These days, I shade my eyes and look into the distance from my almost empty nest, remembering not only my children's "firsts," but also the last moments of actively parenting kids who were once wholly dependent on me. As I write this on a very snowy day, I go back to the moments when snow days guaranteed me snuggling time with my daughter and son. They'd flop into my bed and I would luxuriate in how small they were -- small enough so that three of us had room to spare in my king-size bed. Now, at 16, my son is a young man and my daughter, who is 19, is away in college. The empty bed feels gigantic.
Time blurs from the first time my children tentatively rode away on bicycles to the first time they sat behind the wheel of a car. It whips by from the time I could carry my kids to the moment that my son gives me his arm so I don't slip on the ice. His childhood effectively ended for me the first time he wrested a shovel from my hand and cleaned up the walk in half the time I could have done it. It dawned on me that my son was physically stronger than I was as I watched him heave piles of wet snow effortlessly.
My son shaves his face. My daughter catches a ride back to school with someone I don't know. My son navigates his way downtown on the subway. My daughter calls the doctor to refill her prescription. These were things that I used to do for them. When that first tooth fell out, I played the tooth fairy and slipped a dollar bill under their pillows when I was sure they were deeply asleep. I miss tucking them in at night. I miss reading to them. What was the last book I read to them? What was the first book they read to lull themselves to sleep?
Once I knew everything about my children from their sleep habits to their favorite foods. Now I stand on the periphery watching them change and grapple with adulthood. I've witnessed my girl's heart break. In these last years, my boy has shot up 11 inches and entered manhood. My children are building their own identities; I hope my husband and I gave them a solid foundation.
Which brings me to my son. A couple of months ago, I was reading the paper on a Saturday, morning debating whether I should go to synagogue or catch an early movie. My son was up uncharacteristically early. He almost always sleeps through a weekend morning. But I could tell there was something on his mind. That particular day, my husband slept uncharacteristically late. It was just my boy and me and I noted his strong jaw line, the soft stubble on his face. I saw so much of my husband and me in him. He was on his way to becoming the gentlest of men, just like his father.
My husband finally came downstairs. My son suddenly stood in front of us and said he needed to say something. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "What is it, buddy?" my husband asked. "I'm gay," said my son. "And we adore you," I replied.
My children know that there is nothing that they can say or do that will make me stop loving them. My children also know that claiming their identities is a cause for celebration in our house. Just last summer, my husband's brother married his long-time male partner in a beautiful ceremony on a perfect summer evening. His wedding picture takes its place on my mother-in-law's shelf among the photographs of his two brothers and their brides.
I learned a lot from my in-laws about having a gay child. When my brother-in-law came out twenty years ago, they immediately found support at PFLAG -- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. PFLAG was founded in 1972 by a mother who simply wanted to support her gay son publicly. My in-laws quickly found their footing at PFLAG meetings and were dismayed at the stories they heard from gay children rejected because of who they were.
It demonstrates how far we have come as a society that my husband and I feel we don't need a rudimentary education in having a gay child. My son is one of the only boys in his all-male school that is out and his friends and teachers have been notably supportive of him. His rabbis have told him how beloved he is at temple and how they support his choice to love whom he wishes.
"Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years... I don't remember growing older when did they?" goes the old song. God willing, my daughter will make a life with a man she loves and so will my son. And each day that they mature I love them more than ever.