By Karyn Spellman.
My teenage son has gotten much better at shaving, not that he does it that often. He mentioned a few weeks ago that maybe he could will a beard and some sideburns to grow, but for now he’s settling for a ninth grade moustache.
He rarely emerges from the bathroom anymore with tiny bits of tissue stuck to cuts on his upper lip. He remembers to use shaving cream, and he even cleans up the sink most of the time.
My son asked me to buy him his first razor about a year ago, and I responded by suggesting that perhaps his father would be the better one to ask. No, not dad, he said. He didn’t trust him. This was a familiar refrain that didn’t need further explanation.
As I chose a razor for my son from the overwhelming selection at Target the next day, I accepted once again that I, the mother, was navigating my son’s journey into masculinity. For him, his need transcended gender and required someone he trusted with his questions and uncertainty. As a single parent for a few years now, I’ve gotten used to being both mother and father. Some of the issues that arise are complicated, like how a growing boy’s body is changing, and I can’t instinctually or anecdotally relate to that because I’m a woman, and I didn’t grow up with brothers. I have to gauge my son’s comfort level, think of what I know from having lived with a husband at one point, and decide just how much my candid self should say to a self-conscious teenager. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I’m asked to please stop talking already, but at least I know I was trusted enough to have been asked. Still, I can’t shake a feeling of inadequacy and a glaring lack of a Y chromosome. But this time, all he needed was for me to make a trip to the store. Or so both of us thought.
I couldn’t simply teach him how to shave his fuzzy upper lip by telling him how to do it. He needed a demonstration, but I certainly couldn’t do that. Well, I could be silly and pretend, but my son doesn’t “do” silly. I also could have lathered up his face and done the actual shaving myself while he watched in the mirror because I knew how to shave a man, having done it for his father once upon a time. But there were two problems with that: one was the “ew” factor kids have imagining their parents doing anything sensual, and the other was the painful reminder that these parents were no longer together. And then my son didn’t want verbal instructions, either. He just wanted to figure it out on his own. I caught the tension in his voice and could only guess that he thought that this was one more thing that his father should be doing with him and wouldn’t be, and here he was again, on his own.
So as I stood on the other side of the closed bathroom door hoping my son wasn’t shaving half the skin off of his face, I felt like I was too much of a parent for him, hovering too close, and not enough all at the same time. He didn’t need his mother right then, but I was all he felt he had. And I wanted so much more for him that I’ll ever be able to give.