Even 6th Graders Hug Their Moms

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In 2002, when my son was just turning three, all he wanted to be when he grew up was a firefighter. Well, maybe Bob the Builder, too. Dreams of saving structures and the people trapped in them was his kind of a dream job. Cameron had it all -- the firefighter suit, the plastic ax, and even a pedal powered metal fire truck that his big sister had outgrown. I guess firefighter fantasies run in our family.

I’m not sure how much 9/11 influenced this decision -- probably not a huge amount at his tender age. Although the media was full of heroic images of brave men and women who fought to save those people trapped in the twin towers. Out of this tragedy the “Twin Towers Orphan Fund” was born, and author Christine Kole MacLean published Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms to raise money for the children who lost parents in the World Trade Center.

It was a perfect fit for my family -- a picture book about a boy and his little sister who love to pretend play, especially fantasizing about firefighters. It became an instant favorite for my son, and as he grew it evolved into a catch phrase for us -- whenever it seems like I will never get a cuddle again, I remind him of his favorite story.

Yesterday, I reminded him. Since kindergarten, my husband or I have always ridden bikes with our children to school. At first it was for safety reasons -- tippy training wheels for my daughter while my son gloried in the bumps of the bike trailer. We loved the ½-mile ride to and from school each day. Often, my daughter would beg me to "drop her off at the corner," but I always managed to make it into the bike racks, grabbing a last kiss and hug before she trotted off to her classroom. Later, once they were both in school and I went back to teaching, my husband joyfully took over the duties. When Lily advanced to 7th grade, she and I biked to and from our school together and enjoyed the time to talk about what was coming up in her life and how she was getting along with friends. Now I bike alone each day, missing her company.

So when I had the opportunity yesterday morning to ride to school with Cam, I jumped on it. This is our last year of elementary school, and it feels like a chapter of childhood is closing. Eager to squeeze out every moment I can, we hop on our bikes and quickly head out on the bike path. My big red cruiser is no match for his neon pink BMX bike -- I have to work to keep up. After a few minutes he slowed and said, “You know, Mom, when Lily was in 4th grade she rode to school by herself. Why do you still ride with me?”

“Well, it’s not because I don’t think you can do it, Cam. It’s because I want to be with you,” I answer. “Remember how you like me to tuck you in at night? It’s kind of the same thing. It’s just a special time when we’re together.” Silence greets my comment like the calm before a storm.

“Dad never rides all the way anymore. He drops me off at the park just before the bike racks.” Clearly he is ready to hold his ground. "And you know, I ride home with my friends now. You don’t need to pick me up anymore.”

“Really?” I reply, a hint of sarcasm in my voice. “You mean I can’t take you all the way, help you lock your bike and give you a big hug and kiss?” His cold, silent stare gives me his answer. “Even 6th graders hug their moms.”

“Hi, Max!” Cameron yells, ending the conversation as if on cue. Sure enough, here comes his buddy riding up right behind us.

I take the hint, and quietly whisper, “Bye, Cam. See you after school,” as I turn and ride towards home. The pang in my chest carries me, tears welling as I pedal. I realize that my little firefighter may not be wearing the costume, but I still adore him just the same.

Seven hours later, long after the pain had subsided and he walked in the door after school, I was welcomed with a great big bear hug. Yep, even 6th graders hug their moms. Just not in public.

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