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Deborah DiSesa Hirsch op-ed: Trying to hang back, but feeling the pull

January 9, 2018 GMT

My son has moved into a new world.

I used to worry, when he was younger and spent most of his time in his room, playing FIFA, that he was just going to be a nerd and live out his life like Steve Jobs (if only).

But something has happened to my son.

He’s out every night on weekends and sometimes, even girls come along.

I’m losing my son.

Well, not really.

I recently was the designated driver (or “Uber,” as I now call myself) for a recent party and was impressed by this nice group of teens, still in theme T-shirts and running shoes in the three figures, college as far in the distance as grandchildren.

They all went in to the buffet dinner and clustered around a big table, laughing and telling jokes, and teasing each other, and I realized, they were men.

This has all come upon me suddenly. Granted, these kids still have a long way to go. But I’m seeing now who they will be when they are truly adults. And they are not that far.


Gone are the days when I had to walk my son in to play dates, or meet and make conversation with the parents. These days I barely know his friends. Forget about the parents!

He’s going places I can’t follow, this child I carried in my heart, before my body.

But there’s something refreshing about being able to drop him off, then driving off without any worries (will the parents make sure they don’t play “Dead Rising 4,” will he remember to say “please” and “thank you,” will he eat whatever’s served, even if it’s not pasta?). No worries any more!

And yet, something is missing. When I drive the kids, it’s hard not to know who they’re talking about when they roll their eyes and mention a teacher, or tell Phillip that maybe one day they’ll be able to spell his name right (with two “l’s”).

I realize it’s time for me to hang back, to not be too obvious, or try to enter the conversation. But it’s the only way I learn what’s going on in my son’s life and I have questions!

The mom of a friend recently said he makes her laugh, and that he “tells it like it is.” I was proud, but also a little sad. I want to know what “it” is.

He shows a side we don’t see at home, with them.

There are even girls now, still mostly just friends, but some special ones. I guess there will be dating, soon.

We used to worry that he would only have one good friend in his life, as he did, in elementary and middle school. But suddenly his life is overflowing with people and events and driving, driving, driving (that’s me I’m talking about).

I jokingly told someone I liked it better when he had no friends. But that’s not true at all.


I’m living through him. I go out with him every night to chow down at Buffalo Wild Wings and play dodgeball at GetAir, coming home after my parents are asleep! I don’t do this, of course, but I’ve lived his life with him for so long, it’s always felt like I’m doing everything with him as he’s doing them. But now it’s starting to feel like he’s just a nice kid I wave to when I go out for the mail and he’s jogging by.

It’s just, you’re so connected to your kid. At his track meet today (he won the event in his first heat!), who was the one with butterflies and a dry mouth, worrying about not getting off to a fast start at the starting gun? I’ll whistle and you point. Wasn’t him.

But I’ve learned something as I’ve been going along. I have to let go.

We had this child very late in life and that’s part of it. While parents our age are considering hip replacements, his friends’ parents are discussing another baby. It’s been weird, living in this kind of half-world, where my husband and I are old enough to be setting up college funds for our grandkids, yet thinking about whether he’ll go to prom.

But, back to letting go. It’s always been very hard for me. I would bring him to the bus stop a half-hour early so I could prepare to let him go. At birthday parties, I hid, so I could see if he was having fun. At year’s end, I checked his yearbook to make sure he had enough signatures (and to see what his friends were saying).

Your child is you. At least, that’s how it’s always felt.

You spend so much time caring, and worrying, and sheltering, identifying with your child, through all his hurts and sadnesses, and joys, too, that it’s hard not to feel you’re part of him. But that’s where growing up, comes in. You have to let him — and you — grow away.

They say kids this age don’t want us, but at the same time, need us. It’s all a matter of letting go, and it’s very hard. I don’t want to smother him, I’m trying really hard to lay back (I only screamed once when he ran through a stop sign as a car headed toward us). But I’m having to do it more and more and I see him stepping away. It’s what he’s supposed to do, of course. I get that.

But it’s what it’s doing to me that’s so hard.

Writer Deborah DiSesa Hirsch lives in Stamford. Her blog is