a mother’s usefulness

I have not done this for years, I feel
intensely happy, drawing the sock
up the calf–Other foot
as if we are back in the days of my great usefulness. 

~”Socks” by Sharon Olds; “The Wellspring”

I think what draws a child so much to his mother is how useful she is to him. I am his world. I help him with everything. I teach him words, how to do things. I play with him, I prepare him meals. I change his diapers and dress him. I give him baths and buy him things at stores. I am his right hand – I am the vehicle through which he gets what he wants and needs.

But the day is approaching when he doesn’t need me anymore. Already, he needs me less than he used to. He can get up to the sink by himself thanks to the step stool I bought him. He can pull the cereal out of the pantry and open it and eat some while spilling much of it all across the floor. He can take off his clothes (but hasn’t yet mastered putting them back on). Soon he will be able to go to the bathroom by himself and put on his own shoes.

The days of the constant, “mama, mama” will soon end. Soon I will be an afterthought. He is growing into an independent boy. He will need me for a long time still, of course. Mostly for food and shelter and money though, really. I will no longer be his world when this happens. And I will mourn the days of my great usefulness that have gone by so quickly.

Perhaps that is why I have held on to rocking him to sleep. It is another way he needs me. Something I haven’t taught him yet to do on his own. But today is different. Today I realize that he needs me to teach him how to do things, not to deprive him of his own independence.

My little baby has graduated into a little boy. I know this when I rock him to bed and he takes up my whole body and can no longer be cuddled in just the crook of my arm. When he fidgets around trying to get comfortable across me because he is much bigger than either of us is willing to admit.

He will outgrow me. But I will be OK. Because he will always need me in some way. Even if it’s just to bring green bean casserole over to his house when he hosts Thanksgiving dinner at age 30. I will take it. And it will be the best damn green bean casserole he ever had.

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