In my heart he’s still my baby, my youngest, my little man. But watching him stride through the airport to meet seven other Canada-bound Boy Scouts from his troop, I’m momentarily startled by the volume of space his six-foot frame commands. A mother should never have to look up to address her 14-year-old.
He’s been to Canada before. We went to Niagara Falls when he was seven. Back then he had to wear an eye patch to strengthen a weak eye; we would draw picture on each day’s patch to at least keep the process interesting. Of course the patches that week sported Canadian Flags and waterfalls. He was adorable. And small.
He greets his friends with handshakes. (When did that start?) In mere seconds he’s absorbed into the line of khaki uniforms and overstuffed backpacks heading to the check-in counter, but I can pick out his size-13 hiking boots in the assembly of feet.
I’m struggling to identify an overwhelming weight pressing down on my heart, making it somewhat hard to breathe.
It’s not fear, of that I’m certain. I will say, though, in the months leading up to this 10-day canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness, I experienced a range of emotions, from envious elation at the incredible opportunity before him to brown-bag-deep-breathing-exercise-inducing moments of dread over what COULD happen. I conjured images of giant snarling bears, stampeding moose, and head-splitting falls against the rocks.
But this isn’t fear. I know he’s a responsible young man who is well trained, and I trust his leaders implicitly. I’m confident that the number of his days has been ordained by The One who knows how many hairs are on his head. I’m very much aware that every day we have to share with loved ones is a gift, and that I’ve received 5,323 undeserved one-more-day gifts with this boy thus far (and twice that for his older brother). I pray I have many more, knowing that our days on Earth are no less guaranteed in the wilderness than on the interstate beside a drunk driver if God decides it’s time to come home.
So, what is this pain?
The boys finish checking their bags and stop at the parent pool for a last round of good-bye hugs. I fight the urge to remind him not to spend all his money on the trip out, and stand on tip-toes to whisper in his ear that I love him. He surprises me by NOT rolling his eyes.
They head to the gate, walking away from us as one body. But my boy is the tallest in the group, and not at all hard to follow. He’s deeply engrossed in conversation with his pals, oblivious to the emotional wreck of a mom watching him leave. Then I see him turn and look back.
I suddenly know what’s going on in my heart. It has finally realized that my little man is about to walk through that gate and disappear, and that I won’t recognize the person who comes back. In ten days when I see him again, his face will be tan, his arms muscled from days of pulling the oars, and he no doubt will be even taller, but he will also be more confident, capable, and independent. This is the beginning of adulthood, and I’m just not ready for it.
Saying good-bye to my little eye-patch boy is breaking me.