It’s hard letting go of that little boy as my kids grow older. In the fall, I was talking to a friend who remarked that it’s getting easier to talk to his older daughter because she was emerging from the depths of adolescence. That was the perfect way to describe it – that phase where teens are morose and uncommunicative, going around with headphones on. I laughed and responded that I had one teen who had emerged from the depths and the other was rock bottom. Since then, he’s slowly started to emerge.
For some reason, it is harder for me to let go of the little boy that was Adam than it was for Evan. Maybe because Adam is my baby. Maybe because I worry more about losing him. Maybe because my fondest memories with Evan are quiet ones. One time Evan was homesick in October. Adam was still in preschool and I dropped him off. Evan was restless so I got out a craft kit to make Halloween garland, back when we decorated for Halloween. The two of us sat there for a couple of hours making strands of garland to hang across the front porch. Our only words were to ask each other for a certain bead. We were quiet and perfectly content together. Similarly, when Ron and Adam were on a trip to Glacier National Park for ten days, the two of us ate the same two things the whole time and in the evenings we would sit in the living room, sometimes watching a show and other times doing our own thing, quiet but together. Classic “Enjoy the Silence.”
Adam, though, has always been more spirited. Gone is the little boy who took obvious delight in everything, who stomped in every puddle he came across, who jumped in the water with his clothes on (pool or ocean), who stopped to pet every cat he came across, who rescued a house finch from a hole along the driveway and named it Peeps. In the spring, he liked to go on bike rides as soon as the weather warmed. It was still pretty cold for a bike ride and we’d come home with our hands freezing.
Gone are most of the collections, the stuffed animals, the pins, the fountain pens and journals, the comic books. He does have a small collection of old-school sneakers ranging from black to white to cherry red. He carefully cleans them, which I find so endearing. He likes colorful clothes that he buys himself, which I also find very sweet.
I still get a glimpse of that little boy at times, and I am holding on tight to those moments. Last year, the two of us went to New York City for the weekend. It was a long day in the car, followed by an hour on the commuter train and then sorting out how to find the green 4/5 subway to our stop. He was grumpy at his clueless old mom in the subway asking two different employees for directions (ummm, yeah great, I understand it’s a downtown train, but where exactly do I get on it?). When we finally emerged at the Wall Street stop and headed toward our hotel, he said out of the blue “This is so cool. When I look up all I can see is tall buildings.” The following day he was grumpy in the afternoon because he wasn’t feeling good. We got a smoothie and did a little shopping. Heading back to the hotel to regroup, he said “This is fun. We should do this more often.”
Last summer on our trip to Bonaire, we shopped for groceries several times. I asked Adam what he wanted each time and he was indifferent. On one trip to the supermarket, he actually said “If it’s not restaurant food, I don’t care.” We explained that we wouldn’t be eating restaurant food every day. Sigh.
And yet, we had special times where we connected on that trip. He wanted to swim one night after dinner, so he and I headed down. It was dark already because we were close to the equator. When we got down to the water, I realized he wanted to jump off the dock into the dark ocean rather than entering from the beach. He took a flying leap into the water. He turned on a flashlight and showed me there was nothing amiss in the water. He insisted it was great being in the dark water unable to see beneath you and looking up at the stars. I was dubious but I took the leap and joined him, and it was. As we floated there looking at the stars and the lights onshore, I knew it was something special I would look back on later.
Later that week, driving through the rutted roads of Washington Slaagbai National Park and bouncing in our seats, he said “This is fun.” He asked to swim on the way home, so we stopped at Boka Slaagbai, one of the most beautiful and remote places I’ve been swimming. The water was aquamarine and crystal clear. Behind us were a building, a few people and a flamingo nesting area. To the sides were rocks, above us sky and in front of us nothing but sea. He and Ron jumped off a twenty-foot cliff twice and those moments were magical, even though he had told me while swimming “this island is hideous,” because it was so stark.
When we went to Pittsburgh for college visits, I asked Adam if he liked Pitt and if he ever thought about where he wanted to go to college. “No,” he answered grumpily. Ron asked him if he ever thought about WHETHER he wanted to go to college. Same answer, a grumpy no. Ron and I sighed. We do what we can to stay connected to him, whether it’s watching Narcos or going to horror movies. I’m pushing 50 and I have finally seen The Shining and Nightmare on Elm Street.
It’s funny where I have been seeing glimpses of that boy lately: driving. He got his temps three weeks ago and texted me at work asking me to take him driving when I got home. We drove around a deserted area. I saw the same concentration I did when he was learning about things and collecting them, from fountain pens to succulents. He asked a lot of questions.
“Did I take that curve too fast? I saw you put your hand on the door.”
”What’s the speed limit here?”
We have spent a lot of time driving around lately. He listens patiently as I take him on a tour of my life, places my relatives lived, places I used to live, the apartment complex where I used the pool for a summer when I was his age and they thought I lived there. It reminds me a little of the drives I used to take with my late step-dad Homer. After he gave up driving, sometimes I’d take him for a ride, usually along Olentangy River Road into Delaware. We were quiet and content, like Adam and I are now.
When they are distant, I always remember what my boys’ teacher Tracey said about the phases kids go through, whether they are ten or fifteen.
“He’ll be back,” she’d say. And she’s right. He is driving out of the depths of adolescence, on his way back.