This is a hard one to write. Today was my son’s well check up at his pediatrician. We’ve been with her since he was born 12 years ago and the visit seemed normal enough. He’s grown 5 inches since she last saw him and we just have to keep an eye on his snacking habits. Usual stuff. Now that he’s older they do have a moment where they ask Mom to leave the room so the doctor can ask him some private questions and get honest answers. Things like, are you doing drugs,drinking, having sex etc. I know the drill so I walked outside and leaned on the wall smiling as newborn babies were being carried by new mama’s in the hallway. I looked at them and thought that it was not long ago my boy was in my arms and now hes 12 and 5”2. By the end of the year he may be taller than me.
After a few minutes the doctor called me back in and said, “Everything is great Mom, you know that the answers he gave me are confidential but you can talk to him about that. However, I wanted to talk to you about how he’s feeling. He said he was sad and feeling depressed daily, and that he tried to reach out to the guidance counselor at school. He feels sad about the situation with his father and that he feels like he has no friends at school” I remember putting my arm around his shoulder and rubbing his back, i know exactly how he was feeling and I remember thinking that he was brave for mentioning it to the doctor. She gave me a few suggestions for a plan to help him and left the room to get someone to draw is blood for his routine bloodwork.
As she closed the door I reached over to him and gave him a big hug. I asked him if he felt like it was getting worse?- his sadness. He said yes. I then asked if he had a pie chart, could he tell me based on the slices what his biggest concerns are. (For those that do not know my son, he is a mathematical thinker so we often speak on percentages and sliding scales) he thought for a second and said its an “80/20 split”.
And i said ok so just 2 problems that make you said daily?”
Yes, he said.
“So tell me what is the 80/20?”. He replied with “80% my dad not calling me back or answering my calls and 20% are the kids at school being mean.”
And i sat there silent, seething, rage boiling in my stomach. After all what could i do about either situation? My instinct was to protect and my visceral reaction was to go for blood. He noticed the color in my face and asked if i was angry and I told him that No, not at him, just at the situation. He made a joke in his usual fashion and we laughed for a brief moment. The doc came back in and gave us an action plan and we left.
As we got into the car. I said to him “Buddy, I’m really proud of you. It’s hard for a 40-year-old to be honest and you are doing it at 12. How else can I help you?” He mentioned talking to the counselor and then in a very grown up way said “There’s nothing you can do, this is not your fault and Im used to it by now, I didn’t want you to worry”
I will admit it was at this moment that i felt a pang in my heart. A pain that I imagine is reserved for parents in way that is indescribable. A hopeless feeling. A moment of overwhelming stress. We are his parents we are here to protect him, to nurture him, and I can do nothing about this pain. It is something neither of us asked for, deserved or anticipated. I cannot force his father to show up. I cannot force him to answer his phone. I cannot force him to be consistent. All i could say to my child, who was hurting was that “Im sorry. And I know your father loves you, but right now he just cant be his best and its ok to be mad” We were at a stoplight and the car was silent, when i looked at him and said “I’ll tell you what. How about for the car ride home you can pretend im your dad and you can say anything you want to say. Ill even give you permission to cuss, yell, scream and get angry. You can cry, you can say nice things. And i wont say anything at all. And you wont get grounded because this is a safe place. And when you are done and want Mommy back. Just tap me on my hand.”
He hesitated and said something then tapped me on my hand. I said, well that was quick, do you feel better? do you have anymore to say? And he did. Boy did he ever. He finished by saying that he didn’t want to cuss (he didnt) but that if he could say these things to his face he would.
I ended up pulling over to take him to dinner at a restaurant. The kid deserved it. I took him to the grocery store and bought him a slice of lemon cake. We can work on the snacking part tomorrow. Today calls for comfort. We walked in the house and i turned on the NBA game for him and he’s smiling. Before he got settled in i said to him “Buddy, I know i cant make it stop hurting but I will make you a promise. I will be there for you and love you until my last breath. I will always be here and to if you need more, just tell me. Let me know if im not living up to it. Because you need a constant in your life and if i have to do the job of 2 people I will. Now im gonna fail sometimes, just so you know, im human. But i promise this” and i held out my pinky and we pinky promised. And i don’t know what tomorrow will bring but i know we will do this together. He and I.
And his father may never see this but this is all I have to say:
……I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then, dad
We’re gonna have a good time then.”