He spends three of the last seven nights on the sofa as he did more often than not during those final tedious months of high school, asleep in the middle of our tiny home – visible, vulnerable, at the center of the household.

Exhausted TeenagerI have my thoroughly defensible theories as to why he sleeps there and he is unlikely to deny them: the space is more open than his cramped bedroom, the kitchen is only a few steps away, he can doze off while chatting on his computer and at the same time, watching television.

I have my theories bred of the mother’s sentimental heart: he knows I will see him in the morning as I move silently through my routine; I will look on his sleeping face and experience a younger child and the still sweetness of our connection.

I sense there is complicity in this return to the living room, this removal of walls, this presence tinged with another goodbye.

I decide that it doesn’t matter why he is there but I like it, and take it as a kindness just as I do his acquiescing when he requests a gathering of friends and I lay down so many rules that he does not push, and he takes my response as a no.

I am tired, and he sees it.

* * *

I wonder why we push, and push again, and keep on pushing though I know the physics, the biology, the psychology of our universal compulsions to expand and contract, to push and then withdraw, only to resume the cycle.

It isn’t only mothers who push, though we are famously defamed for it. Ours is pushing from a place of love, pushing out of harm’s way, pushing that is a necessity when a child must learn and less so, as he comes into his own manner of pull – and appropriately, he pushes back.

Yet mothers push and it’s the way we bring our children into the world whether they arrive in our arms via documents and journeys, or sliced open by the surgeon’s skilled hand, or pushed out as a squalling and impossibly adored creature after a day and night of excitement and anguish and exhaustion and exhilaration.

Birthing our babies is only the beginning. Eventually we push them out of the nest and until that time there is the slow carriage of one hundred fifty-seven thousand two hundred forty-eight hours in between, give or take.

Each moment is a contentment, a story, a heartache.

* * *

What is the reason behind the popularity of push presents? When did this happen? Must we really commercialize even this, insisting we deserve material rewards for the privilege of a life to cherish?

Pushing is for pins into cork board; pushing is for grocery carts through the produce aisle; pushing is for strollers through the covered mall when it rains, and the neighborhood when the sun is shining.

Pushing is not about presents; it is the body’s mechanism for expelling the infant, for igniting its independent breathing, for launching him or her into turmoil and sensation, into air and light.

* * *

It is pushing midnight and he is partying on another parent’s turf, on another parent’s dime, the cause of another parent’s headache. I’m plodding through multiple tasks as usual and my neck throbs and my eyes are burning at the cruelty of the hour.

I’m grateful for the silence and waiting to hear his key in the lock. However desirous of sleep, I push on. There are projects to give birth to. There are chapters. There are dreams.

* * *

I am searching for a program on my laptop on the machine my son fiddled with when I first purchased it. I recall him telling me there is a media center and movie maker but these aren’t tools that I need; I use whatever is expedient and push on to meet my deadlines.

In my fatigue I click the wrong icon and open a set of windows I’ve never seen. I find three media files dated April 2010, each with a tiny image of my son.

The first is a clip of ten seconds or so. My teen comedian is contorting his mouth and wiggling his eyebrows, then applying a distortion effect. I have no idea how he managed it and I cannot help but laugh.

The second clip is a short ramble, apparently a test of recording volumes. He looks disheveled, he says little, and I take in the contours of his adolescent face and still see the boy.

There is a third clip, and it is something else altogether.

* * *

It is the week he will travel, the week when his nonchalance will grate on me, the week I will have to bite my tongue because the desire to push will be strong: Do you know who’s meeting you, will you give me the phone numbers, what do you mean you change planes in Chicago, do you have any money, where is your passport, what about Euros, where exactly are you working every day for the next months.

The details are sketchy but I do not push. I focus on the hours ahead filled to my own overflowing.

It is the week of the long day before, three loads of dirty laundry which I must goad him into doing, and so he does. It is the week of errands and worries and the night before his departure, instead of staying home to pack he’s in my room angling for the car keys and anxious to visit friends, and he pushes and he pushes and I’m too tired to say no.

