“Oh, I wouldn’t say tubby,” I reply, straining to remember the last time I saw my son naked, or even shirtless, and I draw a blank. I find myself in a space in which it’s embarrassing to get undressed in front of your mother, and I wonder if Renegade is uncomfortable when I walk around the apartment naked, as I have since he was born eleven years ago. If he is, he doesn’t say. Maybe I should ask.
The Philosopher tells me that they are going to start exercising together, he and Renegade, in an attempt to get rid of the rolls of fat — and tiny nubby breasts! — that are accumulating in the midsection of this boy I barely know anymore. I have to take his word for it; he is the one who lives with my son and can see the changes. Being a part-time parent (meaning seeing him part-time, not turning it off when he’s not around) I’ve trained myself not to notice the differences; thinking about daily metamorphoses only underscores my absence, and it’s easier — no, preferable — to revel in whatever moments I do have with the boys.
But things are difficult with Renegade. He’s at an age when mothers feel an entirely new set of labor pains with their boys; all of the physical anguish and obstacles I encountered pushing him into the world come back in full force, this time wreaking havoc on my heart, this time leaving me wondering if things will ever be as easy with him as they were when he wore a cute little baby blue seersucker overall-and-hat set and we went rolling down a hill in Wisconsin at my company picnic. Back then, a piggyback ride and a popsicle were all I needed to be an awesome mom. Now, everything I do is wrong, and it comes out in little ways. Yesterday, we had an argument over why I wouldn’t buy him stickers at the dollar store.
“They’re just a dollar,” he said.
“I have a philosophical objection to stickers,” I replied, even though I really don’t.
What it was: I didn’t want to buy him something that would disappear so quickly. I’m tired of fleeting moments with the boys, and when they leave I want evidence that they have been in my space. I want toys and books and piles of dirty laundry (even their smelly socks) and perhaps a monument or a shrine that keeps part of them with me. Stickers are things that are stuck in a book or on scraps of paper and then thrown away, and I’ve had my limit of disposable objects.
But I can’t explain that to him, and so he went to the front of the store and pouted and then yelled at me in the car on the way home that I HATED HIM, at which point I yelled back just as loudly a reminder that I’d just special-ordered a $16 CD for him from Laurie’s, and WOULD I HATE HIM IF I BOUGHT A CD I DIDN’T EVEN LIKE JUST FOR HIM? (Rebel, for his part, was amused at this little interaction, his participation in which was limited to “yeah, mom!” when I made a good point or “right on, bro!” when Renegade made his.)
Feeling guilty, I stopped at Blockbuster to surprise the boys with video game rentals, but (of course) the selection they had was all wrong, and I was a horribly cruel mother because I refused to rent a game with an “M” rating. I thought a little bit about something I’d heard in a meeting, someone saying that if you hang up the phone with your sponsor and you’re not pissed off, you should get another sponsor. Sometimes I think being a mom is like that — if my kids aren’t a little angry at me when conflict occurs, then maybe I’m slacking as a parent. Maybe. This is some pretty hard stuff.
Last night, I told Renegade to find a book off of my shelves to read while I was at my meeting and then before bed. I figured there wasn’t much there he could get into trouble with — yeah, I’ve got Cunt and a dozen academic books on the pornography debate (and probably even a couple of books about sex), but it’s all feminist and pro-women, and he can have at it all. I didn’t pay attention to what he was reading when I did get home — Sweety had stopped by and I hadn’t yet eaten dinner and we had a movie to watch — or when I stuck my head in to say goodnight.
A few hours later, at my bedtime, I went in the bedroom and found Renegade sprawled there in his boxer shorts, his long body taking up the length of a space that used to dwarf him. In the moonlight, I could see the things about his body that made The Philosopher use tubby instead of stout or even sturdy. Around his waist were little puffs that reminded me of baby cheeks that smell like powder and breastmilk, and I could almost taste the doughiness of his limbs, which I imagine would be sweet and a bit sticky, like the sugar donuts I ate at the little donut shop on Spring Road as a child. I wanted to curl up beside him, spooning with my first-born, but he’s never been that kind of child — even when he was a baby, he never could nap with me, always wanting to be alone — and that made me even more sad. I went to bed thinking of missed snuggles and how awkward this dance of adolescence is becoming, praying for a sign that I’m doing something right (or at least relief from the feeling that everything I do is wrong).
This morning, I woke up before Renegade did, and I noticed he’d chosen The Kite Runner last night. When he was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, I asked if he liked it so far and — while I wondered if I should warn him about the violence and the fear in the story — he said, “It’s great, mom. You’ve got some amazing books here I want to read.”
I think we’re going to be okay.