It’s said mothers fall in love with their sons. This is almost certainly true. Mothers may escape into hearts of their daughters; they become completely lost in souls of their sons. Perhaps it’s the similarities and what the resemblance may bring later that keeps her from becoming too enraptured. After all, she’s a girl, and daughter, and knows the part, well. But with her son the distinctions are too great, the unknowns too compelling. She’s never been a boy and those inescapable mysteries are unavoidably alluring.
But to be a parent is a thankless job and to be a mother is heartbreakingly thankless. I’m watching one break now. The Queen’s oldest, a boy, is two months from the first step on his life’s next journey. The campus is an hour away, but it might as well be a distant planet in a far off galaxy. She’s embracing his transition – from boy to man, child to equal – boldly and admirably; seeing this natural progression as something gained, instead of something lost.
Sadly, this isn’t so for many mothers. Great numbers find themselves devastated by the evolution; the final page in the closing chapter of a book writ large in bedtime stories, warm hugs, and kissed boo-boos. As if her heart is being ripped from the chest and repeatedly smashed to pieces.
Yet these mothers must not consider their suffering as evidence of wrongdoing, or had they just been more of this or less of that things could have been different.
The fact is, the boy was born to break her heart.
As I’ve written before, watching the Queen’s oldest navigate the teen years with all its side effects has ignited memories of my own boyhood. And sadly, it’s also reminded me I also was a son who broke his mother’s heart.
She and I were close. I was undoubtedly a ‘momma’s boy’. As the oldest of our extended family, I was the center of everyone’s attention, especially my mom, from the time I came into the world. Rumor has it my feet never touched the ground until my sister was born.
Like most sons and mothers, she was my safety from the storm and a blanket hiding me from those monsters lurking in the closet. She was whom I ran to for solace, encouragement, and Band-Aids. She bestowed on me confidence and a love of classic soul. But our bond, like those same mothers and sons, was delicate, and quickly unraveled from the tension of hormones, acne, and a ’79 Datsun.
I’m not exactly sure when I broke her heart, but I know I did. Perhaps it was that first time I recoiled at her affection or rolled my eyes at her motherly prescription to ‘be careful’. Or maybe it started to break after that first shrug and my marble mouth reply of ‘I don’t know’ when asked about my day. Or likely it was when my attitude and spiteful remarks made her feel that to be in her presence was, for me, more nuisance than nourishing. Whenever the moment it surely must have devastated her as reality fell heavy that she was ’losing her son’.
The bond of mother and son ebbs like waves. It begins at high tide and overflows with adoring affection. What little boy hasn’t, at some point, wanted to ‘marry mommy’? From the start she is more than just a parent or sandwich maker; she is, quite literally, his everything. Not a flesh and blood fallible creature but an indefinable and beautiful dream. This is the reality whether a father is there or not and regardless if he is a good or bad dad. Mother becomes paramount in the boy’s life, at least for a time.
But as he grows and takes notice of those things around him – not to mention the things changing within him – his impressions of her shift. Through a new lens colored in puberty, wet dreams, and the girl next door his once magnificent vision of her loses some of its brilliance. The magical veil falls and standing before him now is someone more human and less perfect, with her own hopes and desires, weaknesses and worries. But perhaps more importantly, for this first time in his life he sees his mother as a woman, and that knowledge toys with his mind and his emotions, raising up a question that may take years to answer, ‘where and how does she fit into my life now?’
Motherhood casts a long deep shadow that protects the young child from the scorching rays of reality, but inevitably every boy, every single one, will look to escape from under it. The timing depends on any number of factors including the strength of his desire to flee and force of her will for him to stay. But when it does come, her shade, once so sweet and gentle to him, turns bitter and resentful as she becomes the embodiment of what he’s desperately trying to leave behind – his childhood. Why else will most teenage boys become nauseous at the mere hint of being mothered? Doing so is to wrap a chain around his neck while his mother pulls back in an effort to keep him the little boy she doesn’t want to let go of.
It’s through my experience and memories that I’ve tried to prepare the Queen as best I can for her inevitable heartbreak, for the day when he would forever stop being her little boy. And to reassure her that his pulling away isn’t something she has or hasn’t done, but merely the natural progression he must make to become a man, and to assure her this escape is Providential. Is it not said that a boy will leave his father and mother and cleave to another? What gets missed in that verse is that cleaving to one thing means he must cleave from something else.
But lastly, and most urgently, I’ve tried to help her see that, much like the prodigal son who broke the father’s heart, flees, but later returns, if she can abandon the desire to hold onto what once was and instead embrace his need to escape to that distant land, he may perhaps return as a man newer and better than she could have dreamed, and so doing realize the broken heart that once caused her so much pain was every bit worth the breaking.