgates of boyhood are open. There is no turning back “. This line brought tears to my eyes! Even though my oldest is only six and a half, I’ve been pondering this subject a lot lately! In the blink of an eye they are so much older and more mature. It’s bittersweet! I loved reading this post! Xo

  3. You know the Dar Williams song, “When I was a Boy”? I picture Col as potentially the man in that song, with memories of a sweet childhood that didn’t impose a rigid gender binary. The difference is that with a family like Col’s, he’ll never lose the ability to cry, or be kind, or pick flowers, or play a pink guitar. He will be free to find ways to keep the so called feminine parts he feels like keeping as he marches forward, knife on hip, parting legos where ‘ere he goes. His daddy cooks. His mom can hike for miles without stopping. Everyone he knows well can make a salad from a meadow. Sky’s the limit. What luck.

  4. ” At 8 1/2, he’s precisely in the middle of the long dock of his own childhood, craning his neck eagerly to see what lies ahead.” This is PERFECT. What a way with words you have. You have described my Charlie to a “t”. Thanks for the amazing post (yet again!).

  5. hello my dear!

    right on!!!

    yesterday max told me casually and kindly that he used to worry about leaving home for college…that he thought he would miss me too much. “i’m not worried about that anymore…it’s going to be so much fun and i won’t miss you at all.”

    i pantomimed being stabbed in the heart best as i could while driving and he said “really, mom, that’s just too much, it’s supposed to be that way.”

    and the little shit is right.

    i sure miss mr. col!!!!

  6. “Thanks for getting right on it mama…” That’s it right there: thanks for seeing me for who I am and loving me the way I need to be loved. If only we could get it right in each moment. *sigh*

  7. For what it’s worth, at the ripe old age of 25 I still find my mom’s hugs to be pretty “lock and key” for my sadnesses. They don’t make them go away, but everything sure feels easier after. Your parental love will always fit.

  8. what a great book- my mom turned me onto “a day no pigs would die” and “i heard the owl call my name” at the same time, but i was a little older. so for some reason they are still like conjoined legos in my mind. maybe col can help me out with his knife. i like his knee body art.

    as always, you’ve hit on something that really resonates for me, and said it so eloquently once again. xoxo

  9. That was just what I needed today…..beautiful words Rachel, as usual. You have such a gift with words & they always resonate with me:)

  10. i have to tell you Rachel, I have read this post at least 3 x. Just love it. Kudos to your 25 y.o. commenter who reminds us that “mom’s hugs” still help – so good to hear! (mom of 20 and 23 y.o. daughters here….) And this:’ “love and support” is an arrow stalking the moving target of a child growing up.’ Or, I would add, of a child grown up. Thanks, love to all, Barb

  11. This is so beautifully written, Rachel. My boy is 7 1/2, and I see so much of what you are talking about in him as well: the hunger for time spent with friends, the drive to carve out his own space in the world (literally: he insisted on taking a woodworking class), the assertiveness along with the unexpected whiffs of childish affection and love. Col is very lucky to have you as his mom.

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