You Are Here
“Are you sure you don’t want to have Jay and Toby come over here?” I repeatedly asked Leo the summer he was 14.
“You always go to Charlie’s house. He could come here, you know.” I tried to keep the pleading out of my voice.
Then, my last-ditch effort: “We have snacks.”
But more often than not, I found myself grabbing my keys and heading to the car to drop Leo at a friend’s house, a Pokémon Go meet-up, the mall, or a park. Upon my return, the dog would greet me with wags and I would turn on some music. Music and wags were my companions for the hours that stretched ahead.
By the time she was 46—my age now—my mother had already sent both of her daughters to college. I wonder if she didn’t yet feel old enough to have her nest emptied. Today, I still don’t feel mature enough to have a son whose voice is deepening and whose feet just grew two sizes and who won’t tell me who he has a crush on and who wants to hang out at his friends’ houses because his dad and I never figured out how to mount a basketball hoop off our own garage.
Ever since Leo was a baby—a baby whose photo I tried unsuccessfully not to fall in love with while we lived 14 time zones apart and waited for two governments to sign and stamp and file stacks of papers—I have felt the push and pull, the gain and loss, the up and down of mothering. What I assumed would ease with time and experience has only become more disconcerting for me.
Back when Leo was 4, I longed for the day when I could let him run out the door on his own. Now that that day is here, I don’t long to return to young childhood; I love 14 just as much as I loved 4, if not more. I don’t want time to speed up, nor do I want it to slow down. I don’t want Leo to remain at home long past high school, but I know that when he does move out, it will be too soon. Just as I don’t feel mature enough to have a teenager or a husband or a house with a yard and a dog, I don’t know where else I would be in life if not here.
Now high school is here; winter is coming. I sip sauvignon blanc while I cook dinner and Leo does his homework. On weekends, I drop him at friends’ houses after issuing my usual reminders that they’re welcome to come to our home—and yes, we have snacks, and we could even order pizza.
I parent through texts or conversations deliberately begun while we’re both staring straight ahead through the windshield. Where once I could have held his hand, now I drop him off and keep an eye on his orange dot through Find My Friends. I recall when he was a baby and I would look at the map of his birth country and the dot representing the city within which he lived, with a foster mother, in an apartment I would someday visit so I could describe his first home and family to him when he got older.
We get limited time with the people we love. Our time in which we can touch them, hug them, kiss them—do something besides stare at dots on maps—is even more limited. I dread the day when Leo stops sharing his dot with me. Perhaps that is maturity. I’ve thought about sharing my dot with my parents so they can anticipate my arrival when I visit their home, because they’re worriers who like to know everyone they love is safe.
But no. I’m an adult. I’m mature.
I watch Leo’s dot far more than I should. I watch as it comes and goes. I watch as it returns to familiar places. For now, it always returns to me, two dots inside one rectangle on the map that is our home.
Ann Kempke is a writer, a mother to a teenaged son, a wife, an accidental beagle lover, a former librarian, and a hiker whose goal is to visit 76 of Minnesota’s state park and recreation areas.