You Can’t Make Me

“You can’t make me!” Our oldest turned nine this week and has been asserting his independence. While that’s a good thing it’s also a challenge. I remember the first time he stood his ground with me. He was six and we were visiting the public restroom at the beach before heading home. Up to this point I had always brought the boys with me into the restroom. I took comfort knowing they were safely near me and couldn’t imagine sending them into the Men’s room on their own. While we were standing in line my son kept asking to go into the Men’s room and I kept telling him no. It was hot and crowded and I just wanted to get in and out. This was not the moment for cutting apron strings nor the restroom for it. We all used the Ladies’ room but by the time we got to the car he was really angry at me. It was clear I needed to rethink my position on this. “Alright, let’s talk about this,” I said. “Mom, I’m six now I don’t want to go into the Ladies’ room with you anymore. I’m too big for that now,” he says. I let those words float around in the car before I answered him. “You’re right and I’m sorry. You caught me by surprise and I was in a hurry to get out of there. Please understand that this is something new for me too.” We spent the car ride talking about strangers and going through “what if scenarios”.  We agreed that certain bathrooms would be okay but others might not and it would have to be determined case by case. He seemed okay with this new arrangement.

This event is so memorable to me because it marks his first real venture from the protection of the nest. It’s a big step for him and a big adjustment for me. As a kid, I pushed hard for my independence and my parents gave it to me. I vividly remember riding the city bus, by myself, into the heart of Lowell as an eight-year-old to buy Christmas presents at Woolworth’s. I was scared out of my mind but determined not to let it show. This is the pep talk my parents gave me…. Act like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going and no one will give you a problem. If you have a problem go into the nearest store and ask the cashier for help. You’ll be fine. See you when you get back. I made it back.

The challenge from my nine-year-old today (who was six just yesterday) is that he doesn’t want to go to the park. We are visiting my sister-in-law in Seattle and I’m trying to give her some space by taking the boys out of the house for a bit. My son wants no part of this. I tell him, “It’s non-negotiable. You have to come but you don’t have to enjoy yourself!” We leave the house and start walking to the park. He complains bitterly for the first block and then he drops way back. He gets so far behind I think he might return to the house. His younger brother concerned that he’s not coming goes back to get him. I keep walking and try not to look back pretty sure that they will follow.

Here is a photo of them.

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It feels strange and uncomfortable to let my kids extend their distance from me. Obviously there aren’t any physical tethers connecting me to them but there are invisible, emotional ones. They are those infamous “heart-strings” and I can feel them being pulled. I’m happy that he is building his independence. And just like my parents let me build mine, I need to let him build his. I remind myself that independence is preferable to defiance.

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