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.