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The Heartbreak of Growing Kids

Author Pam Topper

My son is 17. As he grows older, the harder it is for me to connect with him. Sometimes I think the only thing we have in common anymore is our genes and good looks, that he obviously gets from me. His stubbornness is clearly not from me and I refuse to acknowledge anything to the contrary.

His childhood was filled with dance parties, creative projects, bedtime stories, and dressing up as superheroes where we’d battle to the death. We spent time imaginary fishing from the balcony where we only caught boots. There were badly executed magic shows and monster truck races by the thousands. Rarely was there a dull moment.

Ever since he was little, we used to go out for coffee. Coffee shops were our thing. It started before he even existed in the world. Before the idea of him even existed. My sister and I would camp out on Friday nights at our local coffee shop and giggle and complain and get jittery until they closed at midnight. My son was born into this. We added games to the mix and more kid-friendly conversations. It was here, in this coffee shop, that my son learned of my first name during a game of Go-Fish (which he always mistakenly called Gold-Fish). So he learns my first name and on his turn, he squeaks it out with his little 5-year-old voice, “Pam, do you have a 7?” right before busting the whole table into mad giggles. Still, to this day, he calls me by my first name. This disturbs other people, thinking it’s so disrespectful and they look down on me that I allow such behavior. His reasoning is this, “It’s her name.” And it just makes sense to him. It would be weird for him to call me Mom. He’s a logical thinker, this one.

So he’s born into giggles, games, and a weekly tradition that we look forward to all week. He orders chocolate milk (that once came out of his nose when the giggles overlapped with the milk and was immediately added to my Top 5 Proud Parenting Moments) and I cram as much caffeine in my body as it will allow. When he got a little older, he upgraded to Green Tea Frappuccinos which he pronounced “Choppicinos.” It’s clearly a better name anyway. 

The summer before middle school, we moved out of state. We continued our Coffee Sundays, just the two of us. We continued to play games and even invented our own. So what if he wouldn’t hold my hand anymore as we frolicked to our nearby coffee spot. That’s understandable. He was about to be a teenager, after all. He starts gaining his independence more and more. He wants his own time. I get it. Our tight connection starts getting a little looser. At least I can depend on Coffee Sunday. It’s the one time that is ours. 

It was when we moved to yet another state the summer before he went into high school that really got me. “Pam, I don’t think we should be going on coffee dates anymore.” It was like he was breaking up with me. And we still lived in the same house. So it was like someone breaking up with you that you’ve been loving for 14 years and you still lived in the same house. I begged him not to do so. I could change. I could let him choose all the games. I could try my best to not gaze lovingly at him across the table. I could try to call him by his actual name instead of all the millions of pet names I’d given him. He stood by his decision. I was heartbroken, but it was only the beginning of a very long heartbreak.

Suddenly, he was too old to have fun with his mother, let alone be seen in public with her. My connection to him was in serious danger. First, there’s the umbilical cord, now Coffee Sundays. The very thought of him moving away from me before he was 35 drew tears immediately and sent me into a dark place. He’s growing into a man before my very eyes and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. It’s not that he dislikes me or not even that he doesn’t depend on me as much anymore. It’s more about one of my best friends in the whole world rejecting my company that I apparently very much needed for my own happiness. And it’s a natural rejection, so I couldn’t even argue about it. It’s a natural age to not want to hang out with your parents as much. He’s coming into his own self, being more independent, spending his time with less adult people. He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing in order to grow into a normal adult, which means that I’ve been doing a good job at being his mother. But every day is heart- wrenching and I just want to throw a fit and pull out the forbidden, “because I said so” to get him to hang out with me. But that’s not cool, because he has legit reasons and I need to respect that.

Suddenly, I couldn’t watch anything with families without bursting into tears. I was so raw that anything would set me off. I would get upset with him, because I was hurt. There were significantly fewer giggles and more fighting. This hands-off thing was so hard. There was a piece of me missing. Well, he wasn’t missing, he was just in his room 100% of the time.

I realized it wasn’t fair of me to put so much of my happiness on him. It’s not his fault he’s so awesome. He doesn’t need the responsibility of entertaining me. I’m a grown woman! I needed to switch gears and show him good adulting, not just a good buddy. So I ask him about his future and what kinds of things he might want. I offer to show him how to cook, drive, and get him his own bank account. We talk about problem solving, responsibilities, and if he’ll have pets someday when he lives on his own (ideally late 30s). 

Now when I miss him, I go into his room and camp out on his bed against his will. I beg him to play with me. (Sometimes my adulting is weak.) I’m basically a younger, annoying sibling that he can’t tattle on. I bribe him with cookies for Pam-time, because everyone wins (except the cookies). He likes comedy, so I can sometimes get him to watch a TV series with me like an old sit-com from the 90s. He’ll usually only watch one episode with me (so I only get about 20-25 minutes at a time) and if I’m super lucky or he’s really bored, he’ll allow me two. (Also, I made a rule that if it’s to be continued, we HAVE to watch the next one immediately.) So there’s a short period of time when we sit in the same room and giggle at all the same stuff. And it’s magical. And I pretend that he secretly likes it, because I think that he secretly does. And when the show is over, he gets up, turns off the TV, and kisses me before he returns to his room. And I’m reminded of how he still likes me after all.

Author Pam Topper

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