I Gave My 8-Year-Old Son Permission to Run Away
"I'm leaving," Ryan announced. With huge resolve. A politician announcing he is dropping out of a race.
But he stood at no podium -- he was coiled up in a corner of his bed, an angry cat. The tip of his tail twitching.
He'd had a fight with his brother; for once, Little Brother, on command, hadn't felt like playing Legos or Beyblades. He'd actually wanted to play all by himself.
"Nobody likes me in this family," Ryan ranted from his corner. And guess what, I don't like any of you back! I hate you all, even you!"
Me? I sat on the edge of his bed. I took a breath. Not so easy to breathe frankly, when my child can yell at me and I yearn to yell back, to lapse into the equally childish.
So before I could think of what to say, I said what I felt: "That's hurtful."
My son's anger turned muted. Tearful.
But he held his resolve. "I don't care! I'm running away! To California. The very farthest place on earth I can get from here."
Well, at least he had some grasp on the geography of our country, if not the world....
For the thousandth time, I was left speechless in front of my own offspring. As when recently over a bowl of Lucky Charms, he'd asked as casually as whether rain were in the forecast, how did God "come to be alive?"
When I'd birthed this little offspring eight years ago, my first mixed feelings had emerged soon after my C-section, when I paced my hospital room with him screeching on my shoulder. He'd been nursed and diaper changed. Why wasn't that enough to pacify?
After eight years of mothering, those feelings have only grown more mixed. The crying infant has morphed into a far more complex little being, who now can talk back and push and pull at no longer my sucked-worn breasts, but my whole being, at will. And in that push-and-pull arena, I long to uphold a harmonious stance; to say just the right thing in the moment, so I will have no regrets later. No picking at the scabby "should have would haves" at 3 am, when I should be counting, however restless, fuzzy cute little sheepies.
But the apt words weren't there.
So I asked: "Can I call you a cab? To the airport?"
"I'm going on foot. I just have to pack."
He pushed past me off his bed, to find one of my old bags, even though he worried they're just for girls.
I left him alone to pack. I quietly shut his door. I went downstairs to finish the dinner dishes. Feeling stupid for being angry and hurt by by a little boy who doesn't yet even know how to tell time beyond half hour increments.
Then I heard Ryan calling down the stairs: "Mom?! I can't find Bunny. OR Lamby."
Ryan would never run away without Bunny and Lamby whom he's slept with since he was a baby. He used to suck on Lamby's ears. He sometimes still likes to stroke Bunny's silken worn torn tag.
"Look under your bed," I called, wondering at my sharp tone. Or what kind of tone I should have at all.
"Well, they're not there."
"They're your responsibility."
He slammed his door.
I seethed. I hate when my kids slam doors (even though I don't mind slamming them myself).
I turned on the dishwasher just as he yelled something else down the stairs so I couldn't hear him. I yelled back, "Can't hear you!!"
A moment later, he appeared on the kitchen, lavender handbag flung over his shoulder. A couple of Nerf guns stuck out.
"I said, if you really want me to stay I will. But only if you really want me to."
Here's the "should have would have" part: I should have said something simple and ended it there. Why yes, of course, sweetheart, I love you and would miss you so very much! But my feelings were mixed up to the point of a messy muddle.
Instead, I stooped to the level of bratty. Or at least that's how it sounded to me (feel free to disagree). "Fine. Stay. Whatever. Go take your shower. Now."
This only pushed him an inch closer to California. He stomped back upstairs, slammed the door again, this time the bathroom one. So hard, all the nicely framed wall photos, our grinning family in all those unmixed perfect moments -- clowning in some pool, grinning through the wood hole of a pumpkin -- were sent swaying. Madly.
And then I heard him press in the door lock.
Ok. I can take a slammed door or two.
But our boys know they're not allowed to lock the door.
And the little wire key we keep perched on the door frame ledge wasn't there. He'd slammed so hard, it must have flown off, into the hall rug, quickly lost in the swirling flowered pattern.
I told him to open the door.
I scrounged around in the swirling flowers, scraping my fingers through the fibers.
I was panicked. I couldn't get to my son. Not quite the more serious panic of losing him in crowded mall, but one that closely resonates.
"Open the damn DOOR!"
I'm sure it was the "damn" that got to him. A curse word! Or maybe it was that he knew he'd finally pushed-and-pulled at me enough to break my harmonious stance.
So he opened the door. Enough to peek out.
And enough for me to push past him.
Now I stood at the podium: "When you're 18, you can run away to wherever you want. But until then, you abide by the rules we live by under this roof. Understood? Which includes not locking the bathroom door."
The anger was gone. His eyes were wide. He nodded. He shut the door quietly as a little mousey.
A moment later, the water was running. Then I heard him singing one of the silly rhyming songs he'd made up, "I sat on a rat who ate my hat then sat on a fat cat...."
As quickly as that, we were back to normal. He'd tested my limits, broke them, and now he wouldn't be running away to California.
And then I wondered: Maybe it was meant to be this way. Maybe this is the only way a parent and child can truly connect. In the push-and-pull arena, in the battle of wills.
Though I still haven't found the key. Will probably vacuum it up later this week.
Photo Credit: jonasj.