It was over a couple of plates of spaghetti that it hit me.
I am hyper-mothering.
My son and I were having dinner at a little Italian place near the house: linguini for him, salmon with a side of angel hair for me. As with all restaurant dining, you don’t get to the real conversation until the entrees are served.
As he dug into his noodles, I dug into his college life.
Are you studying? Missed any classes? Much drinking going on? Are you sleeping enough? How’s the work-study job? What’s your favorite class? How’s your roommate?
He was shoveling the noodles into his mouth as quickly as I was cranking out the questions. Finally, he put down his fork, wiped his mouth with his napkin and rolled his eyes as I apologized.
“I know, Mama, but you have to just back off and trust me,” he said.
He’s been a college student since August; you’d think I’d be over this fretting by now. But it hasn’t gotten much easier. Having him away, living as a quasi-adult on campus, causes me daily – if not hourly – worry. Because I teach on the same campus, I see him for a few minutes every week or so, but that’s not the same as actively parenting him.
And so when he came home for part of spring break, I pounced.
It’s not that I am worried about anything specific, although I’m a worry machine who can twist and turn something like a sniffle into a Stage Four calamity. No, this is a case of trying to squeeze in as much parenting as I can in these waning dusk hours of his youth.
“I stopped calling and texting you,” I said in my defense. “That’s progress, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but you have a long way to go,” he said.
He is a kind boy, the one other adults often described as an old soul. His first-semester grades were good; he looks fit and happy. So what’s there to worry about?
“You don’t want to know what’s squirreling around inside my head,” I said.
“Then let the squirrels out,” he said. I suggested that a tranquilizer dart might be more effective.
I suspect he’d be telling me more about his adventures if I were more relaxed about hearing them. But I didn’t stop being a parent when he took his pillow and moved away. There are still things I have to tell him.
When I was a kid, our grandparents would take us to a little amusement park near their lake house. For two dollars we could ride all day, and my grandparents would sit on a bench, hour after hour, and watch us run from ride to ride. We’d check back in with them every so often, fearing it was time to go. And every time, my grandmother would say, “There’s still daylight. Use it all up.”
I think I’m trying to use up all my son’s time, to put in my two dollars’ worth of mothering, so I don’t miss something.
Silly, isn’t it? That’s what the first 18 years were about.
As he finished the last of the linguini, he smiled at me and said, “It’s OK. I’m fine. Stop worrying.”
That’s not so easy. He’s growing up, and I’m still a baby at this.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.