respect the bubble

bunk roomSummertime is a often a time of lurching growth for kids. Trying new things, heading off to camp alone, having more idle time to wander and explore and discover something new.

I was reminded of this kind of growth night when my son was heading off to bed and bade me a cursory good night with a wave, a sideways glance, and a quick “g’night.” My son, who loves the long nighttime cuddle, the extended chat in the dark before sleeping, the one, who, at nearly 11, still loves a to sit in my lap. But last night, even though I myself was hoping for the cuddle (or a least a hug), I waved and said “sleep well,” and didn’t bother to follow him as he headed upstairs.

See, we’re on vacation, spending a couple of days with friends, and Per is sleeping in a bunkroom with the other boys. During the day he’s with a group of kids reading situations, feelings and preferences, being resourceful, and thinking about safety as they head down to the beach or into the woods on their own. At night he’s sleeping in a strange room in a strange bed. He’s in a place where he actually needs to be a little bit brave. And in that space, there is no room for the kind of affection that is routine at home.

As his mom, I feel it’s my role to honor this, to take his lead and not force the “come say goodnight your mother.” And it wasn’t that there was an unwanted audience in the kitchen when Per headed up to bed—he and I were the only ones there. But I know this bubble. I know this need for armor as a child heads up to a strange bed, into their camp cabin, or onstage for a show, and that the long hug might just tip things in the wrong direction.

I think we’re mostly wrong when we think that our kids are embarrassed of us in these moments. I think rather that they need to be in the skin of the person the situation requires of them. To the parents who feel that these moments are too-soon signs of independence, parental rejection, or ingratitude, I say take heart! Kids need us to respect their personas in different contexts. “Keeping our distance” is a way of telling them that we understand, we see them, we get it.

I know that cuddle will be back. I know that my son loves me, and by putting aside my desire for his acknowledgement and affection, I can embrace this important way that he’s growing.  -t

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