I bend down and kiss my five-year-old son good night. I motion to sweep his hair from his eyes when the back of his hand wipes my invisible kiss from his cheek and I catch my breath.
This seemingly natural reflex is new—wiping off his mother's kiss—and it was not something I had expected until years down the road. I thought I’d have more time before this milestone.
With my kiss, a small token of love, his hand brushed away that moment of tenderness and in its wake planted the seeds for independence.
These are the same hands with fingers that curled tightly around mine minutes after he was born. The same hands that I held while helping him stumble-to-walk. The same I now hold while walking to preschool every day. The same hands that cradled my face on an afternoon to hold my gaze with his bright blue eyes and said, “Mama, will you remember these kisses?” as he proceeded to cover my face with his tiny mouth. The same hands that struggle to hold scissors and crayons at school. The same hands that interlock around my neck while I pretend I'm a galloping horse in the living room. The same hands that unexpectedly reach out to stroke the hair out of my eyes with a tender, “Mama, you are so beautiful,” when I am feeling my most unattractive.
This was the same hand that had wiped away my love in an instant.
Brick by brick I see the wall building between us—mother and son. The inevitable construction of boundaries that ultimately preserves and protects both parties. To grow up, I know that he must separate himself from me and experience life beyond the tether – beyond my protective reach. I know that in order to let someone else into his heart, he must first push me away, but I will deal with that when the moment comes (in 20 more years or so) but not tonight. Tonight, being pushed away hurts my feelings.
My tenderness and restorative kisses are now reserved only for scraped knees and soon, maybe not even those. In only a short five years my son is running away from me—both physically and emotionally. I still need him to need me. I hadn't realized how co-dependent we had become until his independence began to bloom.
I know this is part of “the deal” I made when I entered into motherhood. I fully understand that my duty is to raise independent, productive members of society, but it was the first time that I felt the sting from doing my job a bit too well.
I see the distance grow between us as my son displays less little-boy mannerisms and more teenage-like attitudes of scoffing, huffing, and puffing at daily requests like, “Don't forget to say please and thank you,” and “Remember to wash your hands.”
Am I already losing my influence? Does a mother ever truly lose her influence over her child?
These thoughts were racing through my mind at lightning speed and perhaps he saw my eyes fall. Maybe he noticed that I ever-so-slightly pulled away from him, wanting to give him the space that hand gesture indicated. After all, I don't want to smother him.
I found his eyes in the dim light and admitted softly, “It kind of hurt my feelings when you wiped away my kiss. Why did you do that?”
His eyes widened and welled up with tears at the thought of hurting my feelings. His arms fumbled their way up around my neck and pulled my head down so that my ear was just above his five-year-old boy lips and in a tiny whisper said, “It was only to make room for more kisses.”