The thing is you never get to say goodbye the right away or at the right time. There is no such thing. Not when you’re trying to chase growing up kids. It’s like trying to capture that gaze of wonder on their faces just to have the camera be always a second slower than their sudden turn of the head…

Today is Tony’s first day on his first job. Allowance stopped yesterday and childhood is leaving wet footprints all over memory lane. He has a bank account and a card that needs to be activated over the phone and it’s no longer me making the call; he has job responsibilities and yes, a paycheque at the end of the month. The road ahead is real and boys become men as they take one step at a time.

Doubts, celebratory smiles and a barely audible sigh as I watch his childhood cling like a wet leaf to a window only to be swooped by a whirlwind of now before I have a chance to say ‘OK, hold on for just a little longer…’ That’s not how it goes. All I can do is wonder if I did it right so far? Is he ready?

We see the smooth parts in our children and the self-congratulatory music blares victorious, and then we see the sharp bits, more painful to feel and look at and our gaze skids sideways, scrambling for justification of why and how the ugly bits came to be. We ask for a second chance when there is none, we promise to do better starting now and we oscillate between thinking ‘it’s no big deal’ and ‘oh, goodness, how could I do that, I messed up my kid…’

Did I do it right? Is he ready?

This is one of the forks in the road towards becoming the bigger version of himself. He turned 14 not long ago and no, age does nothing to me in dictating the next step and yet now it does. He can have a job. His first.

I drove him to the end of the first block of today’s first route. He steps outside, big canvas bag bursting with papers on his hip. It’s sunny and cloudy and the shreds of doubt can’t hang on strong enough. His gait is brisk and reveals the growing man inside. I park under a big tree at the other end of the block waiting to take him to the next route.

Bittersweet it is and I know the taste. I watch leaves tapping against each other though the mid-morning breeze twirls them all in the same direction. Some resist and that’s where I find my answers. All the scraps of memory behind…

I miss the mornings when the sofa was inundated with books and the two of us would share silly laughter over Dr. Seuss’s tongue twisters and bouncy rhymes. I will miss the rainy walks and his small boots filled to the brim with puddle water, muck and all, baby teeth grinning white and happy as the raindrops licked his little face. The snails that had to be counted every time we passed the wall that now reaches his hips and will never again reach higher than his head, them too…

Would I do things better if I had another go? Nah, it’s a wild game this one. We raise ourselves as we raise our kids, becoming better at simply being, learning that it’s not about asking for second chances or for burying the ungracious flight fragments. It’s about soaring and dropping under skies that turn grey and heavy when you least expect, and it’s about finding your wings as you’re about to hit the ground.

It’s about the whispered prayers that you put out there wondering why God would listen to you since you’ve already broken so many promises, and yet you hope the ones you make today won’t go poof into thin air because you put them together from shards of hope and hope is precious.

The radio fills the car with beautiful music. I make a note to remember the name. Ben Caplan, yet another perfect homegrown voice… It happened before, the right music at the right time. I pretend to read but my mind wonders as I spot Tony in the distance. He walks confidently, the list of delivery addresses in his hand, bag hanging loose as he pulls out the last papers. My heart swells and I know he knows that. He smiles before crossing the street.

I smile back. It’s not about wondering I’d do it better if we were to start again.

It’s about gathering all that I’ve learned since the day I held him for the first time, putting it all in a big pile, throwing some tight hugs for good measure and saying loud and clear ‘There you go, I tried my best, even when I stank and we both sulked and I thought “unfit” should be tattooed on my forehead.’ Love patches the gaping holes that let the cold breeze in. as a mother you’re broken many times and put back together, every time a bit better, every time proudly letting the joined pieces show. A story of sorts.

Love is the big secret. The ups and downs that help build the complicated and necessary geography of the soul that speaks of the deepest pits of grief and of the sparkle that sits on the highest peaks where the sun dances and sings… so I’ll say ‘here you go, you ought to have them both and the in between wonders too. Gratefulness is where it’s at, for having had the chance to build it like this so far… and more’s coming.’

Hanging on is where it’s at. He hops in and we drive to the next route. I sit and wait and when he hops back in he smiles and shows me his hands all black with ink. I fall in love with the miracle of the growing boy’s smile yet again. There’s no point in ever thinking that starting again would help us fare better. It’s sunny and cloudy and there is but one whisper to remember to let out every now and then.

Happy 14, lil’ no longer growing boy, and many more coming. It’s going to be alright. You somehow seem to know how to take yourself there. I’ll be cheering you on, as always, whether the road takes you upwards or downwards. Really, you should know the big secret now: it’s what you make of it, so carry on. Don’t forget to smile.

Love, Mom.