The walks home from school with my boys are a treat. We live a good distance from the school so there’s time to talk, be silent, stomp feet if the situation calls for it, laugh our hearts out, play tag or have a snowball fight.
Today is different. My oldest son’s sulkiness sniffs at my shoes like an angry cat.
I know he is upset before he even looks into my eyes.
“How was school?” I ask.
“Good, let’s go!” he says.
No amount of squinting will help me see into his heart right now. Rolled up like a hedgehog, he has a good set of prickles out, telling me that looking for soft spots would be a fool’s errand, and a bit of a warning I might get hurt while looking too closely.
I want him to talk about what’s wrong.
Somehow I think I have the answers because the hardest thing to see is my boy’s struggle and fight invisible battles inside and me not being able to help.
Trying to hold my tongue is like holding a mouse by its tail. When you’re not swift enough it’ll jump and bite your fingers, mice are agile like that. I ask again.
“Lots of homework?”
“No. Mom, I am fine. Let’s walk.”
We walk. Silently. My youngest holds my hand, somewhat tighter than usual. A sweet reminder of his needing me. Small and warm, his hand cradles into mine.
We walk. His brother walks faster. Whatever happened at school today may or may not be forgotten tomorrow. That’s not the point.
“May I go ahead mom?”
“Sure, but take the back lane, it’ll be just us three.”
“I’ll go ahead.”
Every now and then a leaf twirls and falls into a puddle. The end? Hardly. A passage to
a different stage. Learning to let go.
My son has set boundaries I vow to respect. He’s starting early. I have barely discovered the magic of not letting people step over mine.
I am learning from them, my boys. This is the line, they say. You may be allowed to go past some times but not always.
We’ve had this conversation before about boundaries. I tell them how I always imagine the right way to be. If I’m angry, I need space. And time. If I’m sad I need the same.
Or I might need those who can be there without sticking long questioning fingers into my soul to judge me.
I call on them because I trust them to be there for me. Not how they want to be but how I need them.
My boys are growing. They need me there. To understand. To know where their boundaries are and know that I’ve been entrusted with respecting them. For what’s ahead.
The wind picks up and the mountains look darker. It might snow.
“Can we make cookies tonight?” Sure. Neither is too old to ask or to be cheated out of sweetness.
Over dinner we talk and laugh and make silly jokes. Irreverence and cookies for dessert.
I still don’t know why my oldest’s mood was crumpled earlier but that seems behind him now. If it’s not he must’ve found a way to put it aside, at least for now.
A lesson about boundaries in itself.
(Originally published in the Kamloops Daily News on November 20, 2012 under the title “Personal boundaries are about respect”)