It is the grueling day of a trip on the train to the airport, long minutes at the ticket counter as he stoops and rifles through his luggage which is two pounds overweight, conversation over a Styrofoam plate of fried rice with sweet and sour chicken; business people in transit, tourists in transit, children in transit and parents wiping their eyes.

It is the afternoon of the quick hug before he steps into the security line, the tears I push off as he disappears from view, the distracted ride home, the hours of busying myself, the text from Chicago, and night’s silence as I work and wait for a call from overseas that comes at 5:40 a.m.

He has landed. His aunt and uncle have found him. He begins his next adventure in a country he doesn’t remember well, and a language that he doesn’t know.

* * *

The third video is something special and in the clip he is barely seventeen and seems so much younger. He is speaking through a fog, his voice is hesitant, his shoulders bent in weariness, and he says:

Hi Mom. So it’s the middle of the night and I was working on my history project and thought I’d try this and say hello and tell you I’m going to get some sleep now, and everything is going fine. But how do I get you to play this when you get up in a couple of hours? I know, I’ll do this – I’ll write “play me” and you’ll see it.

He narrows his eyes and purses his lips; he concentrates. I watch his index finger moving toward the screen and painting the words “play me” across the surface as if dipped into a puddle of vermillion. I have no idea how he accomplishes this, but he seems amused by the ability to do so. He finishes this task with a flourish and says:

Well… now you’ll know to play this video, except these words appear at the end and I’d have to leave a message to say play, but rewind first. [He laughs.]

OK. Maybe you’ll just find this. Anyway, goodnight. And I love you.

* * *

I do not find the video in August 2010 when we are fighting because I can’t afford to insure him on the car, so he cannot get a driver’s license, so he cannot learn to drive.

I do not find the video in December 2010 when we are up all night side by side on the sofa, as he’s filling out nine college applications and I am trying to document our finances and navigate the paperwork process of each individual school.

I do not find the video in January 2011 when I must hide my fear of the future, my worry over money that never lets up, how beaten I feel trying to keep us afloat one more year, one more season, one more month; how tired I am, each and every hour.

I do not find the video when the cute girl with the blonde hair has a crush on him, when the cute girl with the black hair has a crush on him, when he has a crush on an unnamed girl and it doesn’t go well and he’s sullen and snappish.

I do not find the video when I am so exasperated over another set of lost keys that I lose my cool and yell, and immediately feel guilty. But I am always feeling guilty though I know the emotion is misplaced; I am guilty over the car he can’t drive and the money we don’t have for college visits. I am guilty over the push, always the push for academic excellence so he may secure a possible future despite the money struggles and my own ungovernable limitations.

I push away the guilt but it persists. I do not push away my son, and I apologize. I am always apologizing and he tells me to stop and when I don’t stop I apologize again. For not stopping.

I do not find the video in March 2011 when we’re walking on eggshells and waiting to hear from colleges, and he is sleeping on the sofa. I do not find the video as he studies all night in the weeks before graduation, and he is sleeping on the sofa. I do not find the video during the long summer of parties that spill over into the yard through the night, and he – or one of his friends – is sleeping on the sofa.

I do not find the video during the long months he is away at school, or when he calls to ask how I am doing and makes it a point to tell me he likes the man I’m dating. I do not push him for answers in his personal life, though I ask about grades and he’s upbeat but non-committal. I worry because I know how hard he’s pushing himself.

* * *

The day before the night of overseas travel when I pace but less than I used to, and worry but less than I used to, I restrain myself from pushing so everything is done and nothing is forgotten.

I tell myself the children of my heart have traveled far. I do not need to push; I feel their pull and they invite me to them. This is the day after I find the video that says I love you – not because he feels required to say the words, only because they were there – an unforced gift.

