The short answer? It depends on the mother.
For some, there's a single defining moment. For others, it's a complex mix of the physical, numerical, financial, and nonsensical, such as:
• When he turns 18.
• When his beard grows in.
• When he faces adversity and fights his way back.
• When he turns 21.
• When he goes off to war.
• When he graduates from college.
• When he gets a full-time job.
• When he becomes a father.
• When he asks his mother how she is and listens to her answer.
• When he picks up the check at dinner.
• When he stops wearing basketball shorts to do anything other than to play basketball.
• When he no longer wants to save money to buy videogames, but to buy appliances.
• When he owns more than one tie and knows how to tie it.
• When he wakes before noon on the weekends.
• When he vacuums.
Of course, there are mothers who will never see their boys as men, just as there are boys who never want to grow up -- who don't understand the fine line between being childish and maintaining a child-like quality. One is sexy, the other, not so much.
My boys are becoming men. I know because I see them transforming every day. But it's not just their physical appearance that tells me so, though at times, the changes have been startling -- for years I swore they went to bed looking one way and woke up looking another; nor is it their literal ages, which I still have trouble believing.
No, it's more than that.
Some people say monetary success is a measure of a man. It is a measure, but not of manhood. I've known men who were incredibly wealthy financially, and terribly poor, emotionally.
As for fatherhood? Any boy who is not sterile can become a father. It doesn't make him a man, it just makes him horny. He can have 20 kids and still be a boy in his mother's eyes -- in his partner's eyes too, for that matter. How he fathers, however, speaks volumes about his manhood -- his maturity.
And what about age? Is it a mark of maturity? Of manhood?
Nah. There's no magic to the numbers. You don't become a man by virtue of turning 21. No new knowledge is bestowed upon you then by the gods. You're just legal, which means you can get into big trouble if you act like a boy.
No, it's more than that.
For me, a boy becomes a man when he lets himself fall in love. It says he's ready and willing to discover who he really is, to take risks; to care for someone other than himself. And when a man loves with kindness and respect for his partner and himself, it means (hopefully) that as a mother, we did something right -- that he learned by osmosis when he was just a boy, even when he stopped holding our hand in public.
And then, even then, when we see our sons as men, sometimes, we still secretly see them as our little boys. Because we want to. Not because they are.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.
Mellor cautions against actually purchasing a condo nearby after move-in day...but heading back to class yourself isn't a bad idea. Mellor's own mother completed her degree as a fifty-something, but you could start a little smaller than that -- say, listening to TED talks from home.
You're free and the sky's the limit! Above all, Mellor advises, do not fester in "sadness, loneliness and abandonment."
Especially if you've never gone before.
"And that man, sitting across from you at the breakfast table...he looks...familiar," Mellor writes. "You know him, you just don't know how." Use your empty nest time to remember what your relationship with your spouse or partner was like before the kids came along.
Mellor even provides a handy recipe for your next party. (That's cocktail party, which means no clowns and balloon animals. Remember those?)
"Our bodies, apparently, will not exercise themselves while we sleep," Mellor observes. Since you must exercise at a certain point, "you might as well find some fun ways to do it." Like dancing!
A favorite strategy of Anna Dello Russo, editor of Vogue Japan, for getting in touch with "the spirit of your outfit," empty nesters can benefit from this tip as well. The empty-nest years are a time to start paying attention to your appearance again, says Mellor, especially if you've gotten into bad habits (mom jeans, anyone?).
"Learn to be a sloth, and without guilt," Mellon writes. "Wallow in languid inactivity." You've earned it.
After all those years of coaching your kids through music lessons, you've probably picked up a few things, observes Mellor -- why not indulge yourself with a few lessons?
Redecorate that extra room! Make it a yoga studio, or a new TV room. Explore what your space can be like when you're decorating with your needs -- and not Dick or Jane's -- in mind.
Follow Melissa T. Shultz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MelissaTShultz