Though my sons are still under five feet tall and haven’t even yet stomped through the halls of middle school, I am and remain consciously and constantly aware I am raising three future men.
I think a lot about the boys they are and the men they’ll become; and though I do not have a crystal ball in any sense of the word, I think a lot about how behaviors today might manifest as patterns and habits later—and which of those will be palatable to a future partner and which most assuredly won’t.
This might be the reason I do my best not to overreact or melt into a puddle of excessive maternal sympathy with every sniffle, why I am grateful my sons have each other and are forced to encounter and negotiate compromise on a daily basis.
Of course this has occasionally backfired. When my oldest told me in first grade his ears hurt in what I thought then was an attempt to dodge a day at school, I told him he would be fine and to eat his oatmeal. I turned to rinse some dishes and the next thing I heard was “Mom, why are my ears wet?” Blood. Ruptured ear drums. And clearly no Mother of the Year trophy for me.
But for the most part I feel I’ll be able to look my future in-laws in the eye and honestly say I did my best.
However, sometimes it’s not always as clear cut as teaching my sons to clean the bathroom or how to fold their own laundry.
Sometimes it’s bigger and way more complicated.
Initially I bucked his inquiries, told him he was safe and fine but that he can’t expect people (read future partners) to answer to him for every move, that he needs to trust people and to give them space.
Nothing abated and in fact got worse. I probed further. He said he was afraid to be alone and worried about intruders. We talked about statistics and how my being in the laundry room when he was in the living room did not render him alone.
His level of stress only continued to escalate. If I was out of sight, he stopped everything he was doing—reading, watching a favorite program, playing a videogame—and ran through the house. It was intense, and it was sad.
I decided then to start accounting to him—against everything in me. If I was going upstairs to brush my teeth, I told him. I told him where I was going, what I was doing, and how long I’d be gone. Precisely. The pain he experienced when he didn’t see me—whether for the reasons he had articulated or something else—was real, and, as his mother, if I could alleviate it, I had to.
So I did.
I stopped asking him and put a bandage on it until it naturally unfurled.
And last night it did.
“Mom, what are the symptoms of a heart attack?”
I didn’t know if this was the future scientist in him or just the curious young boy, but I told him.
Then, “Can you live after a heart attack?”
I told him people do live and sometimes they don’t. He immediately wanted to know how to ensure the former.
And then it clicked. He knows my mother died of a heart attack, that both my brother and my father have had significant cardiac issues.
“Mom, what if you’re in another room and have a heart attack?”
Little by little I tried to lift the weight he’s been carrying on his very young shoulders—letting him know I don’t smoke and never will, that my doctor monitors my blood pressure incredibly closely, that I have submitted to a daily medical regimen and am incredibly responsible in its administration, that I plan to be here for a very, very long time.
“You know, Mom, that’s why I follow you around. It’s not because I’m trying to be controlling. I would never do that to you or to anyone. I just love you.”
And, oh, my heart, I just love you, too.