You May Also Enjoy


© D. A. Wolf


  1. says

    I’m in a hurry to get out the door to travel to Napa, CA today – for a bike ride and a farmer’s market and 2 chef demonstrations that are done on Thursday nights through the summer, but I was so mesmerized by what you’ve written here that all of that went out the window. I write to women who are empty nest mothers and I hope that they still see their significance and I have two sons and I felt every word of what you’ve written here. Your memory of the detail, your ability to pull up just the right word and recall just the right moment are, indeed, a gift. In reading this I thought, I’d love to give this mother a little push into a breezy hammock or a push into a cool body of water that would buoy her there and give her rest. What a woman! Thank you for giving such nobility to motherhood.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you, Barb. I don’t feel noble. I think we do whatever we have to, as best we can. (And that breezy hammock sounds wonderful!)

  2. lunaboogie says

    This is beautiful, and I am crying too.

    I am impressed that one thing you have not pushed (so it seems to me) is for your sons to pursue degrees guaranteed to provide them jobs at the end of college. Rather, it seems, you have supported them in following their paths, following their passions and hearts.

    So I ask, how do you push aside the reality of needing to find work for a living, and trust in their process? I am at this place – wanting the best for my daughter as she goes off, in 2 months, on her path, and trying my best to push away that nagging fear.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I may not have the answer you’re looking for. I’m not sure I have the answer at all, Lunaboogie. To be honest, I didn’t push my sons to pursue anything in particular in part because their passions emerged so early in life it was crystal clear what direction they would head in.

      For my elder – who is gifted with language and a born techie-scientific type, from the time he was a tot he’s been taking things apart and asking how things work. He’s explored plenty of other areas along the way – music and photography – he’s studying what he loves, and I have to trust that he will make a living at it, or use his learning skills to find other ways to get by.

      My younger has been the “art kid” from the time he was tiny. A passion emerged for music when he was a teen, but it’s art and architecture – which don’t promise an easy or lucrative career path. But again, I must trust that in following what he loves – if it remains the same or expands into other areas – he will give it everything he can, and hopefully, make a living.

      Perhaps the reason I didn’t push them to go toward more theoretically lucrative fields is because I studied what I loved in college – languages and literature. I want them to have the same experience, at least in these years, of that sort of satisfaction. But after college, I set aside my earliest dreams – words and art – to do what was “practical” by pursuing a career in the business world. I have no regrets that I did, and yet… both of my sons know that I returned to writing and art at a later point in life because it was impossible for me to stay away.

      The past 10 years have been a struggle. They’ve seen it and they’ve suffered from it. But they also see my contentment when I write, when I combine marketing with writing, or art with writing. I believe they both want to be financially secure (and I’m glad), and they understand the value of a dollar. I can only hope they will make smart choices. But pursuing what you love is never wrong – to me – though we certainly have to compromise and adjust when life requires us to do so.

  3. batticus says

    A funny comic today about how the college student laundry cycle changes over time on xkcd, enjoy. Agreed on pursuing passions while you are young, you only have to look back at Steve Jobs and the enormous influence a typography course he audited had on our modern world when Apple sold the first PostScript-enabled printer back in the early 80’s. You never know what will be important in your life as you are living it so you might as well enjoy the people you work with and the ideas you explore. Earning a living is an important consideration and a concern for parents, there are no easy answers except “old school” life lessons, avoid burning bridges, build connections, do your best at whatever you do, have integrity and get your foot in the door.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Ah, batticus. I like to think of those “old school” life lessons as “classics.” And they’re classics for a reason… :)

  4. says

    “Each moment is a contentment, a story, a heartache” … perfection!
    They will make their way, just as we make ours…one step at a time.

  5. says

    I am a blubbering mess here. Absolutely beautiful. Both in the writing and the discovery you made…

    One can only hope that all the pushing will someday lead to the pull that you describe here.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It is a lot of pushing, Justine – with some kids more than others. And I’ve been very fortunate with my sons. They gave me push-back when I needed it, and seem to be “pulling” from within and making their way. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.

      (And yes, it was a wonderful discovery!)

  6. says

    I seem to get all of my notifications of new posts (here and elsewhere) a day after they are posted. So here I am a day late.

