At my son’s Kindergarten orientation, the principal put a name to the thing I’ve reluctantly been doing for the past three years: in order for my kid to be successful in independent endeavors, I’ve had no choice but to kiss and go. I don’t like the quick embrace and the quicker release; I would love to be the mom who lingers for photos, who chats it up with the other parents, but I can’t be that lady. As much as it kills me to admit, my son does better without me.
I feel a pinch of sad (LET ME LOVE YOU!), a dash of guilt (what kind of mother makes her own kid nervous?!), and a whole heap of conflict (so what if he’ll scream, shouldn’t I stick around anyway?!) It wasn’t until a summer basketball camp that I became acutely aware I could take my pinches and dashes and heaps and shove them where the August sun doesn’t shine. My son needed his space, and I gave it to him.
Because I love my kid, I walked away.
Monday through Thursday he was a dribbling, shooting, running fool. He returned home and told me about the contests he almost won and about how he was faster than so many, but not the fastest and that was okay. He was having FUN! A smile so wide as he told me these stories, pride plastered on his face, excitement radiating in his bright blue eyes.
Then came Friday.
I wanted to take my son to his last day of basketball camp so I could watch him do this thing he loves. He had talked about it so enthusiastically, I wanted to be there, present, to witness first-hand what my otherwise stoic guy had been gushing about. I wanted to share that with him.
Taking my mandatory parent spot against the gym wall, I watched. There he was, one of four left in a game of shark. The other players had to try and knock the basketball out of his hands, but he worked his way around them so gracefully, so quickly. He looked over to make sure I saw his moves; I felt tears well in my eyes. LOOK AT MY BABY! Finally, though, another player succeeded in stealing the ball, but instead of taking his place on the sidelines, as he had for the four previous days, he headed straight for me.
The sky blackened. Flashes of lightening and booming thunder sounded off like explosions all around us. Trees snapped in half, threatening to crash through the roof.
In other words: my son lost his shit.
He ran off of the court and flung himself around my knees. Even though I knew there was no physical injury, I did the obligatory “Are you okay? Did you get hurt?” He couldn’t even answer through his sobs. He was affixed to my legs and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t pry him off. I tried stooping down to reach him, but nimble and quick like Ross’s pet monkey Marcel, the kid crawled up my torso and attempted to make himself a permanent fixture around my neck.
Aware of, and mostly indifferent to, the eyes on us, I tried to maintain composure. This wasn’t the first time my son had saved up his very worst for me.
Any injuries sustained in the line of fun.
Being called inside from a long day of play.
Eye contact was impossible, as his baby blues were squeezed tightly shut, and my hushed tones were overwhelmed by the guttural sounds emanating from his little body. He was near hysteria and that’s when I heard my voice say it. “Buddy, you’ve got to man up! This is how sports work and if you’re going to play, you better get used to losing.” Then I gently peeled him off of my face and walked away.
I’ve read the experts’ take on why a kid acts up more for his mother; “he only does so because he feels safe with her. It’s a mark of good parenting. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Well here’s the deal with all that: it makes me feel anything but good at parenting. I know he is a little kid and not well-versed in controlling his emotions, but if he can manage it in the presence of one parent, why not the other? And why is the child regressing? I thought a six-year-old was more logical, more independent, and less likely to throw those public tantrums.
But alas, there we were, the train wreck from which no one could avert their eyes. His coach assured me, “He’s a fierce competitor, I see it all the time,” and I fought the urge to shriek, “HE WASN’T IN FIERCE COMPETITOR MODE WHEN HIS DAD WAS HERE!” But deep down, I know why my son acts out for me: he’s trying to impress me. I’m the first lady in his life, and isn’t it in the male DNA to strut their stuff to win our affection? Of course I’ll love my kid whether or not he can dribble a basketball, but he doesn’t understand that. Winning that game of shark meant showing off for Mom, boasting his bright feathers like a proud peacock. He hadn’t disappointed me the way he thought he had, which was sad and endearing and frustrating all at once.
That day taught me a hard lesson about raising my son: sometimes it’s best to walk away.
So, I won’t be the Mom capturing memories in the classroom with her zoom lens on the first day of school. I can’t be the parent who drives her kiddo right up to the school’s double doors. And at least until he is comfortable and confident in his surroundings, you won’t see me sitting criss-cross applesauce on the big primary-colored rug, even though I’m aching to read to his class. I’ll be the behind the scenes Mom who allows the big yellow bus to deposit my son at his first day of school. He’ll walk into the building without incessant pleas for “Just one more picture! Smile your nice smile and not that psychotic one!” He’ll take his seat and look around to find some of his classmates still saying their goodbyes, and though he might miss me for a second, he’ll fight back the tears and be brave because he has no choice, because we have no choice. Although it stings, I’ve got to be the kiss and go mom.