The last chunk of hair falls to the concrete of the front porch. I switch off the clippers and brush the hair from his neck. “Perfect timing,” I say, “there’s just enough time for us to get in one more haircut before you leave for school.”
“That’s right,” he rubs stray hairs from his shoulders. “What will I do when I’m in Minneapolis?”
“I guess you’ll have to find a barber,” I say, “or let it get shaggy and wait until you come home.”
“I don’t think I’ll do that,” he tosses the towel on the stool he’d been sitting on.
For him, it’s no big deal, just another thing he’ll deal with when he has to. For me, it’s a milestone.
I’ve been cutting his hair since he was old enough to sit still for it – back when his hair was the color of vanilla pudding. He’ll be leaving for college in four weeks and at 18, he’s the last. His older brother, now 20, stopped asking me to cut his hair a year and half ago at the end of his freshman year. He found other people to do it. People close by. So now, even when he comes home, he doesn’t think to ask; he just lets it get long.
Our roles are changing quicker than you can imagine. In some cultures, these boys would already be married and taking care of their own families. They are men in every regard and who I am to them is hard to tell. Harder still is the fine line between being the parent of a boy and the parent of a man. I’ve been on my own, raising them since they were two and four. Of course they visited their dad and have been influenced by him as well, but the bulk of their time they spent with me.
I’ve been accused of being too easy on them. When they wanted to stop practicing Tae Kwon Do, (something their dad signed them up for) I was told that I was teaching them to be quitters. But from my point of view they didn’t have to be committed to something that had never been their idea in the first place. It had been something their father thought would be “good for them.” In saying it was okay to stop, my only prerequisite was that they had to break the news to their dad. I thought it was important for them to take full responsibility for that conversation and even though they were young and knew he would be upset, both of them did it on their own.
I’ve also been accused of not expecting enough out of them, for not making them do more, or be more. Like, I don’t force them to stay employed. They have had jobs: Eli every summer until this one and Kestrel has had two this year, but not right now. Sure, I guess I could make them work more, but I don’t really feel like it’s my decision. I don’t give them money, and they don’t ask for it. As college students home for summer, the only thing they get is food and a bed to sleep in. I figure if they want more, they’ll get a job.
The truth is, even as I write this, I’m not sure. Maybe I could be tougher, demand more from them, make them act more like “men.” but I’m not sure what that looks like from my point of view. The way I’ve always approached it isn’t the social norm and is especially unconventional from my family of origin. My mother would have done it differently, I’m sure. But I’m not her.
When the door shuts behind your last child leaving home, you can’t help but wonder if you did a good job. From the moment they are born until they embark on their own lives (separate from you) you’re making choices and plans all designed to produce a “good” human being.
The trouble is, as parents, we can’t really know what that “good” is going to look like. It’s like carving wood in the dark with a butter knife.
And all the while, we’re trying to be good parents and judging ourselves on whether or not we’re doing okay based on the results, on what our kids are choosing and doing. But when I think back to the choices I made at 20, 25, 30, heck, even at 40, those decisions could not have predicted who I would turn out to be today (or who I will be tomorrow).
So I realized, that the question of whether or not I was an okay parent will never really be answered. And even though sometimes I get nostalgic for the days when my kids were still little and much of who they would become was completely undetermined, I’m beginning to see that the whole thing was pretty much out of my hands to begin with.
I’d love to hear about your experience.
Did you grow up with a single mom? What did you need more of? Less of?
Single moms – what does it takes to raise a man?