MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark
My son and his dad were out for a beer recently and his dad asked if he was afraid of anything as a child. Caleb replied that one of his childhood fears was not being a competent adult. Just in small everyday ways – like he wasn’t sure he’d be able to read a map. Apparently his father had the same response I did, upon hearing this. Why didn’t you just ask us to show you how to read a map? Well, he said it seemed silly to ask.
Sometimes our fears are half buried anyway. They live vibrantly inside of us, but somehow they don’t seem to relate to the outside world. I’ve had fears like that – some of them regard parenting. And wow, loads of other people are parents. Why does it seem so difficult to just ask someone how to read the map? Somehow, its tough to say, how do I do this?
Of course, Caleb can indeed read a map, and he’s become a competent adult in most regards. That’s probably all that can be said for most of us who’ve aged into adulthood. We have it mostly figured out. Indeed, new skills are always unsteady when we learn them. He’s a competent adult of twenty-two years – still new; quite able.
I know just how well he can read a map because during the past three weeks we’ve been traveling in Europe. Our travels are finished now and as I settle into a writing residency in Berlin, he’s moving into his new life as a graduate student at University of Chicago. On our trip, he’d often snatch the map out of my hands as I fumbled for a bit more light, trying to discern those tiny little marks denoting subway stops. He’d quickly read and refold the map into his pocket and then tug my arm and say, “I know where we’re going.”
Of course I was happy to follow him, and also happy to partake in his various other adult skills. He’s a great cook, for example. I think I made sandwiches a few times, but whenever we had a kitchen, he did the actual cooking. At daily life, he’s doing great. And I can’t help but think about how there’s nothing more daily than parenting – at least for the first fifteen years. And now that he’s older, I’m not sure I know how to read the map.
I’ve lost my son, the child. And I’m learning to parent my son, the adult. It’s a different job, and a sign of success. His adult competence is my good fortune; not every parent is so lucky. And truth be told, some parents don’t really want their children to be fully independent. I’ve known parents who love their children’s neediness, who want to be the provider, the first person to whom the child turns. I’ve seen mothers smile when their toddlers cry in the arms of a friend or family member. “Aw, he wants his mommy,” people say, and then mom reaches for the child, fulfilled. There can be a pleasure in parental martyrdom, a sense of life fulfilled.
What happens to those parents when the child either pushes them away or needs them differently and they can’t adapt? I don’t feel bereft; am quite glad that my son is a strong and competent individual. And suddenly, I’m fumbling a bit, slow at discerning the way. When did the instructions become so subtle and the landscape so complex?
This is what we learn through living: how to lose. When we’re young, loss seems impossible, and then later like an affront – how dare something I want be taken from me? As life goes on, loss seems more usual and grace unfurls through practice. It even becomes possible to feel loss as a blessing. It becomes clearer that some of what we lose is best left. We move into the wisdom of paradox and begin to see that losing is often a different type of receiving.
I’ll spend many more years writing and reveling in the preciousness of my role as parent, for sure. I’ve lost my son, the child, and in his maturity, I gain more of my own. Ever grateful for the complexity of this landscape, I’ll carry on in the dailyness of it and relish that he can sometimes still travel with me. And yes, I’m happy for him to hold the map.
Kimberly Dark is a writer, performer and sociology professor. She is elated that her favorite son is home for the summer after receiving his BA and before beginning graduate work at University of Chicago. Learn more at www.kimberlydark.com.