He cries almost every night. The homework is too much or I bark too loud the fifth time I ask him to wash his hands for dinner. Something tips him over the cliff and he flings himself face-down onto the easy chair in the living room. His sobs surge through his whole body. If I try to comfort him, he storms into his room and slams the door. I’ll find him there later, sprawled across the bed lost in a graphic novel. He refuses to turn, only growling, “I didn’t tell you it was okay to come in.”
For several weeks we’ve been tripping over his mysteriously exposed hair-trigger. A freshly minted nine-year-old, he’s exhibiting all the signs of a boy on the brink of thirteen. I dig through the cabinets of my memory for details, vaguely recalling Josh & Chuck’s tour through the wonderland of male puberty. Back in May, the information was intriguing yet premature. I won’t need this for years.
But now my mind lays its hands on one discarded detail: A boy exhibits the external signs of puberty — hair, voice, skin — several miles into journey. The early biological changes begin right around. . .
Are hormones to blame for what’s going on here? It seems too sudden. In just a few weeks, this boy has gone from engaged in homework and flowing through dinner and bedtime Hobbit to dissolving into weepy confusion at the smallest obstacle. Then he pops back up, rocketing skyward and racing around the house on his skateboard, dragging the dog onto his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and hurtling himself across the beds. It’s mania and despair whizzing at full tilt, cornering so hard they leap the track.
You could make the argument that Bug is picking up on his mama’s inner turmoil. When it comes that critical survival skill of wearing masks, I am still an amateur. With my frayed filter and inside-out emotions, it’s altogether possible that my boy is caught in the wake of my recent breakup. Truth is, the end of this relationship is much much tougher than I imagined it would be.
Five years ago, divorce was hell. But it didn’t prepare me for this. Because divorce is also lawyers and parenting agreements and custody and schedules. The agony is of a prolonged sort. It is also shared and a little bit public. This is especially true when children are involved. A larger circle holds the pain and burden because it’s a whole family coming undone, a whole community reconfiguring itself.
This one? It’s all mine.
At a week shy of 42, the drama of ending a relationship slips pretty low on the list of pressing social concerns. Among colleagues and friends, other struggles lead conversations. We have pregnancies and layoffs, budget cuts and school board elections, ailing relatives and children with troubling diagnoses and unexpected debts and international political crises. “Breakup” is one of those things that flits across the surface of a conversation, much like when a pet dies. A friend may offer a hug or a momentary ear, but no one really holds the loss alongside the one bearing it.
My mister and I were together for over 2-1/2 years, and knew each other for close to three. That’s nearly a third of my son’s life, and it’s the whole of the time — and more — that Bug and I have owned our home and built around ourselves this community. I’m struggling with the absence of a man I felt was my partner in all of this, as well as with the erasure of his unique journey from my days. Certainly the decision was the right one. Even so, grief is enervating. Transition takes far more creativity and determination than I have some days. Also, I just miss him.
Of course my son will be feeling some of this with me.
Bug has no journal, no blog, and only so many names for what he feels. So while I also want to fling myself onto a piece of furniture and cry, I must choose instead to stay steady and attentive to him while he rides the current. I try to be his solid place to touch down, which yields the unexpected bonus of a place to set my own feet.
Until the moment we are standing together in the bathroom as he brushes his teeth. I look at my shirtless boy with his golden mop of hair and hard eyes, and I think woah.
“What?” He mumbles through the toothpaste. “Why are you making that face?”
“Here, come here,” I say. He steps closer to me and we gaze together into the mirror. “You’re past my shoulder. Do you see that? You’re almost to my chin.” I touch his head. “When did that happen?”
He shrugs. “Let’s measure me.”
We go to his bedroom doorway and he presses his heels against the jamb. We make the mark and marvel at it together.
“You’ve grown an inch since your birthday,” I say.
“Almost an inch,” he corrects.
“Since your birthday,” I say, studying this sprouting giant. “Which was six weeks ago. Baby, that is really something!”
He shrugs again but I can see the hint of a grin. He goes to the bathroom to rinse, then comes back with the measuring tape. We measure up from the floor. The lowest line marks the first birthday we celebrated in this house two years ago. Since then he has grown six inches.
In two years.
And here I am, spinning a narrative in which his emotional surges are all about me.
It’s no wonder this boy is hurting. He’s growing like I’ve topped his pizza with pepperoni made by Monsanto.
And if I’ve learned anything in my almost 42 years, it’s that growing hurts.
Even when it’s exactly the right thing.