2007.02.07 Alligators? Scuba diving? I don't need to know

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

My mother, before she died at nearly 73, was still calling me Colly-baby, even though I was 43 at the time of her death. She saw me still as a child even though I had three children of my own, was a fully functioning adult, helping to run a business and holding a responsible position at the library. It didn’t really bother me; I saw it as kind of a quirk of my mother’s. And it was easy to cut her some slack; she was dying, after all. But even if she had lived to her 80s or 90s, I’m sure she would have continued to see me as her little girl, no matter if I were to have grandchildren of my own by then.

I occupy two worlds, that of a daughter to my dead mother, and a mother to my now adult children. Like my mother before me, I see them still as children, and have trouble fathoming them as their own independent, adult selves.

Sometimes, I cannot talk on the phone to 24-year-old Ben; it makes me so sad that he is his own man. There is a great sense of loss: he’s no longer my child, that is, he doesn’t see himself as my child, but rather as the adult he is. Yet, he is still my child, know as I do that he isn’t mine to boss and cajole and advise and henpeck.

Of course, I recognize the flip side: Ben is an independent fully-functioning adult! He doesn’t need someone bossing him around or henpecking him! If he wants advice, he’ll ask for it! My job is done!

So, why do I feel so, I don’t know, useless? It’s the part of parenting I’ve talked about before...the part that doesn’t come with a manual. I’ll adjust. I’ll get used to it. I’ll keep those thoughts at bay and just be happy that we’ve raised a responsible person.

It’s hard letting go. I want to hold tight, but know I mustn’t. So, I am left sometimes to distancing too much. It’s a delicate dance. I don’t want to intrude, yet I want to know every detail. But I know it’s not my place to know anything except what he chooses to share.

And what does he share? Stuff I just don’t want to know.

The walk in the Everglades accompanied by many photos of many alligators?

“They could have easily bitten your hand off,” Ben said. “[The tour guide] said to stay 15 feet away from them, but it wasn't always possible.”

This kind of information I can do without.

Ben was kind enough to add that “none of the alligators moved, though. They said at this time of year they are docile.”

When he talked about taking lessons to learn how to scuba dive, I thought that sounded kind of fun. When he said he would be taking an all-day class and practicing scuba-diving in a pool before heading into the ocean, I was kind of surprised at the extent of preparation.

“You have to,” Ben explained. “You can die doing this.”

I replied with something along the lines of, “I’m your mother. I don’t need to know this much information.”

I am interested in his life and I want to know what he’s up to, but I am not up to the worry of it all. I should have read that book, “Oneness and Separateness,” early on in my mothering instead of just looking at the title.  Actually, I need the adult version of that book, written from the perspective of the mother learning to separate, not the infant to three-year-old’s struggle with identity.

With no adequate books addressing the issue, I look for humor to sustain me through these trying times. My friend Adrienne never fails to make me laugh. I was telling her recently about getting my hair cut shorter.

“How short?” she asked.

“Oh, about as short as my chin,” I said.

“Your first one or your second?” she quipped.

Following my gales of laughter, I visited the bathroom mirror, where I discovered that my double chin is way more obvious than ever before.

Maybe I should be more concerned about that than my son getting bit by an alligator in the Everglades.

    – Feb. 7, 2007 
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