This Monday, for the first time, my eldest son and I saw eye to eye.
I do not mean in the metaphorical sense.
After I’d driven the other children to camp, Aryeh joined me on the sidewalk outside our apartment building so we could take our morning walk. Glancing over my left shoulder to ask him which direction we should walk in, I discovered that I no longer had to look down to catch his eye. Our gazes were exactly level. My son–my baby!–was now as tall as me.
Of course, I had known this benchmark would arrive–eventually. The alarming rate at which I’ve had to replace Aryeh’s pants in the last year had alerted me that my days as his big, tall Ima were nearly over, as had his newly man-sized hands and feet.
My height–just under 5 feet 7 inches–gives me somewhat of an advantage over most women. I outgrew my own 5 foot 1 inch mother at age 10, so I’m grateful my son held out until he’d nearly reached 12. I’m hoping Aryeh and his siblings don’t make the short jokes about me that my sister and I made about Mom.
Like many parents, I have at times relied on my superior size to keep my kids in line. Child tantrumming in the living room? Carry them in a fireman’s lift to their bed so they can sit there until they’ve gotten it out of their system. Rumble between siblings? Physically separate the kids. Kid reaching for something dangerous? Block access with my body.
I wish I could say I never bullied, that I never potched, but there have been a few of those moments, unfortunately, usually after some combination of too little sleep, extreme frustration, or fear for my kids’ safety. More often, though, I was simply bigger, faster, and cleverer than my children. And, for the most part, they looked up to me, in part at least because they had to look up to me.
Those days are now numbered.
It’s not only a matter of height. My kids are already faster than me, and I’m pretty sure they’ll outsmart me someday in the not-so-distant future. Is it any wonder I’m shaking in my boots?
Emuna Braverman, a well-known Jewish writer (and also my neighbor), once told me that parents of younger children must bond with their children early so that when they are teens, they will turn to us as confidantes and advisors. If that’s true, I’m about to find out if I have devoted enough hours playing with Matchbox cars side-by-side with Aryeh on the rug, taking him to auto shows, borrowing books for the library for him, and discussing those books when we finished reading them. I’m going to find out whether I hugged Aryeh hard enough, and whether I have told him I loved him often enough.
There’s more, of course, to genuine parental authority. Did I act with dignity and morality in my daily life? Did I earn his respect? Because it all boils down to this: did I make myself into the kind of person my son can look up to, even in a future when he towers over my head?
I hope so.