    I cried just like everyone else. What an absolutely wonderful gift to find, even if you found it late – two years late. It is still just as sweet; maybe even sweeter.

    I am with Barb. I would like to give you a little push to – stop, rest, breathe, and rest some more. I am a little in awe of how hard you work. And I want to give you a day at an art museum, to sit and gaze.

    Your stories of motherhood are some of my favorites to read!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I think it is sweeter, Robin, two years late. And actually, I found the video just a few weeks after Mother’s Day when neither of my children were here – both still in school.

      And thank you for that offer of sitting and gazing in an art museum. I’ll close my eyes and try to imagine it. (I’d make it MOMA in NY, or Centre Pompidou in Paris if I could choose… :))

  7. says

    My new grandbaby was born yesterday, far away from me in France. It is the WORST part of living abroad. My children are in the States (as the US is referred to here) and this piece pulled my heart in all directions, like the old Silly Putty. Life can be cruel when it is also being wonderful. I needed to see this today. Thank you.

    I am a firm believer in “Do what you love and the money will come”. I have seen its evidence time and time again. Hooray for your boys… and you.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Félicitations on your grandchild, LaBergère! It must be difficult, yes, to be so far. (Are you planning a trip back to the states sometime soon?)

  8. says

    Beautiful. I am you … I relate so well – my son is nearly twenty and we have been through so much of what you say … I feel what you are writing.

    I will spend months putting old videos onto dvds – my young man was my little fella who I have always connected with in such a heartfelt way, he is my joy.

    I know what you write about the push …

    All the angst and worry turned to reality when my son’s heart stopped beating on its own… and he was in ICU with a serious heart condition this year. We nearly lost our beautiful boy and I am still recovering from the shock of it … strange thing is that I suffered chest pains before he had his attack, almost like the heartstrings sensed it.

    So now nothing really matters other than we have him.

    Love is all.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Now you have me in tears, Vicki Lee. I cannot imagine going through what you just described. How is he doing?

      You’re so right. What matters are the people in our lives. Love is all. It should be simple.

  9. says

    I had to stop writing – I still can’t believe it, it’s all so fresh. And I rarely put it in words.
    But your post was talking about my life too.
    He is okay now – he has a monitor in his room – but the problem is he is considered an adult but with a heart condition at his age does not have the wisdom to take good enough care and it is worrying…

    He is in the midst of exams at uni and is struggling. He is only at uni because it seemed the most sensible course of action for work opportunities. We talked for hours last night and I said to him all that matters is that he is happy and healthy. He said he doesn’t want to fail and disappoint us. I am so glad we had that talk – it is so rare these days to keep them still in the same room to have heartfelt meaningful discussions. We spoke about a lot and I got to say many of the things I needed him to hear … how much we loved him and admired him for his courage, but also for the beautiful young man he is – who cares about his family and friends more than himself.

    But I want him to put himself first now … he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants. I said no hurry – just take one day at a time. The journey ahead has many routes and whichever one you take is the right one at that time. Human beings are very resilient and resourceful and we all strive for happiness in the long run. I just want his heart beating and that beautiful face happy and healthy.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Oh Vicki Lee, you must be so strong to deal with this. I can feel your fear, the depth of the most fundamental sort of love that’s so impossible to capture in words.

      I have a friend who went through a terrible scare with her child not long ago – also “of age” legally, barely, but naturally, without the maturity to understand what was best for him in terms of his health and priorities. It’s such a difficult place to be as a parent. You hope they’ll reach out to you, you hope you’ll find some wisdom, you hope you can be the vessel for their fear and their pain and not break under the strain of it. And you wait and pray to every god you can come up with – just to keep him safe and well, and here.

      I am sending all my most positive thoughts to your son and your family.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      They do let you know when they’re ready. But sometimes we push to get them closer, when they hesitate. And then, they do it all on their own, don’t they. As it should be.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Silly of me, Rudri. But I only just put away the pillow and comforter that were on the couch, where he was sleeping…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge