“Mazel tov! Your boys are married,” a friend said, as if my work on Earth is done. Two weddings in one year is supposed to be the kind of nachas Jewish mothers dream about. I’m happy but adrift.
These days, before I call, I text: Are you working? Do you have time to talk? I don’t mean to go all “Cat’s in the Cradle”/Harry Chapin on them. When it comes to their day-to-day lives, I am the woman they love, but no longer need.
I raised my sons to carry dishes to the sink, to do laundry, to support any partners they chose. According to their wives, my sons are great huggers, non-yellers and cheerleaders for them. Did the boys interpret my “tsks” during Barbie commercials as a subliminal message to marry non-Barbies? In a sign of how things have changed, my older son recently said, “No more putting down Barbie, Mom. She’s a feminist icon.”
I admit my new role has me a little bereft. Maybe I shouldn’t feel that way, but this marriage thing calls for a renegotiation of roles. No grown son wants my friendly reminders to go to the dentist. When we go somewhere, they drive, their wives in the front and me in the back straining to hear the conversation.
My younger son, once a teenager who thought it was funny to climb on the roof when I was out to dinner, now chastises me for walking past the Port Authority after dark. Some days I want that teenager back, eye rolling as his behaviors were. The way he bopped me on the head when he walked in the door, too old to hug but still wanting to make contact, reminds me of where we are now — in reverse. I’m not about to bop anyone. How do I approach my sons as adult men? Kiss them on the cheek? Go in for a hug? I feel weirdly shy, as if I weren’t the person who changed their diapers.
These unformed beings arrived in my life and just when they were becoming people I would have liked to invite to dinner, I had to give them up. Sure, they still help stir the gravy at Thanksgiving and serve the matza ball soup at Passover. But they also do something that would have been unimaginable when we watched “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” They sleep in their own homes, next to partners they love. Presumably this was my goal for them. I never thought about what would happen when they reached it.
When I spend time with my older son, I can picture him in his highchair, speed feeding himself fistfuls of chocolate cake. I can hear my long-gone great-uncle kvelling to my grandmother, “Look Rose, the way he goes for the chocolate, he’s one of us.” I can still hear our late poodle howling when my younger son practiced jazz on his trombone. And I’m oddly comforted by the memory of the constant buzz of a video game and the words “just one more level, Mom” that were the accompaniment to every call to dinner.
If I longed for my own space when I was in my 30s, I was also blissfully unaware that all too soon I would have it. “Get your toddlers down” was my mantra as I rushed to watch “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Melrose Place.” As I scroll through Netflix now, I ask myself why I didn’t let them snuggle up and read that extra Dr. Seuss. When they were little, I wanted them to be big. Now that they are big, I want them to be little.
Today, we share salmon and coconut rice recipes like old friends. We negotiate about which holidays will be my husband’s and mine (Break the Fast and New Year’s) and which belong to the in-laws (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Their old rooms, where I keep my out-of-season clothes, are filled with their ratty tee shirts, sneakers without laces and wedding gifts that don’t fit in their one-bedroom apartments. There are also Pokémon cards that have been separated from their rightful decks, cards that feel a little like me.
At the end of my life, mother will be the job I have held the longest. I like to think that even in their 30s my sons still need raising. But in truth, they are probably carrying more of that lift these days. When my computer stops working, I call one son. If my throat hurts, I call the other.
I was the one who woke up to their baby cries on the monitor at 4 a.m., praying they’d fall back to sleep and not need me. Today I cannot wait for their calls. The switch flipped, and I never imagined I’d be the one left in the dark.
There are some bright spots. At my younger son’s wedding, he grabbed my hand and said, “Hey Mom, thanks,” as my older son looked on and nodded. That one moment made it more than worth being mother of the groom.