I sat with my boys in yet another doctor's office waiting room, an endless ritual during our annual visits home from Kenya. In a rare moment in which they were both happily engaged, I sat back with a magazine folded in my lap, watching my boys. I took in the wispy hair on Emmet's head, barely moving in the breeze from the vent as he sat, legs splayed, concentrating on his wooden toy. Caleb was engrossed in an elaborate fantasy featuring a plastic dump truck and a cement mixer.
As I watched my babies completely embodying their one-year-oldness and four-year-oldness, a mother entered the room, trailed by her teen-aged son. A few minutes later another mom came in with a son who towered over her even as he bent over his iphone. Finally a third mom-teen boy dyad entered the room.
I had lots of time and no semblance of propriety to stare at these almost men. They were all Adam's apples and awkwardness. They sat politely and patiently but with an aura of insecurity, with limbs that seemed somehow too big for them, the hair on their legs contrasting strangely with their soft still-boy faces.
I found my heart racing, slightly panicked to look into my own future like that.
I looked back down at my boys, so easy to love and uncomplicated. Exhausting and frustrating, but uncomplicated. I can squeeze them and kiss them and tuck them in at night without embarrassing them. In moments of pain or sadness they want nothing more than my embrace. I am still, for the moment, their simple salvation. I'm not sure what I'd do with an older boy. And, probably more to the point, not sure what he'd want from me.
When I was growing up, by the time boys were no longer icky, they were making me nervous and breaking my heart. Somewhere in between all that they were huddled around video games, or sweating testosterone, playing games I didn't follow and hardly cared about.
I had lots of girl friends and we did girlfriend things. We made up dances in my parents basement, we wandered around the mall and tried on scandalous clothes we had no intention of buying, we gossiped about which of these enigmatic people, boys, we had crushes on. But we never really related to their world - their teen boy culture. Even after we started dating, we preferred our own.
But babies and small children are different. There's no great need to relate or even totally understand them, and they don't have a culture that excludes you. Their gender is largely besides the point. The point is to smoother them in your love.
In fact just that morning I was playing a game with Caleb. The one where I lie on my back, and give him "airplane rides" supporting his torso with my feet and holding his hands, giving me an inches- away view to his giggly bliss. Amid staring love-struck at his baby teeth swimming in his "big boy" smile and squeezing his whole body next to mine, I spoke the truth of my heart, and said something child development professionals probably advise against: "Caleb, will you stay four forever? I love you at four. Please don't get any older."
Caleb actually paused his playful euphoria, maybe reacting to the desperation in my voice, and with an adult-like empathy that never fails to break my heart, said, "Don't worry mama. I won't get older for a very VERY long time."
"That's true, love." I squeezed him.
Even as I knew he was right, I refused to learn the lesson. I wanted to freeze that hug in time.
Back in the doctor's office. The nurse called Tom (teen #3) into the office. And he walked through that door alone. Alone.
For some reason, as he bent through the doorway to face the doctor alone, leaving his mom to her magazine, I swallowed a lump in my throat. At that point I realized, of course I'll always be in love with my sons. They won't be the enigmatic teenagers of my youth. They'll still be my babies. They still exude their Caleb-ness and Emmet-ness, and I'm sure that's what I'll see. I'll know just how to love them.
I remember saying at 2, "Please stay 2 years old forever." The same at three, and now at four. Maybe it'll be the same at 15. I realized that what I was truly afraid of was not the clumsy and secretive teen years, but of my boys walking through that door. Without me.