So I’m lying in bed with Dave the other night, watching Sons of Anarchy and drifting off to that happy place I go when no one’s asking me for money or to drive them somewhere, when my 16 year old comes in to say ‘good night.’ She tosses her dirty clothes into the hamper (small victory there), spends a few minutes on the floor snuggling with the dog, and then heads for the door.
Innocuous, right? Just another ordinary night.
Maybe in your eyes, but not in mine.
For me, the difference between this night and every other night was the absence of one simple, little thing. A thing that I’ve come to depend on as a mom for the last 16 odd years. A thing I cherish. The Kiss.
See, I was born the child of snugglers. I was raised as a hugger and a kisser. My people emote. It’s just what we do. And so that’s how my kids have been raised.
I’m not saying that we kiss each other goodbye when we move from room to room in the house. I mean we’re not freaks. But you get the gist. We’re all affectionate by nature. And I guess I just always hoped that the strength of my genetics would prevail and my kids would bypass the phase where they didn’t crave me kissing on them all the time. It was a pipe dream. I know that now.
But as usual, my big mouth grew a mind of its own and decided to call Riley out on why she wasn’t kissing me good night. “What? You can’t kiss your mother goodnight anymore?” were the words I think I used. I know, very Seinfeld. And a huge tactical error. I can see that now, because when I write about the asinine things I do it helps me to view them through a clearer lens and see myself as the idiot that I really am.
It was a big mistake. Huge. It was at the exact moment when my words floated into her ear canal that she froze, turned, and looked at me with that look that said, “Really? Seriously?” Then she kept twisting the doorknob and left the room.
Now any normal person capable of reading the obvious signs would’ve just cut their losses and backpedaled away from the edge of the cliff. But not me. I’m not known for my smarts, so I just kept on pedaling, yelling something sarcastic through the door.
She never came back. And I guess I can’t blame her. I’m also pretty sure I know why she didn’t come back—she was taking pity on me, not wanting to admit to me with actual words that she needed something different from me now. And I guess it was my responsibility to realize that just because she didn’t need to kiss me goodnight anymore didn’t mean she didn’t need me anymore. And that’s on me. That’s my pill to swallow. Actually, I guess it’s every parent’s pill to swallow.
But in the heat of that moment, a tectonic plate had shifted for me. In that moment when she opted out of the goodnight kiss, I began slipping into a crevice between two distinctly different worlds: one where your kids can’t live without you and another, where they wipe off your kisses and pretend they don’t know you.
Now she’ll be 17 in June, so I get it. I’m not that oblivious. I know there’s a lot of emotional posturing going on at her age and juniors in high school as a whole aren’t exactly busting down their parents’ door to give out kisses. So I try my best to set the bar low with my expectations and take into consideration where she’s at in her life. I really do. But sometimes I just can’t help myself and the barbed-wire fence that surrounds my impulse control gets a chink in it. And then things I’m thinking, that should stay firmly in the back of my mind, seep out and get me in trouble.
What can I say, I’m only human.
Usually, though, at pivotal moments like that Dave can save me from myself by talking me off the ledge or just throwing himself on top of me like a soldier saving a buddy in the line of fire. But I think he was already dozing off by the time Riley came in to say goodnight, so he was asleep at the wheel and couldn’t save me from myself. Not this time.
Now look, I know my kids love me. That’s never been the issue and I’ve never doubted it for a second. I guess I just always had this fantasy that they’d always need my crazy lovin’ forever. Although now that I think about it, I suppose it would be a little odd to expect Riley to want me to swing by her dorm room every night when she goes off to college and tuck her in. (See, when I put my thoughts down on paper the ridiculousness of them becomes clear very quickly.)
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the little girl who used to insist I snuggle in her bed until she fell asleep. Because I do. The same little girl who, when she was five, would slap her hands on either side of my face and lay a big, fat, squishy wet one right on my lips. I think about that little girl all the time and I miss her dearly. Just like I’m sure my mother misses the little me who used to creep under her covers at night during a thunder storm and sleep pressed up against her.
Because regardless of how optimistic we all are as parents that our kids will be different, they rarely are. They all go through some version of the same thing when it comes to outgrowing things that used to be crutches. They all hit that point when they can finally sleep without the light on or with the door closed or without their woobie. And, sadly for us, they also outgrow the need to snuggle under the covers with mommy and daddy on Saturday mornings or climb onto our lap while we’re reading the paper.
But thankfully, life has a beautiful, magical way of balancing the scales for us. Meaning that when one door closes, a window usually opens in its place.
Dave reminds me all the time that everything in life is cyclical. We give up one thing and something else comes around to take its place and balance the load. Like how now, instead of cuddling together watching Saturday morning cartoons, Riley drives me to Starbucks on days when we both have an hour to spare and we have coffee together and just talk. Different than snuggling but no less beautiful.
So I suppose it’s just as important that we, as parents, evolve and mature right along with them to make the sting of them growing up bite a little less. That, and dreaming about being able to cuddle with grandchildren someday helps, too. But I’m ok waiting a little longer for that.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR follow her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.