On Raising Our Children To Leave The Nest

Though he towers eight inches over me, I’ve shielded my oldest son fiercely from the world, but won’t be able to soon. And I am not ready.

My 16-year-old, Grant, grew two inches last night. This, after I spent a king’s fortune on a wardrobe at Vineyard Vines, his new brand of choice. It is all washed, hung, and folded with no hope of hand-me-down potential as his kid brother, Cameron, is cut from a broader cloth.

We also purchased a new bed for Grant, as his legs stretched beyond the mattress like a lankier version of Will Ferrell in the movie Elf. Soon I’ll be perusing the likes of Bed, Bath, and Beyond for extra long twin sheets for Grant’s college slumber.

I am not ready.

Grant arrived amid a good deal of drama. He entered my world after 21 hours of back labor and an emergency C-Section. At one point, pre-delivery, I twisted my mother’s arm into torn ligament status, earning her a sling and Tylenol with Codeine. I kiddingly still blame Grant, though he was in utero, simply striving for his debut.

He caused a lot of commotion for the mellow kid I’ve now dubbed my Southern Gentleman, since his birth in Georgia. I recall swaddling lessons in the hospital, when my husband and I were captive students, taking turns with those purple and teal striped blankets. After several tries, I proudly presented Grant wrapped, hors d’oeuvre-like, his dark eyes peering back.

Gone are the days of keeping him warm. Grant refuses to be bundled with the likes of any outerwear during inclement weather; he’s a teenager’s teenager. There are no more snow suits with hood strings pulled tight, framing his pouty face. There’s no additional layer of protection I can provide, though I still try.

On a recent frigid day, I asked Grant if he’d like new slippers.

“Really, Mom, I can’t remember the last time I wore slippers.”

I can.

He wore a pair of polyester Spiderman slippers until their underbellies thinned, then transitioned into fleece Yankee ones with squeaky bottoms. Followed by a brown corduroy number from L.L. Bean, which, like any good middle schooler, he abruptly dismissed.

I also remember every special occasion outfit of his upbringing—the baptism garb, the sailor suit, the cable knit vests donned at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And the men’s-sized baseball pants sported during early puberty for legs too long for his torso—grey polyester knickers that had to be taken in several inches by a seamstress.

Grant is now a junior, deep into that pivotal year upon which his future seemingly teeters. His days are filled with driving lessons and SAT prep, club meetings and college visits. No down time even for the peskiest of colds. He is powering through with quiet diligence, my 5’10” firstborn.

I can’t help but feel his literal inching away is intended. As if his slim build suspects I’m grasping tight to his boyhood and is sending a subliminal message to loosen my mother’s grip. I hear Grant’s razor buzz each dawn and still marvel at the disconnect between his deep voice and slight frame. He’s a budding man, his younger years with Legos but a blur.

I am not ready.

I’m ill prepared for his empty bedroom, now lined with electronics and just-worn crew socks. Last summer, he left for a long weekend and his absence was palpable. I changed his sheets and tidied his desk, as if my efforts would will him home sooner. But he was gone, the days without him peppered with only a few, scattered texts.

“Made it here in five hours.”

“We’re canoeing and hiking.”

“Be home Monday at 3:00.”

Grant’s teen years have been somewhat peaceful, as we negotiate his collides with Cameron, obligatory shut bedroom door and headphones to tune us out. There are also his protests to change the car radio station from my Christian rock, the go-to errand-running music I call “God Groovy.” Oh, and his fervent requests to lose my youthful Uggs and please stop punctuating my texts with irreverent emojis. These, paling in comparison to my stunts as a teen, namely when—to my mother’s horror—a stranger gave me a second ear piercing (in only one ear, as the ’80s demanded) at a New Year’s Eve party, using a potato as the needle’s buffer. Followed by a hefty infection. Yeah, I remember 16. I accept Grant’s antics—and those to follow—as the new normal in this murky terrain; necessary means to further our healthy divide.

Parenting Grant at this stage is a balancing act, at best. As he’s pocketed his permit, I now sit strapped in the passenger’s seat, a reluctant observer, sans control. I waffle between gentle instruction and silence. One wrong comment stands between Grant’s confidence and our collective well-being. In the car and beyond, I’m gently affirming, allowing ample slack for my teen-turning-man. We coast in this mode—a tentative thread tethering mother and son. I bargain internally, unwilling to release the wheel.

I am not ready.

“You’re the over prepared mother,” my husband says while I pack medicines and snacks for trips.

Anaphylaxis took hold when Grant was 10, during a severe reaction to pistachios. He’s allergic to tree nuts, a challenge which forced him to grow up early. Grant’s accessories are EpiPens and inhalers, Benadryl and Medic Alert wallet cards, though he carries his burden lightly. I quickly became the perma-field trip chaperone, school event baker and perpetual play date and sleepover hostess. I even bought a new griddle when his 5th grade teacher called for chocolate chip pancakes, fearing cross-contamination on hers from home.

My heart ached each time Grant went to a party, toting his own candy bar in cargo pants or a blue blazer. I watched him forego birthday treats and store-bought Easter baskets. But he never complained. At restaurants I hold my urge to helicopter, allowing Grant to bring up his allergy, but there’ve been a few close calls. Too close.

As if that weren’t enough, Grant’s allergic to cats and dogs, triggering asthma, hives, and swollen eyes. I can only hope for understanding roommates and girlfriends. Or perhaps, bubblewrap him into Eternity. Though he towers eight inches over me, I’ve shielded him fiercely from nuts and dander, but won’t be able to soon.

I am not ready.

I recently heard Lee Ann Womack’s ballad, “I Hope You Dance,” with its touching lyrics and signature refrain, “And when you get the choice to sit out or dance…I hope you dance.” This is what I want for Grant. That he step with life’s surprises and sorrows, that he breath in opportunity. That he use all we have instilled, with glimmers of good judgement.

Yes, I will launch Grant, but with loving lament. I will miss this tall son of mine, who sprung from an Atlanta birth and pudgy beginnings. I will resist the race against time but will acquiesce, letting Grant secede like a small country with newfound independence. And on that drive to college, I will holdfast from afar and accept the destined break.

But will never be ready.

Aline Weiller’s essays have appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, Mamalode, Grown and Flown, Scary Mommy and Your Teen, among others. She’s also the CEO/Founder of the public relations firm, Wordsmith, LLC, based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

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