We got to the museum and both decided we needed to pee before buying our tickets. Jack and I headed through the expansive lobby, which echoed with voices of hundreds of kids getting wild with science on their school vacation week.
We’ve been to the science museum a handful of times, but the noise and crowds never fail to trigger my anxiety. Instinctively, I stuck my hand out to my side for Jack to hold.
He didn’t take my hand.
After a few seconds of it poked out and swinging in the breeze, I looked down at him. He had pulled his hands in closer to his sides, and had a determined smirk on his face.
He’s resisted holding my hand for the past couple months. I’m not going to lie; it pretty much breaks my heart. I mean, he’s only six and a half. I figured I had a couple more years before he rejected the comforting grip of his mama’s paw. At home, he still loves to snuggle, asks for back-rubs and Reiki every day. But when we are out and about, he asserts physical independence. I do not force him to hold my hand. I accept his boundary with a sigh of resignation.
So, I wasn’t shocked he wouldn’t hold my hand, but when we got to the bathrooms, he did something for the first time that caught me off guard:
Without skipping a beat, he strode right into the Men’s room, as opposed to coming with me into the Ladies’ room, as he usually will do. I stood there outside the two bathroom doors with their universally recognized icons, my mouth hanging open. “Oh, so you’re going in there?” I called after him. “Ok, I’ll meet you right back out here!”
“Ok, Mom!” I heard him call back.
I walked into the Ladies’ room, fighting the urge to tell the total stranger at the sink that my son, who usually comes with me into the Ladies’ room, just went by himself into the Men’s room for the first time. Like ever. My mind raced as I sat down on the potty and wound length after length of toilet paper around my hand. He’s fine, he’s fine, I chanted as I hurried to wash my hands so I could get back out to the meeting place.
When I stopped to think about it, I realized I was not concerned about him getting abused or abducted in that mysterious “other” bathroom. Statistically, a child is probably a lot safer using a rest room by themselves in this day and age than I was at Jack’s age. Logically, I know this. We live in a culture that perpetuates fear so we feel markedly more unsafe than we did 30 years ago.
But there is no logic to the fear and pain felt by a mother’s heart as her young takes yet another tiny step in his journey from her side.
If I ever had any illusions about the extent to which I could control and influence my children, Jack dispelled all of them in his first days on the planet. From the get go he was a fierce, little creature who did not go with my flow. I was forced to realize that although he came from my body, and although I was charged with growing and keeping him safe, he did not belong to me. It has been a non-stop journey of letting go– of my preconceived notions, of my desires, of my schedule, of my needs, of my fears.
I barreled out of the bathroom to find him waiting right there at the spot upon which we had agreed. He smiled up at me and I felt reassured. We walked towards the ticket counters and I reached down, allowing my hand to ruffle through his hair, and rest on his shoulder.