And so it begins.
My ten year old boy did not hold my hand this morning on our way to school. The dramatic Italian mamma in me is shattered. The pragmatic, forward thinking American half is trying to be all cool about it.
It's an automatism. His hand reaches for mine when we walk side by side, no matter the context. It's always been that way ever since he could walk.
Initially it was support to compensate wobbly toddler legs. Then it was the comfort of protection. Crossing the street. During a long walk on the beach. On the way back from the grocery store. A thing that moms and kids do. At age four holding my hand made him feel safe; at age six his cold fingers spelled that inexplicable knot at the mouth of the stomach that comes with attending grade school. At age nine he held my hand because he was proud to be walking with me. He sometimes even clasps his little sweaty palm to mine while chasing Pokémon.
This morning I let my hand dangle next to his, like I always do.
And nothing happened.
I reached for it and felt no reciprocity. I felt discomfort. There was a touch of embarrassment.
I let it go and chuckled.
"Have we grown out of this now?", I asked. He slanted a sheepish smile and looked away.
The rest of the walk to school was silent. I, oddly heartbroken, aware that the end of something was happening right there and then. He, apologetic. Something quietly tearing inside him? Holding hands for us, I want to make this perfectly clear, is A. Big. Deal. A nonchalant given, yet still a big deal.
I noticed him peering over his shoulder a few times during the walk. Maybe a little girl he likes was walking behind us, or maybe the courtyard bully, and in either case he didn't want to be seen holding his mother's hand. I don't know. I did not turn to look. He's very reserved and hardly ever speaks of his feelings.
I understand now that this is where the slow and painful detatchment begins. It starts with your little boy no longer holding your hand in a routine situation. Coming to terms with it takes lucidity. And stronger coffee than I had this morning.
We climbed the stairs of the school building and he routinely walked in front of me and held the door open for me at the top. As we traversed the large empty atrium, rubber shoes squeaking on the marble floor, I felt his hand slip quickly into mine. A split second. A squeeze and it was gone. His way of saying, 'I feel your pain Mom, but it's time I grow up.'
At the bottom of the large staircase, where I always stop to kiss him good-bye I leaned in for our morning peck. He offered his cheek.
"I'll see you at one", and I watched him lug his big blue backpack filled with bricks and anvils and waved, as always.
At one, when I pick him up, we won't talk about this. I won't say what I'd like to, which is, 'My hand will always be there.'
At home I'll have his favorite lunch ready, risotto and creamed spinach.
Will he notice? Will he say something? Am I exaggerating?
I don't know. We'll see.
Parenting is a mysterious learning experience. You understand things in the strangest circumstances. I just learned my almost-eleven-year-old only child is growing up, and – like growing up kids do – there is no forewarning, it just happens, period. Deal with it, Mom.
The things I took for granted – like holding your kid's hand – are no longer a given.
Better go get that risotto going, or it'll never be ready by one o'clock.