My son’s ribcage is expanding. I know this because he feels different when he sits on my lap. Naturally, he is growing, that is what children do. He is getting taller (the top of his head just grazes my chin). He weighs more (it is an effort, now, to carry him upstairs). When he was a baby, he would curl up and rest his head in the area between my neck and shoulder, like he was molded to fit that singular space. I could be still for hours, with nothing to concentrate on but his feathery breath warming my skin. Now, the layer of fat he carried for so long has depleted and been replaced with the signs of muscle, of strength. Too energetic to sit still, he stabilizes himself on my lap.
I tell myself that the changes I see in him are not just natural, but expected. As he moves from being a boy to a young man, he is developing a quiet confidence and a deep kindness that will be uniquely his own. His tastes will continue to mature and refine. His love of words will grow, his love of music will deepen. He will not only engage with the universe, but he will attack it head-on. This freedom is what I want for him, so I give him a wide berth to examine the world, providing only guardrails. I want his life to be a maze that is explored and discovered, not a labyrinth that is simply completed.
Intellectually, I understand that his maturing will be both emotional and physical. His legs are growing into an assured stride; his arms are growing to extend his reach. His chest is expanding to house the heart of the man he will become, not creating a distance that I cannot span. Where I once could envelop him, wrapping my arms around him, locking him in my embrace, now I can only steady his eleven-year-old frame. I can’t shield him from as much as I once could. I can’t block out the cruelties of world as easily anymore. I can’t stop the progression of time, the advance of the unknown.
I am at my most selfish when I think of him. I want nothing more than to never be away from him, but my sphere of influence is shrinking. It is growing smaller as he grows bigger. It diminishes just a little with each day that passes. But even without my protective buffer, I see how he remains brave and vibrant and joyful. And while he still likes to call himself my shadow, he is not yet hampered by the shadows that engulf me. He is not afraid of the world. I do not need to be afraid for him. He is not my diagnosis. He is not me.
I live on the edge of a pin that requires all sorts of energy to stay upright, to remain as balanced as possible. There are periods of time where I sink into a depression that leaves me too empty to weep. There are days when the electric shocks of anxiety make me afraid to move. There are moments where I survey my inner landscape and can’t imagine how I’ve survived the battles fought there. But I have. And I want my son to have all the strength I can give him if, as he becomes my legacy, my legacy becomes his.
Still, I am grateful every day when he seeks out quiet time on my lap, his arms around my neck, my arms around him. And as he tells me the events of his day in stunning detail, I breathe in the smell of dirt and grass and excitement. He still calls me “mama.” I call him “my love.” I try to forget how his chest makes mine ache. I remind myself that right now, in this moment, he is content to be exactly where he is.
This piece originally appeared on Medium: Human Parts.