If i am out in the company of my almost-teenage son, merely to breathe audibly can trigger his acute embarrassment. As he studies the suspensions on a row of sturdy and exceedingly expensive mountain bikes, he glances at me with a silent warning: "Don't utter a word." I don't. I even stifle a sigh at the tiny, densely numbered price tags hanging from the shiny metal frames. Tim had convinced me after we exited the last cycle shop that my laughing exclamation to the attendant ("Oh, my! That $1,300 model is waaay out of our price range!") had pretty much blown our cover.
"We're just looking, Mom. Can't a guy look without his mom saying, 'Ohhh, it's waaay out of our raaange?' He only slightly exaggerated my tone and wide-eyed astonishment at the economic realities of new-model mountain bikes.
"What should I have said?" I asked.
Tim didn't hesitate. "How about, 'Hmm, it's something to consider.' "
That did sound more self-respecting - even if it would have been a fat white lie. I could not begin to consider that pricey a bike, not even for my son's 13th birthday. He knows that, but he reminded me that it costs nothing to save face.
Though I'm secure in Tim's affection, he's becoming my most-scorching critic, especially when we leave home together to eat, shop, or catch a movie. My hair, my dress, and my mannerisms bear heavy scrutiny, but it's what I say that he objects to most often. As we drove through downtown recently, he gestured to a shop that caters to military-history buffs.
"Mom, next time we go in there, please don't say, 'My son here is very interested in the Civil War.' " He shuddered at the memory of that particular humiliation.
Fortunately, Tim can pretty well Rollerblade or bicycle himself anywhere nowadays. And so, he can begin to present himself to the world as he sees fit, without motherly introductions and annoyances. He's finding a life all his own beyond home and school, a thought both reassuring and frightening.
He's even beginning to earn some real money raking leaves, shoveling snow, and doing odd jobs and errands for friends - not to mention baling hay for our cows over the summer. Come to think of it, the bike of his dreams (a mere $400) might be something we can consider this year, if he saves up those earnings.
The last time we went to the bank to put a deposit in his account, his elbow gently but firmly edged mine from the teller's window - my cue not to breathe until I backed away from his financial airspace. I never know these days when Tim will need me, or when to steel myself for a dismissal or a critique.
"Mom, you smell like a cow!" he says after I've milked.
"Why ... thank you!" I respond with every sign of deep appreciation. Deflated, he has the grace to grin.
Later he asks, "Can we go to a movie? And can we get popcorn?" This is familiar ground. He doesn't even mention my clothes. (I have changed since milking.) Time, slipping through my fingers, finds temporary purchase as we enjoy a movie without further ado - and without a hint of filial distress for the entire outing. It's well worth the overpriced popcorn.