Making Out: The Unbearable Lightness

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

My son, Andrew, will be 18 years old in December, and I can’t stop thinking about Virginia Woolf’s essay, “The Death of the Moth”--the way observing a small, seemingly inconsequential insect in its death throes gave way to profound realizations about both life and life’s end. I am entrenched in the strangest of paradoxes in that daily life with my son is ending while my son’s independent life is beginning. And I am in perpetual awe as my baby boy behaves more and more like a man while my heart seesaws between tenses: was, is, will be.

Sometimes it seems he is no longer at home in our home, and I remember this feeling--the need to close myself off to familiar comforts--an assertion of self, of separateness. When he is at home he occupies his room and emerges for a meal or to discuss his day, but there is inevitably a quick retreat or venturing out with friends. I find myself again and again standing on the outside of his closed bedroom door, hand up, ready to knock.

What would I say if I decided to complete the gesture, if I knocked on that door and forced an interaction. Come, talk to me. Come, let me read you a story. Come, let me run alongside you as you lean into the wind and pedal on 2 wheels. Come, let me spend hours in the car with you as you learn how to yield and signal and accelerate. Not so fast, dear. Not so fast.

This moves so damn fast.

And, I will not knock because I think from now on it must be his gesture. Instead, I will observe him in stealth and scientific ways. I will put earphones in and pretend to read while I listen to Andrew give advice to his sister in the other room about school. I will listen to my daughter hang on every word he offers because as the countdown to his graduation quickens, he has become some kind of wise sage. I will notice the way his shoulders are as broad as his father’s. How when his passion ignites over some headline he reminds me more and more of my father. I will notice his hands and his voice and those sweet and swift glimpses of boyhood: the night he woke me to read me a poem he’d been assigned to write, his impromptu decision to go night fishing, the way he shoves his napkins or wrappers in the couch when he thinks I’m not looking. I will notice it all and work so hard to imprint these findings in the busyness of my brain.

Here is this beautiful young man who began his life inside of me, below my heart. Here is this young man who is my past and present and his very own future. Here is evidence of time and effort, may it have been well spent. I think of Woolf’s essay. The way she held the pencil to try to right the moth, to prolong the inevitable in a futile effort. My boy is no moth. All of his life spins and cocoons in my mind--past to present images that reverberate in joy and a grief that isn’t built of sadness. Rather, this grief is somehow built of light and possibility and love.

About Jess