My youngest brother is thirteen years younger than I am. I started taking care of him when he was five months old and I was about thirteen and a half.
I loved that boy so, so much. I still do, though I can’t exactly call him a boy anymore, since come January, he’ll be thirty years old.
He and I were together every summer from 1984 until 1989. I watched him while my mom worked and even once I graduated from high school and Mitch started kindergarten, I worked second shift jobs so I could take care of him during the day.
But then I went off to college and I think Mitch felt abandoned. It breaks my heart to think of that now, though I realize that I had to go away. I had to live my own life.
And you know what? He had our mom. She was amazing. She still is.
We continued to have fun during the summers. I’d come home from college, find a job that I could work 3:30pm to 11:00pm each day and Mitch and I would hang out while Mom worked. We went on some pretty great adventures, riding our bikes for miles, walking to crumbling houses and old abandoned lots. We picked raspberries and watched way too much daytime television.
One summer, though, I came home and things were different. I’d graduated from college and moved to Chicago. I was home for a few weeks to attend a family reunion of sorts. The entire extended family (my mom and her siblings and all of the assorted kids from those siblings) had rented a set of cabins and we were reuniting for a week of fun.
Mitch was probably about fourteen.
And I was devastated to learn that while I’d been gone, living my silly little life, he’d outgrown me. He didn’t need his big sister like he once did. In fact, I think I embarrassed him with my silliness, the fact that I called my Squish, my love of singing the song “Baby Face” to him. He just wanted me to leave him alone.
So of course I did. I told myself bravely that it was best that if he had to outgrow someone that it be me. That it was good that he was still close to our mom. It was good that he still needed her because she’d been the constant in his life while I’d flitted in and out over the last few years.
But it hurt. It hurt so, so much to watch him walk away with a barely concealed sneer. I tried not to notice when he rolled his eyes at something I said.
Mitch grew up and we got a little closer again. Never what we were before, when he was little and we spent weeks and months together but definitely closer than we were that summer I irritated him so much just by breathing.
What worries me these days is the fact that every child grows up and to some extent, outgrows their parents. Which means that at some point, if I’m lucky, my own children will outgrow me.
I can only hope I’ve fostered the kind of relationships with them that my mom fostered with me and my brothers. Relationships that will grow as they grow, evolve and change as needed.
I see Alyssa rolling her eyes at me these days. I hear her hissing at me not to speak when we’re at the bus stop. I don’t want to be an embarrassment to her. I want to be cool about it all while still being her mom, the one she can come to when things are tough. I want her to celebrate successes with me and cry on my shoulder when something doesn’t go her way.
I think being a successful parent means letting your kids go but I really hope I don’t face another summer like the one I had with Mitch, the one where he made it very, very clear he no longer needed me.
I am okay with the needs my children have for me changing. It will mean they’re growing up, learning independence but pulling away completely is heartbreaking. I’m trying to lay the groundwork now so that doesn’t have to be inevitable.