He turns 13 this weekend.
The age he becomes a man, he tells me.
I tell him he’s not a man yet.
He disagrees and tells me he is.
He’s at that age where he is teetering between precious childhood and stepping into a world that feels a bit more grown up.
I feel him growing up and it makes me sad.
I miss the small child who eagerly grabbed my hand as we would walk across a parking lot, his smile beaming up at me.
The little boy that used to crawl into his mother’s lap constantly now says he’s too big.
No more cuddling him until he falls asleep.
No more special little rituals that we once did.
As I cleaned out my office this weekend, a task long overdue, I came across so many little mementos of just a few years ago that made me pause.
Drawings, some just scribbles, but full of hearts that he had made for me.
Notes we had passed back and forth on days I would be at work and he would be home, that I hid around the house for him to find were tucked into the nooks and crannies of my space for safe keeping.
I sat in the floor and carefully looked at each of them as I softly cried.
It seemed like it had just been yesterday he had been this small tot, and I was his “sweet girl” and his “heart.”
Now, it felt like he was trying to pull away little by little.
He keeps trying to assert his independence in dozens of little ways.
“I can make my own food, you know. I know how to use the stove.”
“I don’t like you using the gas,” I reply.
He sighs as he puts the food back up. “I am capable of using it. I know how. You just won’t let me. Why?”
Because, cooking for him is the one thing I have left.
The one thing no one else could do like Mama; Daddy has never been able to make his food, not even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Cole even preferred my cooking to Granny’s, saying when right past his toddler stage that Granny’s food was good, but it wasn’t Mama’s.
And now, he wants to make his own food.
“Can you take me somewhere and I will buy us lunch?” he asks. “My treat.”
“No,” I say.
He sighs again. “Then just let me cook. I can do it.”
I stop and look at him – really look at him.
He’s my height now, but tall and lean. His face that once had cute cherubic features is now getting angular and showing the shadow of a moustache.
His voice cracked a little the other day and it made me tear up again.
His hair that he has spent the last year growing out in aspirations of Keanu Reeves’ style in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is now getting on his nerves and he wants it cut.
We argue over the style he can get. “It’s my hair,” he tells me. “That’s what you said when I asked if I could grow it out.”
But I know the shorter cut will make him look older and that pains me.
“Are you going to get his hair cut?” Mama asks me.
The best ally for any child is the grandmother. Even if the grandmother may not have let her own child do the same thing the grandchild wants to do.
“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I don’t want it short. I like it long.”
“Well, he said he wants it short and he knows how he wants it.”
“I still am his mother and I still have some say in how he gets his hair cut,” I said.
“Why don’t you want him to get it cut?”
“Because…” I searched for the words. “I just feel like he is growing up too fast and the short hair will make him look older.”
Mama was quiet for a few moments before she softly said, “It’s OK to let him grow up, you know. If anything, it will be pretty amazing to see the incredible person he is destined to be.”
I know he will be an amazing adult. What I have wanted for him is to have a compassionate heart, to have his own opinion that he expresses respectfully, and to always treat everyone equally with love and kindness.
He does that now. He always has, without me having to teach him.
I ran into his former kindergarten teacher a few weeks ago, and Cole sat, talking to her about “when he had been a child.” She lovingly told me after he bounced away for a few moments, “He’s growing up, you know.”
I nodded. She squeezed me. “It’s OK, honey. He’s a great kid and will be a great man.
He will be fine. And you will be, too.”
As I tucked all my memories into a file box labeled “Sentimental,” Cole peeked in my office.
“Can I please use the stove? I am so hungry and didn’t want to bother you.”
He expected me to say no, I know. But instead, I urged him to be careful.
“Really? I can use the stove? For real?”
“Thank you! I will be careful, I promise. I promise. Can I make you something?”
I shook my head no.
He was growing up. Rapidly and slowly at the same time, in front of my very eyes, as he teeters that line. But, forever my baby, he always will be.
No matter what.