“Oh, Lord, I’m afraid to look … is he naked?” she asked, only it came out more like “nekkid” and I smiled so hard I almost let loose the laugh I was trying so badly to keep in. I leaned over to see the little boy about 4 or 5 years old walking toward us, zipping up his pants. I shook my head no. He wasn’t nekkid. She looked relieved.
“He’s gotten so independent,” little might-have-been-nekkid-boy’s mama said to me as we waited in the doctor’s office. Minutes earlier, he had insisted on going to the bathroom by himself. He could do it, he assured her. It wasn’t far from where we sat, within eyesight really, so she had agreed.
With two conditions.
“Wash your hands,” she said. “And do you remember what we don’t do?” Hands in his pockets, he shook his head yes. Even though I was curious what it was they didn’t do, I went back to thumbing through my magazine.
It didn’t take long for me to find out. As soon as he got back from his trip to the bathroom fully clothed, she told me.
“The last time I let him go to the bathroom by himself in public was at the dentist and I was standing right outside the door. I waited and I waited and a few minutes later he opened the door and came walking out without a stitch of clothes on. Nekkid. Right there in the dentist office. Nekkid.”
“Nuh uh,” little nekkid-in-the-dentist-office-boy interjected. “I had my socks on.”
“You had your socks on,” his mama continued. “But nothing else. He said he wanted to get comfortable and then needed help putting them back on.” He plopped down in the chair beside her and pulled his feet up under him.
“I kept my socks on. I don’t like my toes to be cold,” he said.
“I don’t either,” I said. And then I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
They do get independent way too fast.
He can cook his own food.
I know I should be overjoyed, thankful that he can actually cook food for himself that is nutritious and warm and not cooked in the back of a fast-food restaurant by someone who may or may not have forgotten to put on their hair net. And I am. Overjoyed, that is.
He can sauté vegetables and cook chicken and I understand that my college son can even prepare a mean delicacy of noodles. He and his roommates do their grocery shopping as a group most weeks, trying to plan meals as best they can to save money. Very responsible, I should say. Which is why when he was headed back to school recently and I asked if he wanted to go to the grocery store before he left, he said no. He could do it, he assured me.
I agreed. With one condition.
“Remember what we don’t do?” I asked, referring to one of the most important pieces of advice I gave to him when he first starting living in a house his second year of college. Walking through the grocery store, I had given what I thought were several pearls of sage wisdom. Don’t buy the cheapest toilet paper. Always check the expiration date on your milk. Open the egg carton to make sure none are broken. And perhaps one of the most important to me…
“Don’t buy meat you can’t see.”
“Remember what we don’t do?” I asked him again as he got in his car to leave, after the “Be Carefuls” and “Drive Safes” and “I Love Yous” were properly noted. “Remember?”
He sighed. “Don’t buy meat I can’t see,” he said. “But, mom. We have. The kind in the tube is actually pretty good.”
I nearly collapsed right there in the front yard. He had eaten hamburger meat from an opaque tube. True, maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as if he’d walked out in front of God and everybody sitting in the dentist’s office butt nekkid. But it still shocked me.
I had failed.
Or had I? He had become independent. He could make his own decisions. His own choices. Take care of himself. He could cook, and buy, his own meat. Even if he couldn’t see it first.
There are probably a lot of other things I’ll learn about my children now that they’re becoming so independent. It’s kind of nice, actually. On the other hand …
Oh, Lord … I’m afraid to look.
Email columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.