My son Nick recently had an appointment to take his senior high school photos. Since He’s been driving for nearly a year, and seldom wants my company or advice, I figured he’d get himself to the portrait studio. Until he texted me at my office the day before, in the late afternoon.
“You’re coming with me tomorrow, right?”
“No,” I responded, slightly annoyed at the interruption. “I have to work”.
“I think parents are supposed to come,” he texted back. A bell went off.
“Are you nervous?”
Senior pictures are no longer a couple of poses in a cap and gown – they’ve morphed into modelling sessions with different outfits and fake backgrounds.
“A little,” Nick answered.
I looked at my calendar – two back-to-back meetings at the scheduled time. Of course. I swung into Mom mode, cancelling one and rescheduling the other. Not such a big deal after all. Dang, my son wanted me to go with him. I couldn’t remember my last invitation from him.[
The photo shoot was fun but Nick, it turns out, was very nervous. I hovered behind the photographer making goofy faces, trying to humor him into candid smiles. Then I embarrassed him by purchasing a key chain with a large photo of him, which was printed right on the spot. Nick thought it was tacky. I told him he should count his blessings that there was no charm bracelet option.
On the way home, I asked Nick how he was feeling about going away to college the following year. He played it safe for a few minutes, talking about he hoped to end up somewhere with warm weather and fun dorm-mates. Then, texting away but not looking at me, he launched into how glad he’d be to live his life the way he wanted, without me pushing him to always be doing more, doing better. I couldn’t argue much; he had valid criticisms. The conversation was difficult and important. It probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made the time to be with him that morning, or if I hadn’t gently probed him on how he was feeling.
Nick seldom volunteers information but he’ll open up to questions. This really hit home about a year earlier, March of his junior year.
It was a Friday night, and Nick and I were walking our fluff ball of a dog. He’d just arrived home after going to a sweet sixteen party for his friend Sophie at a Chinese restaurant.
“Who was at the party?” I began.
Nick rattled off names of about nine girls.
“Were you the only boy?” I asked. Nick nodded.
“Were you comfortable?” I knew he’d say yes but I wasn’t ready to cut to the chase.
“Yeah,” he responded.
“Have you had crushes on any of those girls?”
He shook his head, looking at me and looking away, holding the leash and walking ahead of me.
I wasn’t consciously thinking about where I was going with this line of questioning. I was more listening to my intuition that this was the right time. And my gut told me Nick needed a push.
“Do you even know yet if you get crushes on girls or boys?” I continued. “That can be confusing.”
“Uh. Hmm.” He cleared his throat. “Boys.” Very clearly stated. There was no trace of doubt in my son’s voice.
We kept talking that night and throughout the weekend. There was so much we wanted to say, to share, to question that we’d both been keeping a lid on. Nick said he’d wanted to tell me for over two years but just couldn’t figure out how to bring it up, couldn’t decide what the perfect moment would be. And I’d been feeling like I shouldn’t ask, that I should wait until he was ready. He ended up feeling that my asking the question created that perfect moment.
I stare at the plastic framed picture of my beautiful boy dangling on my key chain. My son still needs me. It’s not as easy as it used to be. There are no clear signals – no tears, no scraped knees, and no easy answers. Most of the time he doesn’t want or need my opinion, but he still wants my support, my acceptance, and my love. I’m going to keep asking questions, making sure that invisible tether between our hearts keeps pulling us together and apart.
Marianne Lonsdale writes personal essays and short stories, and is slowly cranking out a novel set in Oakland in 1991 about a crazy romance. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Mama, Fiction365, Pulse and has aired on KQED. She’s a cofounder of the Write On Mamas, and is honored to be an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Marianne lives with her husband, Michael, and son, Nicholas, in Oakland, California. You can find her at Mariannelonsdale.com or on Facebook.