By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer
I recently watched a grinning 13-year-old flap his arms in an attempt to take flight while running up to his mother. “Mom!” he yelled while enveloping her in his featherless wings. “Mommy,” I heard him whisper. He stepped back, gave her a high-five and, while looking back at his friends, placed his arm around his mother’s diminutive shoulders and thanked her for an “awesome day.”
Separating himself from the rest of the group, my son galloped over to the car and gave me a hug, also followed by a high-five. Maybe a clap in the air adds testosterone to the gratitude.
The rest of the boys were laughing and finding their way to their parents or rides home. Everyone was in a jovial mood. It would be insulting to use the word “giggling” when describing teens and tweens, so masculine guffaws could be heard across the parking lot.
I have been repeatedly told that as our children grow and mature, a natural distance develops between us. They show neither emotion nor respect. It’s not just expected, but also acceptable for our progeny to be rude as they enter the double-digit years. Although many parents try to maintain the reliance started in infancy, thus creating an inept adult, it is interesting to watch some actually push their youth toward independence.
A friend of mine, who teaches in another state, works where many of the students walk to and from the school. She shared with me the story of one little boy who takes a daily gallop to his mother when she unfailingly meets him. He jumps in her arms, wraps his legs around her, squeezes her tightly, gives her a big kiss and asks her how her day was. She reciprocates with an equally huge smile and as they walk away together, hand in hand, they discuss their respective days in detail.
My friend doesn’t know anything else about him, such as his birth order or even if he has siblings. He isn’t in the grade she teaches, which simply means he’s probably older than 5. She doesn’t know if he does well in school or if he has friends. As a new teacher, she is just beginning to learn about the families in the neighborhood. So this child is currently a mystery.
This dynamic duo consistently brings a smile to my friend’s face no matter how rough her day was. One day, as she was supervising the dismissal of her students, a co-worker walked up behind and decided to voice her derision for the mom-son team. “That is so inappropriate,” she uttered in my friend’s ear. “She needs to let go and cut that umbilical cord. He’ll never be independent.”
Side by side these professional educators have vastly different opinions on how maternal affection should be displayed in the school yard.
I remember when I used to stand by the bus stop with my then second- grader. He would play with his friends while I sipped coffee and chatted with mine. When it was time for goodbyes, he and I would always hug, wish each other a great day, I would redundantly tell him to make good decisions, we would kiss briefly, and he would leap onto the bus in a single bound. One day, he told me he shouldn’t give me a kiss or a hug while in front of friends and mass transportation peers. Although I was shocked, the other parents could only giggle and tell me it was to be expected.
Expected? I looked at him. I have historically employed the technique of silent staring when I am at a loss for words. It usually captures his attention and elicits a level of curiosity. “It’s not about you or your friends,” I simply explained. “It’s about me and your family. It helps me through the day. Moms do a lot for their kids, and this is what we need in return.”
Oh my gosh, it worked. Here I was talking to a 7-year-old about showing affection to his parents in public, and he bought it. I am still surprised. Since then, with or without an audience, he has never walked away from a hug, a wish of luck or peck on the cheek. In fact, he has even initiated it at times.
Even though he is now a Star-ranked Boy Scout, loves week-long camps without his parents, enjoys solitude and seeks time alone with his friends, perhaps that disapproving teacher will still be right and my oldest child will end up eating cheese curls in my basement while wearing only undergarments.
Until then, bounding across a parking lot and flapping his arms, all with a grin on his face, is completely acceptable. Sometimes, it’s just what a mom needs.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.