On a cold February night, my husbands’ co-workers and bosses stood around a private dining room at a local Italian restaurant, sipping wine and chatting before the annual holiday dinner. Several employees’ kids, all between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, were also in attendance, and were clustered at the back of the room near the kids’ table.
Staffed by two cheery women in their twenties, with bag after bag of stickers, books, and toys, the table was where one could leave their child while moving stealthily across the room to join in adult conversation and arugula wraps. Every child fell under the enchantment of play and silly songs. Every child except my son.
While the 18-month-old toddled around the room making eyes at various adults, and returning now and then to the table for sippy cup breaks, my son clung desperately to my leg. When addressed, he would turn his head to avoid eye contact. And leaving him at the kids’ table? Forget about it.
As two little girls sat quietly coloring, my son grabbed my hand and dragged me out of the crowded dining room. We ended up in an empty banquet room, where he pleaded with me to stay for the rest of the night because it was “quiet.”
When the entrées were served and everyone took their seats, I gave up my seat at the grownups’ table and headed for a seat next to little man.
They really are great babysitters, he’s okay.
Just eat with us, he’ll get over it.
Somebody’s a bit of a mama’s boy.
I know what they were thinking. You made him dependent with your series of mistakes we would not have made.
Like every person’s innate traits, our son’s aversions are viewed through the lens of his gender. Our boy is sweet, sensitive, aggressive, fearful of new people and places, and has trouble dealing with crowds. At home he likes to yell and chase his parents down like a giant TRex. In public, he drowns in stimuli. Our son can’t regulate himself in a world he often describes as “too hot, too loud.”
Still, little boys aren’t supposed to bury their heads in their mothers’ knees crying ,“I’m overwhelmed. Don’t leave me.”
Little boys who can’t sit without their parents are controlling, transgressive. Their insistence on connection cannot simply be about a human need for connection. It’s a struggle over power that I am obviously losing.
It did not escape my notice that when the two-year-old girl wanted to finish the main course on her mother’s lap, she was “sweet,” “loving,” and “sensitive.”
The truth is, I don’t have a hard time identifying with him. I’m an introvert and feel a fair amount of social anxiety. But I have nearly a decade of aggregated therapy under my belt, SSRIs, and a glass of cabernet in my hand.
He only has only his parents’ presence.
So we ate together that night, he and I, at the kids’ table, shoveling pasta in our mouths under my scarf. It was like having dinner in his tent at home—intimate, controlled, safe.
I know how it looked, we two lumps under a gauzy tarp. It looked like I was being taken for a fool. And I was. I am. I’m a fool for this strange, infuriating, wonderful boy who is his introverted mother’s son.
My boy is a mama’s boy. Just like you are your mama’s child. And whether our relationships with our mother are colored by warmth and support or heartbreak and disappointment, we carry that legacy with us our whole lives. We are all our mama’s children.