Mom feels twinge of growing pains more than son does story

May 31, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

This will be the summer of Joe's 10th year, the summer of letting go.

I can see in my son an anxiousness to be free of little boydom. In me, there is just anxiousness about the little freedoms that I will be forced to grant, about the freedoms he will stretch and embroider, about rules he will bend and break, just to see if I am serious, just to see how far he can get.

I have seen it coming all this year. He pressed me to be allowed to return to the school playground with his buddies, and came home with new words to try out on me. I could see him calculate my reaction. Just what do mothers do when you say those things?

On another trip to that playground, he was threatened by some older boys and tried not to show how shaken it had left him. He is ready for all this. I'm not so sure about me.

vTC My own memories come into focus about the age of 10, so I am conscious of this turning point for him. It pains me to think that all we have done together up to now will be lost to him, that it will be me telling him about the memories, not him remembering them. That what has meant the most to me during these 10 years will exist only in photo albums for him.

But I am also pleased with the kind of clean slate his amnesia will give me. We can start over, sort of, building this wonderful relationship that will sustain us through his adolescence.

I'm not sure how to do it, though. I had sisters. I don't know what it is like to be a 10-year-old boy.

At 10, I was waiting to wear a bra and shave my legs. He wants to ride his bike across a four-lane road to play at a dock on a deep and forbidding stream.

I was trying to get my mother to let me have bangs. He wants to spend all day in the woods where liquor bottles have been found and where teen-agers smoke. I don't know if I will like it if I can't hear his voice through the screen door.

While I wanted to read "Archie and Veronica" comic books and drink Cokes with older girls when I was 10, Joe has buddies with Swiss army knives and real bows and arrows.

My girlfriends' mothers took me with them to the new mall in our neighborhood. Joe has a friend whose dad might take him hunting. Did I think he was going to play Legos in front of the television for the rest of his life?

Joe and his dad are best friends now. It used to be me. Now, I feel like a woman who comes in to do the wash. But why would you want to go to a children's theater performance of "Cinderella" when somebody else will take you to the batting cages? So soon? He used to love seeing plays with me.

Now, he and his dad trade their mild bathroom jokes in whispers out of earshot of disapproving me. When Joe fidgets in church, it is his dad who settles him by telling him to pray for hits.

His father is now endlessly amusing while I -- his partner during years of intimate moments -- have become a bore. "Ohhhh, mom!" is what I hear most often these days.

Joe used to wear the polo shirts, khakis and Docksiders I chose for him. (His father says I dressed him like someone I would like to have dated.) Now, most days, he looks like a pile of dirty wash -- and glad of it. His long, delicate fingers are always filthy now -- I swear, it looks as if he digs for his food -- and his nails are chipped and broken. He still slips that little paw into my hand when we walk, but I wonder how long that will last.

He doesn't seem to be very curious about sex. I guess I am grateful for that. But there is one girl in his class that he doesn't absolutely hate, and he endures endless teasing when he refuses to disparage her.

He never cared if his teeth were brushed, but suddenly he cares what his hair looks like. Oh my, I can see him in a prom tux! I don't like what he chooses to wear to school; I will never approve of whom he wants to date.

How did we get to this point, Joe and I? How did I, a college hippie and a ground-zero feminist, end up with a station wagon full of Little Leaguers? How did I, who wanted the sports section of my college newspaper disbanded as irrelevant, come to feel such pride in the fact that my son bats second and fields like Chris Sabo?

Joe and I got to this point together, I guess, traveling down the same road these 10 years. I can't help but wonder when that road will fork for us. Sometime in the next 10 years, I suppose.

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