Through the Peep-Hole

It’s a bit like bending down to peer through a keyhole, or straining tip-toed to see through a peep-hole that is nearly out of reach. I have only these small windows into the lives of my children.

Young Man on Smart PhoneThey seem too few, and too brief.

I content myself with whatever they’re willing to recount, describe, or offer up through digital means in status updates or texts or image files, arriving swiftly across hundreds of miles from their changing worlds to mine at home, where I hold down the fort until the next time they pass through.

I wonder when I will give myself permission to uproot, to start again, to consider starting again if indeed that’s what I really desire, and in the meantime I find myself hesitating to call them too often.

I seem to have an aversion to intruding on their personal lives, which is no doubt linked to my own mother’s excessive interference and criticism throughout my life – or rather, hers. Yet I hope I do not err on the side of too respectful, and appear distant to the point of seeming as if I no longer care about the details of their days, the texture of their tall tales, the excitement of their discoveries.

I am not lonely; my life is full and busy but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss them daily – their humor, their presence that infused the household with energy, the sense of purpose I felt, the stories and friends they brought into our home and willingly shared at least to a degree, perhaps precisely because I was circumspect in my inquiries.

This week, I had a double dose of maternal delight, hearing not from one but both of my sons, who are still very young men. The elder is 21 and only recently graduated from college, though a world traveler for many years and as resourceful a person as I’ve ever encountered. The younger is 20, wickedly funny and wildly creative, with three more years of a 5-year college program ahead of him.

A mother’s dream, you might think – to hear from independent children without guilting them into it. And in some ways it is exactly that: there is pleasure in seeing each name pop up on the screen of my smartphone, pleasure in the timbre of their voices so deep that I still struggle with the reality that these are my little boys, pleasure as I recall them freckle-faced and curious, once knocking about this little house and now increasingly inhabiting worlds of their own making.

I think of the long, hard decade during which it was the three of us, the struggle of it – not only financially but logistically, physically, and emotionally – one of me, two of them, and so many hurtles to navigate and no one else to rely on, too often feeling as though I couldn’t possibly get through another day much less a week, a month, or a half-dozen more years.

And now they call to touch base, they call out of a sense of responsibility, they call to ask how I am and what’s going on, they call for advice though subtly, and my own ability to furnish anything of value in that regard seems to have lessened. I’m uncertain if that’s the result of lack of practice or subject matter that has grown more sophisticated in a complex world.

From one, there are questions about jobs, salary negotiations, payroll taxes – he’s working and enjoying earning his own money. Occasionally there are recommendations of novels I should read, and discussions of systems design – ironically, something we can talk about given his current pursuits and my own past life in and around IT, with its principles that still apply, at times to my son’s surprise.

Young Man in Jeans on Phone SmilingFrom the other, there are questions soliciting my opinion on design, logos, branding – the capacity of a visual form to impart meaning. There is discussion of a building, an artist, a request for my impressions, a desire to show me what he’s drawing, what he’s exploring.

In turn, I offer what bits of feedback I can, more carefully qualified than when they were younger; even my responses in so-called areas of expertise less certain now than they once were.

I assure myself it is indeed the nature of the conversations that has changed, and the satisfaction of being engaged in any fashion is palpable: my input is solicited with legitimate intent, and not as a token to please or appease.

And then, ten minutes later or perhaps thirty, the texting or talking is over until the next time and my heart sinks just a little. I am delighted that they seek me out, that they are maneuvering their challenges as well as they are, that they are doing what all parents hope their children will do – feeling their way, not without obstacles and uncertainties, but in a manner we generally consider decent, healthy, and reasonable.

But the distance, the “peek-only” position in which I find myself, the separateness that provides me somewhat less worry and them, their independence, is bittersweet.

And I tell myself that I really can tap the speed dial more often, and they will not see it as interference, but rather, as love.


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  1. says

    I find it so much better when they text or call me because they have the time and desire then to talk. All of this is getting you ready for when they get married or have partners and start a family. I had both sons away when they started families and I flew to them every 6-8 weeks to see those grand babies. Then by chance my older son and his family moved back here to LA (never ever thought that would happen with this son) but it did. And to add to it he bought a house down the street. I see the grand kids whenever I want ot they want. My other son (who I thought would come back to LA) will not as he lives and loves where he is now. So they fly here and I fly there. All will be okay and everyone will find a new normal.

  2. says

    It’s a tough line to walk. As for me, I never had time to adjust to the empty nest. My daughter moved away, but came home after only 4 months. Then married, had kids, and lives walking distance from my house. I sometimes dream of an empty nest and wonder what it would be like.

  3. says

    it’s a hard job pushing our little babies birds out of our nest. My little bird is asking me if she should leave town when she graduates. I’ve told her yes, she can always come back, to get out and experience the world. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only parent telling their loved child to fly far away from home.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Like you, Connie, I encouraged mine to fly and they have been flying since they were teens. Perhaps that makes it easier for them to be at home everywhere, but still to come home when they wish? I like to think so, anyway. :)

  4. says

    My oldest turned thirty last month. That was a shock. The younger one is in the Peace Corps, so lives across the ocean for now. I never call either of them, but I do email them. And we video chat every few weeks or so — usually at their suggestion.

    But here’s a dilemma I’d love some feedback on: they seem to be at odds these days, and I often hear about it from one or the other. It hurts me that two of the people I love the most are so critical of each other. Yet I know I have to stay out of this. Any thoughts?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      That’s a tough one, Judith. Were they close when they were kids? Are they many years apart? Does anyone have any suggestions out there on nudging siblings to be less critical?

  5. says

    I have two sons also – and love when they call, contact, ask, laugh, and write. They are both a joy and I try not to let myself miss them too terribly much. I feel as much as the three of you went through together – you will always be respected and loved dearly by your sons. And as they age and go through more life on their own, they’ll come to appreciate and understand even more what you, as their mother, went through for them. And their respect and admiration will only grow stronger. Life enlightens us.

    • D. A. Wolf says

      Lovely thoughts, Barbara. Thank you. (I adore having boys. Sounds like you do, too. I think they’re often easier on their mothers than girls are – certainly during the teen years!)

  6. says

    My fourth of four girls I raised myself leaves next month for school and I always thought I’d be prepared. Ill tell you I’m the biggest faker and no one will know how tough this is even though I too have a remarkable relationship with all of my girls… so much I wrote a book about it. I don’t go out of my way to reach out since I typically have some inquiry coming in from one but I do love the interaction and correspondence with each unique woman in my life.

    • D. A. Wolf says

      Yes, it is tough, Bruce. Especially when we’ve done it more or less alone. But how lovely to have such a great relationship with four children! Kudos, and they must feel how lucky they are as well.

  7. says

    And I wonder how much of this is different for moms of boys compared with moms of girls. This post resonated with me so deeply I actually had to stifle tears. On the one hand, it’s so nice to have “adult” conversations. On the other, sad too. Bittersweet.


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