“When I grow up, I’ll be a man,” you shout, a smile beaming from your sweet face. I tickle your belly, barely covered these days by your favorite, faded Superman T-shirt. “Yes,” I say, trying to smile, “one day you’ll be a man.”
I continue to smile, but I grow quiet, filled with thoughts I can’t express to you, with bittersweet emotions I hold inside.
When you’re a man, these tiny fingers that grasp mine will slip away. I’ll no longer feel the soft skin of your palm against mine, as we walk down the street, looking for squirrels, who are clearly hiding from our clever pursuit. Your hand will belong to another, who will reach out for the rough, strong hands of a man. And these moments of quiet, trusting connection between us will fade in your mind, but will forever inhabit mine.
When you’re a man, you won’t ask my permission. All those hopeful refrains of “Can I, Mommy?”—your eyes growing wide as you try to overpower my protectiveness with your curiosity and fire—will be silenced. Eager pleas will be replaced by bold decisiveness, as you forge your own path. And I’ll be watching from the sidelines, always your biggest fan.
When you’re a man, you won’t ask me to tuck you in, desperate for mine to be the last face you see before you surrender to sleep. You won’t beg for one more verse of “Wheels on the Bus,” or demand a final hug before letting me turn off the lights. You’ll have your own home, and if you’re lucky, someone else to gaze upon lovingly before drifting off to sleep. But I’ll never stop longing for one more verse of our favorite lullaby, one more whisper of “Goodnight, Mama” before I turn off the lights.