The other day, a man walked into my house.
He was driving my son’s car. He was wearing my son’s clothes. He even called me “Mom.”
But I had never seen this man before.
He bore a vague resemblance to a boy I dropped off at college not long ago. But the boy I remember was smaller. He held his hand out for me to hold when we crossed a street, or stepped onto an escalator. The man towered over me, putting his arm across my shoulders with ease.
The boy had an innocent face and sparkling, curious eyes. The man had a strong jaw, and a confident look. He even had facial hair.
The boy asked me questions when he wanted to learn about new things. The man talked about graduation, and about applying for jobs in California.
The boy didn’t want me to kiss him in front of his friends, and squirmed when I said “I love you.” The man hugged me tightly, and when he did I felt his love.
As I stood there watching the man – and remembering the boy – another image came to me.
The man stood in the west coast sun, with his arm around a different woman. A woman with a softer face and brighter eyes. With a smile that lit up when he entered the room. I recognized the look on the man’s face. It was the same look the little boy had when he got a new toy, or made a good grade. When he was happy.
The man stood close to the woman, so close it appeared they were one. And his hand reached out to a little boy. A boy whose eyes looked very familiar.
At that moment, I understood what my job had been all along.
When he was little I thought my job was to teach him to count and read. To cross the street safely. To say “please” and “thank you.”
I thought my job was make sure he brushed his teeth and did his homework. And wore deodorant.
But it turns out my job was to prepare him for his life without me.
In another place.
With another woman by his side.
As I returned to the moment at hand, a wave of nervousness flooded over me. And the words I’ve been contemplating for two decades came to my mind.
Roots and wings.
I gave the boy roots. That was the easy part. That was teaching him to read and cross the street and to brush his teeth and kiss him mama.
But the wings part, this was hard. But the time had come and I now had to step back and give him room to take flight.
I hope he lands somewhere special, and finds the woman with the bright eyes. I hope he remembers to say “please” and “thank you” and to wear deodorant.
And I hope he remembers his mama loves him.
On May 3, 2015 I read this essay on the stage at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge as part of the cast of Listen To Your Mother 2015. It was one of the top ten days of my life.
You may view the entire LTYM: Baton Rouge 2015 show by clicking here.