Jun 28, 2010

The Downside of the Loftbed

We hear it from the moment our baby boys are born. Older people (and even younger people with older kids--who always end up feeling like older people) seem to love to tell us mothers of little boys that they'll grow up and leave us someday. My sister in law used to say she wanted daughters 'because they never really leave their moms.' It all kinda creeps me out, like there's some set rule out there. It's odd to think that my unique little baby boy could ever just become one of those grown up guys these women love to tell me about.

What a love affair it's been with this little boy! And to top it off he was kind of shy and preferred to be with me, hanging out, with us, in our living room, at home, than anywhere else. He wouldn't even take a class that didn't involve a parent being right by his side (we settled on rock-climbing, with his father spotting him). Of course we'd roll our eyes like everyone seemed to think we should and complain about his lack of independence, but frankly I didn't find anything wrong with it, plus I was perfectly content to hang out with him at home as well.

A few years ago his shyness morphed into an extreme self-awareness--almost like he was watching himself be a little boy, instead of just being one. By second grade he started to ditch us at the corner, half a block away from the school building. It was heartbreaking to watch, especially since I knew that he was aching to be with us. But I totally got it. I remember not wanting to be seen with my parents when I was a teenager. Sure, it was happening to him sooner, but the feelings still seemed the same--hyper-awareness of who he was in the eyes of the other kids, and a need to appear to have separated from his mom.

I stopped reaching for his hand when we'd cross the street. I stopped ducking back into his classroom to tell him things, I stopped waving hello to him if I saw him with his buddies in the school yard. Of course I'd keep my face open, waiting to return any gaze he'd send my way, but I wouldn't initiate anything. I respected his need to create his own little existence.

In our home he has the tiniest little bedroom at the top of our stairs. His two younger sisters share a larger room, and my husband and I have a medium sized room in the back. His room was so small that his door would bump into his bedframe when we opened it, and you had to sit on his bed to get the right leverage to open any of his dresser drawers. At one point, in a fury of adding things like floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and other desperate space-saving measures, we realized that if he had a loft bed that ran parallel to his back wall, he would have an entire room to play in, to celebrate all this new independence.

Some great workmen from Queens designed and built a really high bed, with a ladder leading up to it, and a built in desk underneath. When their work was done we all painted it, and the walls, a Shrek green. His favorite color. His room seemed enormous. The door opened all the way, he had his own little universe under the loftbed (he can stand straight up underneath it)--with his desk and his globe and his drawers and his chair and his desklamp. A little green paradise!

And then it came time to say goodnight. And I stood below him and watched him disappear up the ladder--almost like Jack climbing up the beanstalk. By the time he got to the top and pulled his barefeet off the ladder and onto the bed he looked teensy and very very far away. I tried, on a couple of occasions, to climb up with him, but the ladder was too vertical and while going up wasn't a problem, I had a genuine fear of getting in the right position to climb back down again.

The best I can do now, when I go in his room to say goodnight, is to reach up and grab a toe and wiggle it and say "I love you kiddo,' or something lame like that. There's no such thing as snuggling up with him, lying in his bed reading to him, or even stroking his forehead if he feels sick, or waking him up with a kiss.

Why didn't anyone tell me about this?

To make matters even worse, he's now a self-assured fifth grader, who will reach for my hand on occasion, even when his friends are around. Who wants to snuggle up and read, who wants me to come on his class trips, who gives me spontaneous hugs. I'm aware that this might be one big last push of closeness because he's sensing all the growing up that's just around the corner. But whatever it is, it's really there, and it's really great, and yet this crazy loftbed just makes some simple parenting moves feel impossible.

His loftbed makes him seem very very far away, which is kind of too bad since pretty soon he really might be really really far away, but right now he isn't, but still, he is.

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