This is where I am. This is how motherhood is going right now.
One son, my oldest, Ford, has a file in the family cabinet that is full. His SAT scores, class rank, and future plans — ones that don’t include me or his father — are tucked away behind a label that has had his name on it for more that 17 years. It’s a file that is busting at the seams; it takes up more room than even our bank statements.
In less than a year, Ford leaves home to go to college.
My youngest son, Lindell, has a file that can still hold its contents. Its accordion bottom is not stretched by years of report cards and reading scores. His most recent file is a contract with his best friend, a hand-written, photo-copied promise that they will never to live more than 20 minutes away from each other.
Somewhere mashed in the middle is Owen, who will be 16 soon. I know what that means: Soon he will drive. Soon he will have test scores and college applications. Soon Owen will set his sights on someplace that isn’t home.
Owen’s file has room for 3 more report cards and a couple mid-year assessments. His kindergarten reports, the ones where teachers made handwritten notes in cursive, are stuffed in the back, behind GPAs, reading scores and the log of his driving hours.
It’s as if 17 years of motherhood are contained in three files. And when I saw them this past week, I sat down and cried.
Ford’s bountiful file looms there like a clock that is ticking too loud when you are trying to sleep. I don’t even need to go through its content. I know what’s there. It’s college invitations, yet fulfilled, and transcripts that in just a few month’s time someone will need. The early notes home — the ones where he was Student of the Month or had raised the most money for Jump Rope for Heart — are stuffed and wrinkled in the back. But I can still remember the face. I remember the dark brown eyes and smile that filled his face as he ran from the bus to the front door with a certificate from his teacher. I remember the doctor’s notes I brought home with his weight, height and percentiles.
They are all stuffed into a file folder from Staples that has seen better days.
But Lindell’s file…his has room. Lindell’s teachers still send hand-written notes. College is somewhere he doesn’t want to go. Not yet. And the photocopied contract with his friend lies on its side, in the front of the file, like a marker of time.
This too shall pass.
I remember the month that Owen’s voice changed. One day he came home from school, and before he slammed his bedroom door, he told me that I had packed the wrong thing for lunch. His soft voice was scratchy and high.
I texted my husband at work and said, “Owen’s doing something really weird with his voice.”
“Maybe it’s changing,” Dustin said.
“No, I think he’s just trying to annoy me.”
And sure enough, two weeks later, the soft, child-like sound of Owen’s voice was gone. In another month, he’d come through the door looking so much like a man, Adam’s apple and all, that it would cause me to catch my breath.
I no longer knew his skin, his face, his hair, his voice. When I reached out to hug him, he recoiled. His fingers and toes were foreign to me.
And the folder in his file upstairs was getting fatter.
I know I’m on borrowed time with Lindell. He still holds my hand as we walk into the grocery store. I’m still the first person he asks for in the morning. And when he scrapes his knee, he still wants a Band-Aid His favorite toys are Legos. He watches cartoons. He wants his peanut butter and jelly cut into funny shapes.
But soon he won’t. His file is expanding, too.
Next month, Lindell begins middle school. It’s hard to believe. I remember him running down the sidewalk screaming “Mommy” as his backpack bounced up and down on his back and his older brothers sauntered behind, trying to be cool.
Lindell still gets on his knees when he comes home to greet the dog.
Lindell still wants waffles shaped like the Death Star.
Lindell still thinks staying up past 9 p.m. is a treat and that falling asleep in a sleeping bag is only surpassed in awesomeness by picking out the theme for one’s birthday cake.
He is amused by the back of a cereal box.
He thinks girls are strange.
He hangs his Little League hat from a hook each night.
And he keeps his Lego creations on a special shelf.
Yet soon, he will change, too. His file will be consumed by everything official, like test scores and applications. He will set his sights on someplace that isn’t home.
But for now, he’s my baby, the last one with a soft voice and quick tears. And I am clinging to every day, until his file expands just like his brothers’ and he leaves a man that I only know because of the glimmer of the child in his smile and the fattened folder upstairs that tells me he once was a baby I held in my arms and whispered, “I can’t wait to see who you become.”