I always knew this day would come; I just didn’t think it would come so soon. Gone are the days when my eldest son (who is one minute older than his twin brother) holds my hand while walking down the sidewalk or allows me to kiss him on the lips at bedtime. Now when my hand brushes against his in an invitation to grab on, he pulls away and gives me a “Really, Mom?” look. My night time kisses are greeted with a quick turn of the head so my lips bypass his and land on his cheek. He’s nine.
This is the same boy who refused to take the bottle. The one I had to take everywhere so he could nurse. The son who cried his heart out for me when I left him even briefly for the first two years of his life. He still enjoys being with me. I know that. But it’s different now.
For so long our children demand our attention. They need us for absolutely everything and they scream bloody murder if we don’t deliver the want or need of the moment. And this demand is exhausting. We wonder if it will end.
I remember vividly the first day my twins played contently by themselves without me planted on the floor next to them. I timed it: 20 minutes. They were 2 years old. I celebrated on the inside, thinking that there is hope, they won’t need me this much forever.
And then that day actually comes. They really don’t need me in the same way anymore. They don’t demand my attention, kicking and howling if I don’t play with them, pick them up or feed them on their schedule. They are content to occupy themselves without me.
Upon coming home from school, they retreat to the couch or their room to read their latest novel. Or they head outside to build a snow fort. Then it’s homework, dinner and sports or music practice and time for bed. The day is done, and too often I haven’t really connected with my big boys.
At first, I found this new found freedom exciting. I could focus on other things: things I thought energized me, things I told myself I would have time to do once the twins were older. Of course 2-year old Jax demands my attention. But, let’s face it, he’s a cake walk compared to parenting young twins.
But then I realized I missed my big boys. I missed authentically connecting with them the way I did without effort when they were younger and needier. I wondered what really went on in their heads as they sat silently immersed in their books, or giggling with each other while discussing the school day’s events. I wondered if they needed me and didn’t know how to ask. I wondered how to balance their need to individualize from me (and each other) with the fact that they are only nine (going on 15 to be sure).
And I wonder if this is when it starts … when one day we wake up and realize we don’t know who our kids are. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But, there comes a point in their growing up when they invite us to check-out. When they pretend they don’t need us and we can go about doing our own thing. And of course they need us, but the relationship changes and neither us nor them knows how to mange the transition. Because, these are my oldest, and neither I nor them have done this before.
Forget that, with my souped-up education, I’m supposed to know how to manage all problems child-related … I’ve found that book smarts only faintly resembles real life. There are no black and white answers to these issues. Because we are dealing with humans after all.
So, I’m experimenting with ways to check back in. And, it’s no surprise that what works with one twin doesn’t work as gracefully with the other. I’m figuring out how to slide into parts of their lives without being obnoxious, annoying or helicopter-momish.
Carefully worded, open-ended questions with the right timing work well. Driving in the car where they are a captive audience are proving to be great connecting moments. Lying next to them in bed as I say goodnight are often when we have our best talks, when they know they are stealing time they would otherwise be required to use sleeping. And special trips to the coffee shop, where we grab our favorite drinks and sit for a spell — these, right now, are those times when I learn about who my boys are becoming, what direction they need from me, and how I can help guide them without suffocating them in the process.
But the sure fire way to really be with my big boys is watching movies together. Movie nights are special in our house. We only allow them on the weekends because they mean extending the kids’ bedtime. We only start the show once Jax is asleep, and we often prepare a special treat to eat. We sit next to each other, mostly in silence, taking in the same story, sharing the same experience. And afterward, talking about the characters, the decisions they made, and the story line opens up lines of communication that “how was your day at school” doesn’t. We end up talking about life.
I know that the ways with which I connect with my children will change over time. My job is to notice when I feel that disconnect and again experiment with ways to check back in. I anticipate too that the process will be more challenging as they get older. For now, I’m savoring movie night. And the ability, every once in a while, to sneak my hand over to his and have him wrap his fingers around it. I’m holding on, one movie at a time.