I watched my kids today. By that, I mean I really watched them, their actions, and their weird little habits. I have two boys, who act like and have the cleanliness standards of pigs. On their best days, they behave like domesticated pigs, but still pigs nonetheless. The game room upstairs was meant to be a family area, but has aptly become their man cave instead. In the game room, they shove dirty clothes under the couch, rather than place them in the hamper just a few steps away. They are careful enough to sneak food upstairs when I am not looking, but too lazy to hide the food wrappers when they are done eating. They keep regular books and comic books staked up next to the toilet because evidently that is the best place to store reading materials. I could go on, but I fear giving you too many examples like this might lead to you to assume they get these weird habits from me. I assure you they don't get it from me. Although my hubby is not a messy guy, he is a bonafide pack rat, so that appears to be where the genetic pattern originates.
Ever now and again, I take a step back and just observe them for a few minutes. Their personalities amaze me because they have always been true their core traits, even in the womb. One son is high maintenance and always demanding attention, while the other son is ultra laid back and goes with the ebb and flow of any situation. They are polar opposites, and yet, completely inseparable. The fight around the clock but can't stand to be apart from each other for any amount of time. The oldest son is beginning to stake out his independence so much lately that I have to consciously take a step back and allow him to do his own thing without smothering him. The kitchen is an area where he constantly wants to prove himself. The kitchen offers a lot of life lessons and metaphors, and watching him navigate his way around the stove and oven is like watching him maneuver his way through an obstacle course of sorts. Sometimes I take my seat and call out warnings from the other side of the counter, watching and waiting for both of them to show me what they know.
This morning, they wanted to make their own breakfast. I have allowed this many times before, but I assisted more than they wanted me to. This time they begged to do it by themselves and I agreed. Turkey bacon, eggs and biscuits were on the menu. I still helped them turn the fire on the stove to the appropriate levels, but for the most part I simply observed. I was curious how they would handle themselves while preparing their own meal if an adult wasn't around. Would they clown around and horseplay themselves into a dangerous situation or would they remember all the safety precautions I (yelled) spoke to them about all the previous times. I am pleased to say they did okay. Yes, they left my kitchen in a complete wreck. There were egg shells and yolk spilled on the stove. The bacon was slightly blackened. However in making this simple little meal, they reassured me they could take care of themselves on a basic level. They wouldn't starve to death if they were ever trapped in the house alone on another Houston "snow day". They would remember to turn off the oven and not blow up the house if I wasn't present to remind them. Heck, they might even remember to wash their hands at some point, but I won't get too crazy with my expectations in that department. They are pigs, after all.
More than simply satisfying their growling stomachs this morning, I sensed that we quietly crossed into a new era. An era in which I would ease up a little on my hovering habits and allow them to handle themselves more. An era in which they would continue to slip and mess up a lot, but I would let them pick themselves up and solve their own problems. I also sensed that they would need me a whole lot less than I would need them. Many of my girlfriends are older than me and have children that passed this pre-pubescent phase long ago. As mothers, they have already been through what I am just starting to experience. They have already felt those first signs of independence, when your kid no longer wants to hold your hand or show affection towards you in public. They have already had to stand by when their kid made a bad decision and simply watched patiently as they tried to work out a solution for themselves.
This phase almost feels as draining as cleaning up poopy diapers or running behind them as toddlers so they don't stick their fingers into electrical sockets. Even worse, I've heard that letting go doesn't get any easier. Supposedly as parents, we just get better at discreetly watching and waiting for them to need us again. I try to sneak in hugs and kisses on my baby boy these days and he hates it. It is taking time for me to understand that he doesn't hate me, he hates my smothering and babying habits. Every time I force him into a hug, he pulls away, more anxious to prove he is no longer a baby. I will get better at letting him prove himself, as long as he humors me once in a while and lets his old mom fawn over him a little. At the very least, I want them to know I trust them. Right now, I trust them to use good judgement in the kitchen, to be true to themselves in all decisions they are faced with and go after what truly makes them happy. Now that I think about it, this is probably what I want for them not just today, but for a long time to come. The watching and waiting will continue, but I believe they will be okay.