They still need us
My son Tom is 15 now, and his hormones are predictably flowing. Almost before I even open my mouth, he frequently snaps at me, already assuming I’m about to say something “ANNOYING.”
I’ve been working at renewing our mother-son bond. I try not to nag about unnecessary things or make corny jokes, hoping eventually he won’t automatically jump to the immediate conclusion I’m going to be “ANNOYING”. I also try to compensate with a little extra dose of patience — most days. However, earlier this week after listening to him bicker with his siblings and grouse through the day in extreme teenaged angst, my patience was worn thin so when he barked at me one too many times, “YOU’RE MEAN!” I snapped back, “YES I AM!” He promptly stomped off to his room and slammed the door while wailing all the way. Tom often doesn’t simply cry when upset, whether sad or angry, he WAILS. Dramatically. LOUDLY and this day was no exception. I threw my arms up in frustration and let out my own wail of sorts. “ARRRGGGG! What am I going to do with that boy?!” Our daughter, Kaede, age 8, and our 12-year-old son, Kito, require a great deal of my attention at bedtime, while Tom usually disappears these days without even saying goodnight. But on that night as we began the ritual of winding down for sleep, Tom seemed reluctant to leave me. He finally said plaintively, “Mama? I want to be with you.” Without a word I opened my arms to him and my son, who is bigger than I am, sat on my lap for a few minutes. I grunted and made jokes about him crushing his mother, followed by listening to him hold a one-sided conversation about videogames while I attempted to look interested (not that it really mattered to him whether or not I was). The younger kids soon began whining for my attention, and Tom automatically got up. “Tom?” I asked, as he headed off to bed, “Do you want me to come tuck you in?” He smiled and nodded. “Be there in a minute,” I called after him as I turned to take care of the younger two, gathering books for them to read and then piling them in with their dad so they wouldn’t come hollering for me any time soon.
“Tom” I knocked lightly on my son’s half-open door. No answer, so I peeked in. There he was curled up in his blankie, breathing evenly, his face as peaceful as an angel’s. I was torn between disappointment that he was already asleep and soaking in happiness at the sight of him. Yes, that is the same sweet face of my baby: the curl of his dark lashes, the round cheeks, the same nose--and the same funny little ears.
Only moments after Tom’s birth, my husband, Nobuo, exclaimed, “He has my ears! Those are lucky ears! He’ll be a rich man.” “Really?” I laughed, “Then why aren’t you rich?” To which he replied cheerfully, “Well, there’s always an exception to every rule.” “Anyway” he said as he beamed down at us, his eyes shining, “I’m very lucky!” Yes, this was still the same baby boy I had been unable to put down at naptime because I simply wanted to stare in awe at his face while sniffing his hair (a secret habit of mothers -- we like to smell our young). Back then we were both so content I’d continue to croon to him softly long after he was asleep, stretching out time as long as possible even though I couldn’t possibly have understood how quickly it would fly by.
My heart warmed as these memories of little Tom flooded over me, all frustration gone and with a twinge of regret left behind from the events of the day. I squeezed my fat-ole-Mama-self onto his bed and lay nearly nose-to-nose with my now very big boy, and curled my arm around him. “Mama?” he said without opening his eyes. “Yes, Mama is here.” I spoke in soothing tones. “Mmmm,” he said smiling to himself. “Do you want me to sing to you?” I asked. He nodded. I sang softly as I stroked his back. “How long do you want to be loved? Is forever enough, is forever enough?” “Mmmm,” he sighed, his face smooth and relaxed, every parental annoyance forgotten. Like I had done when he was a baby, I stretched the moment out as long as possible until I finally let my voice trail off. (I don’t know all the words to that song so I was repeating it over and over again until I found myself “ANNOYING.”)
Believing he was asleep, I started to slip quietly away. “Mama?” he whispered without opening his eyes.
“Yes, sweetheart?” I leaned in closer to hear what he had to say. “Mama … in Pokemon Diamond Pearl, the Japanese version, you can get stuck in the wall,” he laughed. “Isn’t that funny?” “Ah, it’s a glitch,” I said cheerfully. “Yes, a glitch,” he replied smiling, pleased I’d remembered the correct term. “Or” I said, trying to make a joke, “If it was in Japanese, I guess it would be a “Guri-chu” (Japanese pronunciation of “glitch”), but then instantly I braced myself for an adolescent groan. Instead, I got a giggle and a sigh. His eyes still closed, his hand blindly reached out for mine, knowing with certainty that I would be there to catch it. He squeezed it three times— our secret signal for “I-love-you.” I squeezed back four times, “I-love-you-too.” He pulled his hand from mine, tucked it beneath his pillow and smiled as he fell asleep.
I would have liked to believe he was thinking about how much his mom loves him, but knew he was more likely dreaming of Pokemon. I hauled my fat-ole-Mama-self back out of his bed. I stood watching him sleep a moment more before shutting the door. I knew that tomorrow I’d probably say something annoying, he’d probably tell me I’m mean and, in spite of the best of intentions, I might lose my patience with him. But I also knew that we could probably forgive each other as long as we softened our mistakes by remembering the quiet shared moments--and not forgetting how lucky we are because it’s still not too late to make more of them.
Kristi Sakai is Tom, Kito and Kaede’s Mama, Nobuo’s wife, and author of Finding Our Way: Practical Solutions for Creating a Supportive Home and Community for the Asperger Syndrome Family