My son has a job as a lifeguard this summer and today, I drove him to work. Though he now has his driver's license, he does not yet have his own car, so for the time being we must share mine, and he is being a good sport about it.
I drive slowly; neither of us has an agenda and there are no external distractions. We are simply mother and son, each fully present, as we so often were when he was young, before I became preoccupied with the passing of time and midlife reinvention, and before he became preoccupied with the demands of growing up and teenage activities.
He sits in the passenger seat beside me wearing his uniform: red, knee-length swim trunks, a white T-shirt with the word "Lifeguard" across the back, a whistle around his neck. I take in the sight, knowing that it will soon be a cherished memory. I remember other uniforms: lime green pajamas with cartoon characters on the front, a black ninja outfit for Halloween, a baggy soccer uniform on his small 4-year-old frame.
He has a new haircut. I can see his delicate facial features: well-defined eyebrows; long, black eyelashes; an easy smile. The features that I appreciated every day when he was young but have often failed to notice since he hit puberty and since I turned 45. He has been busy trying to break away, as he should. I have been busy trying to move on and to hide my heartache, as much as I can.
He talks to me about his job and I listen and I can tell that he still cares that I listen. He tells me about his upcoming cross country running season and that he will be among the leaders of the team during his senior year in high school. I am impressed and I can tell that it still matters to him that I am. We talk about colleges and I encourage him to follow his deep interest in the one that is half-way across the country, even though the distance is a concern. I see him surprised at my encouragement, but glad that he still has my support. Though he is almost 17 years old and nearly six feet tall, I see that he is still vulnerable, still lighthearted, still interested in what his mom thinks of his life. The same son as before, only in a different uniform.
Like so many mothers and sons, my son and I were inseparable when he was small. He barely left my side; he was my little boy. But as he grew, I was no longer the center of his universe, no longer the only girl in his life, and I knew that I had to begin the process of letting go. I didn't want to do it and it was often scary. I was afraid of losing him.
But today, during a quiet few moments together in my car, I realize that I haven't lost anything. My little boy has simply grown into a fine young man and we are still mother and son.