Freedom and the Vomit Comet

Talking Back
Talking Back

“I’d like to come up here sometime on the bus with my friends,” Jack said, giving me a sideways glance, “just, you know, us.”

We were loading up the truck after an afternoon skiing. Everyone was wet and tired and happy, full of burgers and fries from the lodge. My fourteen year-old’s tone told me he was apprehensive about breaking his news.

My first thought was how much it’s taken to get him to this place: able to gather his own gear, and load himself into the truck. Long ago there were struggles to dress both boys, expensive lessons, and bribes of hot chocolate if they would take in at least two or three runs with us on the bunny hill before calling it quits for the day.

Today we’re happy to have a family activity that doesn’t involve an arcade or big screen or leave his dad and I cranky and wondering what the Hell we were trying to accomplish with all this togetherness.

That was my first thought.

My second thought was: Yeee Haaaw! Freeedom.

YES you may take the bus to the ski hill (or ‘vomit comet,’ for those who know better, but, oh well). And, by the way, three big, fat cheers for your independence.

Go you. Be free. …No really. RIGHT NOW.

I didn’t expect to ever feel this way. When he was tiny, I remember telling a friend my anxieties about his wellbeing were almost suffocating.

Holding someone who was only recently a part of me and was now somehow not was way more intense than I’d expected. This little person would, for the foreseeable future, be entirely dependent on the quality of my care, and my ability to avoid dropping him on his head.

This was only shortly after at time in my life where I’d realized I had the wherewithal to both feed myself a healthy breakfast and get to work on time.

Is he looking me in the eye? I don’t think he’s looking at me! What could that mean? Is it autism? Shouldn’t he be holding his own head up by now?

Honey, he’s 17 hours old, cut him some slack.

When I returned to work, it was with the baby. Some of the anxiety of his newness and breakable-ness wore off as he reached each developmental milestone, but now I had this person who was more or less attached to me all day long.

He was usually in a pouch hanging from my front, facing outward and grabbing at every little thing we came close to. Or else he was turned toward me, snuggled and sleeping, sweating on my blouse and smelling vaguely of sour milk. I’d make copies while trying to keep his dangling feet from pressing buttons on the machine.

My spine usually felt like it would snap by about mid morning.

“I read somewhere that babies only learn they’re not an actual appendage of yours somewhere around a year old,” a coworker told me.

Really? It felt more like I had an alien springing from my chest. Turns out the baby may have thought he was a vestigial arm.

By the time Jack started elementary school, I was working from home and around to walk him to and from school. It wasn’t that he couldn’t make it on his own; we lived a half mile down the road.  I just enjoyed the break from work as well as the chance to chat with him.

But I couldn’t always make it out to our corner right on time. This was unfortunate, because he had unrealistic expectations about my reliability. By fourth grade, I was on a first name basis with the school secretary. If I was a second late, he’d have her dial and hand him the receiver.

“Mom, I was so worried. Where are you?”

His school was almost spitting distance from our house. The crosswalk had crossing guards. There were probably no fewer than a dozen kids walking along the same route every day through our quiet, suburban neighborhood.

It’s not like the Trail of Tears, buddy, I wanted to say. Suck it up.

How did a person who was ready to move out of her own parents’ home by age thirteen foster this kind of dependency in her child? I found that the overwhelming anxiety I’d had when he was teeny, and might one day inexplicably stop breathing, had been replaced by a sense of claustrophobia.

Quit crowding me! Gah!

They say teens start distancing themselves from us as they age in preparation to leave the nest. Today, I know longer get tearful calls when I’m late to pick him up. He no longer hangs from me, unaware he’s not an extension of my person.

On the contrary: I regularly get a little snarl when I ask him to clear the table, or sarcastic retorts when I ask about his homework.

This is not bad. It’s territory I remember. He’s preparing us. After he’s done, this process will happen with his brother too, if all goes well.

I’m sure there will be a day when I wonder why it’s been so quiet around here for so long, and I’ll be just a little sad.

But right now, at this exact moment, the thought that they’re getting ready to leave altogether gives me a little thrill.


You know what else is thrilling? When you vote for my little blog. Thanks.


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  1. After being home with a five year old throwing up all day, I admit I was thinking this post was going to be more about vomit and less about kids gaining independence… 😉

    I have one who wants to be totally independent but can\’t function without me because of his disability, and then I have another one who has the ability to be independent but would rather cling to her mother for dear life… Oh boy, the next few years will be very interesting!

    1. Interesting indeed. Hope your five year old feels better pronto – and that you get a break once in a while!

    1. Clearly something to look forward to … loving on other people\’s kids (and then sending them home)!