I miss Eli. I miss hearing about his life. I miss being the go-to person when he is upset or musing about life or dreaming about his future. I miss having rummage rights to his psyche, to his thinking, to his growth. I miss his warm hugs and his presence. Now I have to knock on his door to get an audience with the king. And when I open the door, he looks up from his laptop and the cell phone in his lap (inevitably he’s talking to his girlfriend and studying or talking to his girlfriend and reading D & D or talking to his girlfriend and doing calculus) and the look on his face is always, Oh all right, all right. How long is this going to take?
“It’s Laura,” he says into the phone with resignation. And then he waits for the latest parental edict. When your kid treats you like a piece of gefilte fish (a dying food that I guarantee won’t make it to the next generation), it’s hard not to speak in little edicts or parental homilies like, “How are you doing with you homework?” Or, “Remember that you have the SAT2 test next weekend.” Or, “Eli, you left your dish on the table,” Or, “It’s midnight. Don’t you think you should wind things down? It’s a school night.”
Believe me, I’d rather be talking about philosophy or some scientific concept that is so far beyond me I can only nod dumbly. I’d rather be laying on the couch, each of us engrossed in a book, or having family massage night, or walking to the beach, or helping with a Knex project (now I’m really reaching back in ancient history) or quizzing him on his spelling words, but those days are long past.
Parenting requires constantly catching up with your child’s development, continually letting go of who they used to be, and learning to be with them as they are. And Eli, well, right now in his life there is his first love, there are his D&D friends, there is the necessary evil of calculus homework and AP chemistry. There is sleep (never enough), food, and a room that is never clean. Sometimes there is his sister. And pretty much never, us.
Knowing that this is a normal developmental stage (As my friend and coach Doug put it the other day, like going from crawling to standing up and walking) doesn’t really help. Being told that this is healthy individuation doesn’t take away the sadness I feel at not really knowing my son. I only get to observe him at a distance. I only get to infer from little hints dropped here and there.
When Bryan was a teenager, I watched Karyn struggle with this, and I learned then that the only thing you can do is make yourself available, hanging out, ready to be interrupted for that unusual moment when your teenager decides to unburden himself or grace you with his presence. You have to be willing to be interrupted right now. You learn to never say, “Let me finish this email.” Or, “My show is almost over,” Or, “I’ll be right out.” No, you discipline yourself to drop everything and listen. I try that. Sometimes I sleep on the couch just in the hopes that Eli will get hungry at midnight and come out for a snack and find me up reading and sit down and talk to me. It hasn’t happened yet. I wonder if it ever will.
I know from having a grown son that they do come back and that they can actually enjoy talking to their parents again. But the sting of loss is still there. I miss my son. Yet I am not supposed to feel it or say it. I am supposed to suck it up and get on with my own life, to gracefully let him soar…or flounder…to find his own way. But it is not easy. I want to know him. I want him to give a shit that I exist. Is that so awful?