As parents, we go through stages with our children that depend both on where they are in their development, and on where we stand with our own levels of patience, emotion, and energy. How much we love our children is the unshakeable foundation that brings us back, even after we’ve already threatened to disown the lot. On a good day, I am in the zone, and I can listen to Nacho tell stories for hours. On a bad day, I have to remind myself that “sweetheart, I really do want to listen to you but I’m just really distracted right now” is a much better answer than “oh, would you please just shut up?!” Of course, a short while after asking for his patience as I try to get through the forty things I am juggling, I get frustrated with him for giving me one syllable answers to open-ended questions, complaining that he doesn’t talk to me. It’s really no wonder kids at this age are so confused – they are not only working through their own hormonal, emotional, and intellectual imbalances, but they are managing their parents’ insanity as well.
Sometimes it feels like I am riding Nacho all the time; whether he has made a poor choice or he is fumbling the communication ball, there are days when it’s hard to remember whether I have said anything nice to him. He’s an amazing kid – he is responsible, he works hard, he’s bright, polite, a good friend, and he has a terrific sense of humor. But there is one thing that even Nacho can’t control right now, and it makes life a little frustrating: he’s eleven. With eleven comes the most amazing journeys into intellectual curiosity, and conversations with Nacho have moved to a whole new level of interesting. He knows far more about many things than I do and it’s gratifying to be able to ask him a question and trust that he will probably be able to tell me at least part of the answer. He’s getting pretty good at the B.S. too, but I imagine that’s part of his intellectual growth, and of course, my challenge is to learn to read through that. On the other side of eleven, though, is the bumpy bit. We are navigating through rough jaunts into independence, sometimes unsuccessful experiments with verbal assertion, and often excessive exertion of sibling authority. There are moments of success when he’ll do something that works – an appropriate response instead of a precipitated retort, for example. These are moments we take in and appreciate, but are afraid to celebrate out loud, because, well, it’s just wrong if your parents tell you “wow, you didn’t just say something stupid!” It’s like riding a jet ski, and most of the time it’s smooth and fast and we’re having a ball, and then we hit a series of smaller waves that come one right after another so that we’re bouncing again and again and it feels like we’re either going to throw up or fall off. And most of the time it’s hard to know who’s driving – him or us.
For some reason, these days, I am frequently reminded of the day Nacho fainted at school. I will be doing something completely mundane like driving in the car or taking a shower and suddenly I will see his limp body slump to the floor. As if in slow motion, I watch as his head hits the ground, not quite understanding as I hear for the hundredth time the dull thud of his temple against the the linoleum tile. I fast forward to the point where he is beginning to tremble and, terrified, I look around frantically for a pencil or something to put in his mouth in case this is a convulsion. I find nothing, and resort to putting my finger in his mouth, knowing full well how dangerous that is, but not having any other recourse. My flashback usually stops here, as I quickly force myself to remember that this was two and a half years ago, when Nacho was in fourth grade.
I am one of those fortunate moms who happens to work where my kids go to school. That has always meant that I could see the kids when I wanted to, visiting them at lunch when they were little, and attending their performances and award ceremonies in the middle of the day. On occasion, I will need to get a message to one of them, and on that particular day, I had to tell Nacho that he was going to take the bus home. I went up to his classroom and found the students were sitting at their desks reading quietly. Nacho’s teacher made eye contact with me and nodded her head, indicating that it was okay for me to come in. Nacho’s back was to me, and as I approached him, his arm dropped to his side, his pencil slipped to the floor, and he went down right after it. I remember saying “Nacho?” in disbelief as he fell to the floor, and in my mind, I relive the moment again and again, like it was yesterday. In the end, the trembling was just that, and he didn’t convulse as I had feared he would. As he came to, he looked around, taking in his surroundings. He slowly understood that he was in his classroom, and with his friends looking down at him, the embarrassment set in. Furthermore he was mortified that my finger was in his mouth. I explained that one later, and a visit to the doctor revealed that his body was going through such a tremendous growth spurt that his brain couldn’t keep. The solution was easy: be sure he was hydrated at all times.
As parents, I think we live in perpetual fear that something will go wrong and that we will lose the creatures that we love the most. I didn’t have to watch my parents lose their 42 year-old son to cancer to know that losing a child at any age is something that is inconscionable and devastating. Even so, I have made an effort to not be the kind of mother that is continually protecting her children from imaginary ills. I know that my children, in order to have a chance at the life that they have been blessed with, will have to face and overcome their own challenges. Learning to cross the street alone, walk home from the bus stop, and navigate uncomfortable conversations with strangers – this is all part of growing up. But I sometimes struggle to shake the thoughts that wake me up at night, the ones that suggest I am a half-crazed overprotective female. Any parent who has seen a child standing on a sixth floor balcony or too close to the edge of the subway platform knows these visions.
The memory of Nacho fainting is so vivid that it can only be my conscience telling me that I need to keep things in perspective. As we sat down to dinner last night, eating barbecued hamburgers despite the freezing winter temperatures – my husband Canadian to the core – I watched Nacho joke with Emma and Marco. It wasn’t the first time that I found myself lured in by his laughter, and I watched his eyes sparkle as he smiled. I try to be objective when I say that he is such a handsome boy, but I know that there’s probably a little more to it than that. He really is a cool kid. And whatever it is that he is going through, I know that if I handle it right, it will pass. Every once in a while, I will write him a “love letter”; a tiny reminder from Mom that, as my firstborn, he is a central source of light in my life. I don’t pretend to not have favorites – they are all my favorite on some level – but Nacho is the one who changed me, molded me, and nurtured me into motherhood, and I am forever grateful to him for having chosen me. I think he knows that there is no end to my adulation, but I also recognize how hard it is to remember that when it seems like your every move is being watched through a microscope. I intend to tell him again today just how awesome I think he is.