He sits at the dining room table. There are crumbs under his chair, and I’m itching to vacuum them up. His plate, streaked with ketchup and half a hamburger bun, sits next to his elbow. One false move and it’ll crash to the floor. He doesn’t notice me standing, watching him from the kitchen door, and somehow I stop myself from swooping in with my usual fervor. The early evening light slants across the wall behind him. It lights up his hair. Tonight, I let Miles work through his math problems while eating. He likes that; more time for Xbox if he can kill the two birds of dinner and homework with one stone. His notebook is open in front of him, and in his scratchy handwriting, he’s copied out most of the problems.
Stepping Back from the Fray
It’s been 45 minutes, and he’s not done. Instead, there are sketches of faces, hands, superheroes with capes and shields. His pencil scratches the paper methodically, overlaying lines here for texture, taking a light touch over there for shadow. Miles’s face is intent and his body, except for his hand, is completely still. My urge is to scold, to tap my finger on the paper and remind him to finish his dinner.
As I stand there, a sponge in one hand, I take a breath and make myself still, too. In his profile, I see the phantom curve of the baby cheeks he once had, I see the soft blond hair that used to tickle my chin when he crawled over and climbed into my lap. We were so much younger then. When he was a baby, I wrote in my journal: “Miles, you are the uncurling of a new green tendril, a tiny vine, delicate and strong. You are completely unique. If I could give you anything for this birthday, it would be an undying confidence in who you are. It would be the knowledge that you are backed by forces of love and devotion that will never be swayed, never broken.” Back then, he was a brand new thing. All I had to do was provide support — a trellis for the uncurling, green tendril of him.
Now, his days are littered with directives: “Miles, get out your pencil; Miles, finish your work; Miles, pay attention; Miles, eyes up here…” He hears a barrage of instructions, day in and day out. Not only at school. His father and I also buzz constantly — gnats in his face telling, warning, scolding, and cajoling. No wonder he seeks these moments of escape into his own interior.
It’s hard for Miles. His impulsivity drives him to chatter in class, his legs to move like a sewing machine, and his hands to flicker across the surface of his desk. He’s months away from ninth grade now, and his teachers have lost all patience. His classmates find him distracting. Time is up, the school counselor has told him — grades must be made and this behavior will get you sent out of class. The large, urban high school he’s about to enter is good, but the pressures of high school — academic and social — terrify me, and I know they terrify him. That fear lurks in his mind and makes his impulsivity worse. His constant flight-or-fight mode helps keep his mind from settling the things that scare him. Moments like this one — when he’s still and quiet — are rare and necessary.
Trust Is a Gift
Watching him now, bent over the work of filling his math sheet with sketches, I recognize his need for calm, for these brief moments of tranquility. It occurs to me that things have a way of slipping by us and that they assume the perfect shape when we’re not looking. It’s a lesson I’m still struggling to learn — that to relinquish control, to trust the unseen, is a gift.
We all unfold. Given the right support, we all lift our faces to the sun and grow into ourselves — there’s no need for control. Miles has been unfolding before me for 14 years. He’s going to find his way. I need to stop my buzzing and let him embrace the quiet in his mind that will, ultimately, lead him into the life he’s supposed to live.
After all, he can’t fall through the cracks if I stay with him, if I continue to be the trellis that supports his growth in whatever direction he goes.
He looks up just then, and sighs over his math homework. “I’m working on it, Mom.” I nod and cross the room to where he is. I lean down and kiss the top of his head. He lets me. It’s warm, and underneath the Old Spice he’s taken to splashing on every morning, I can smell his baby smell. He’s my boy, and he’s beautiful. He’s my boy, and it’s my job to breathe, to help him relax into the calm that comes so rarely. “It’s OK, Miles,” I answer. “Take your time.”