Not long ago, I heard a man speaking to my children outside with alarming familiarity. I paused for a moment behind the window, peeking through the curtains to see who was outside and making sure it was indeed my own children I heard replying.
They were out of my line of sight but within ear shot, and my heart raced as I listened to the casual conversation back and forth, the deep voice making jokes and asking questions, laughing loudly.
I dressed hastily and hurried out front, ready for a possible confrontation and prepared to ask this stranger who he was, how he knew my kids and what he was doing hanging out with them for longer than a friendly hello.
And that man was my 14-year-old.
At some point that I must have missed, his voice grew deeper, into a sound I no longer recognized. That was more startling than a stranger — the realization that my son now had the voice of one. I strained to remember any tell-tale signs of a squeaky or crackling voice, but I believe this is something that just happened.
Over the next few weeks, I’d find myself thinking that I couldn’t wait until his voice went back to normal — that he was loud and it felt unnatural — before remembering that this was his new normal. That kids grow up and not down.
I still remember our first day home alone when he was an infant. You’re prepared throughout pregnancy to love your child instantly, and I did, but in an abstract sense. In the way you love someone you have longed for but don’t yet know.
I went to vacuum on that day, 14 years ago, and then told myself I’d wait until they come get him, before remembering I was the they and he wasn’t leaving. A subtle awkwardness settled in over that moment, as if I were on a blind date with someone who couldn’t speak, or a job interview where the interviewer cried a lot. Not talking felt rude, but speaking to someone who couldn’t reply felt odd. How would we ever get to know each other?
(Don’t judge my crazy — new mothers get a free pass on that stuff.)
I ended up reading Steinbeck’s "East of Eden" to him over those first few weeks, in a desperate attempt to fill the silence. It became my favorite book, and memory, and eventually we no longer needed great literature to fill our pauses.
And then there he was, standing in my front yard, just as much a stranger (and yet not) as that newborn in the bassinet. A whole new person, who had grown gradually but appeared suddenly. His feet are bigger than mine, and when we hug his arms rest on my shoulders instead of around my waist. I look up to him instead of down at him.
He is more man than boy, with no trace of baby, and suddenly I find myself wondering who he is and will be — again.
This is the true nature of parenting; getting to know your child over and over again, at each new stage of evolution, with the startling realization that you don’t know exactly what to say or do, even though that’s the job: knowing what to say and do.
It’s also about accepting that there’s just no good time to vacuum — or at least that’s my excuse. I’m busy constantly getting to know the person I made, and that’s more important than housework.
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Ashley McCann editorializes the messes and mayhem of motherhood as a columnist and blogger. Named to Ignite Social Media's "100 Women Bloggers You Should Read," her candid humor and frank advice puts a fresh spin on modern family life.