Our DAME columnist's son is in love for the first time, and Mom is feeling all the feels: excitement, anxiety, and, admittedly, heartache.
“Ummmm, I don’t know; you have to ask your mom.”
Last week, my husband’s words drifted toward me through the frenzied cacophony of our home—our 9-year-old son Walker rapping along with the Sugarhill Gang while bouncing a basketball while our Bichon Frisé, Sir Walter was desperately running from our 2-year-old son, Reid, who was throwing an empty plastic bottle at his head in maniacal, toddler glee. His tone, somewhere between mild amusement and panic attack, made my mother instincts stand at attention.
And when his words were followed swiftly by the excited footsteps of our 6-year-old son, Dash, I knew it was something big.
“Mom, may I write Sophie* a love letter?” Dash burst out as he slammed into the tiny little office space I’ve carved out for my sanity.
Those are the three beats my heart skipped while the room tilted and all I could think about as he stood before me—blushing, proud, excited, nervous—in all of his first-grade glory, was this is my baby, my Super Dash. In a matter of seconds, I had visions of his prom, the possibility of his becoming a teen father (because of course first love letters lead to irresponsible, backseat sex, amirite?), his wedding, and his second divorce. And as the scene in my mind shifted to the day he was born, I realized that I’m not ready for this. It seemed like just yesterday that he’d written me the sweetest love letter, in which he wrote that I was perfect and he wanted to be my first child.
Little does he know that in many ways, he was.
I named him Dash Orion. Dash translates to “from the ashes”; Orion, “Son of Fire.” Because I’m an Aries, a Fire sign, it was perfect to me. From the ashes, my son of fire is born. I can neither confirm nor deny that Dash was also inspired by a date my husband and I had at Atlanta’s Starlight Drive-In. Two twenty-something adults, a nickel bag of pot, and Pixar’s The Incredibles on a summer night?
Oh, yeah, we’re wild. At least we would be if that story were ever confirmed.
Also, the year of his birth, Orion’s Belt middle star, Alnilam, reached its peak in the sky on December 13, my late mother’s birthday. And I could think of no better way to remember her than to name my middle child after a star in her honor.
When Dash was born, it wasn’t an immediate-all-the-pieces-align kind of love as it was with my eldest son. With Walker, I immediately knew him, understood him like the back of my own hand. It was an easy, natural fit. It was the same way with my youngest son, Reid.
But Dash was different. From the first moment we locked eyes, it was an intense adventure of discovery. Whereas Walker nestled against me and contentedly nursed for the first 30 minutes of his life, Dash came out bright eyed and inquisitive, taking note of his surrounding and plotting on how to take over the world. I saw it in him. My husband said that he looked like Master Shifu from Kung Fu Panda. (See picture below and please keep laughter to a respectful minimum.) This assessment almost made me call Judge Mablean so we could go on Divorce Court, but the joy of figuring out our beautiful new baby consumed my days and possibly saved our marriage.
Dash has always been his own person and people are inexplicably drawn to him, just as they were to my father. Whenever we go out, whether it’s a ball game or a local grocery store, he waves and smiles to everyone we encounter. I’ve witnessed him talk to adults about everything from the legacies of LeBron James and Elvis Presley to why he believes that God is an energy and not a person.
He’s a star—a star who loves deeply, fiercely, boldly. And while I’m grateful to be in his orbit, it’s never truly felt like he’s mine to mold. How could he be? He’s much too big of a presence to yield to anyone’s idea of who or what he should be, even mine. Yes, I’m his mother, but to quote one of my all-time favorite musicals, The Sound of Music: “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”
Dash was born ready to fly and I’ve been unconsciously preparing myself for the moment when he would take his first steps away from me.
And then …
“Mom, may I write Sophie* a love letter?”
My first instinct was to say, “Hell no, you can’t write Sophie a damn thing but the alphabet. And who the hell is Sophie?” But I reined it in and asked with a smile so phony you could sell it at the Crenshaw Swap Meet, “Why do you want to write Sophie a love letter, babe?”
“Because … I love her?” he responded in a condescending, little voice raised slightly at the end as if to ask me why else does one write a love letter. I decided to let it slide.
“Well then, sure, baby. Go ahead, but mommy wants to read it when you’re done.”
Off he went to look for the perfect piece of paper to go with the words that were in his heart. And off I went to cry into my pillow … and map out my strategy on how best to spy on Sophie at recess, without drawing enough attention to warrant someone calling the cops.
Yes, this may seem like an overreaction to some, including my husband. But it’s not, really. It’s about more than the love letter. It’s about how do I, as a feminist, teach him what love between a man and a woman looks like and how to express it? How do I teach him how to protect his heart, yet leave it open? How do I teach him that, as a Black-Samoan man, that he will instantly be perceived as a threat by some people, but that he can never internalize others’ fear of him and he must always know that he is worthy to love and be loved?
How do I teach him that if this Sophie person makes him shed so much as one tear that I will march right up to that school and forget every ounce of my home-training, so he might want to choose carefully?
Eventually, curiosity got the best of me, so I slowly made my way to the kitchen table where Dash’s little curly head was bent intently over the page. I looked at my son and I saw the possibility of love when it’s new, fresh, and exciting. Those days before you even know what it means, you just know that it fits the feelings you’re feeling.
And I smiled.
I found out as I was writing this that he wants to pick her up in a limo and take her to a fancy seafood restaurant because it’s her favorite. He also told me that sometimes he and Sophie sit under the tree and he gives her some of the chocolate chips that his dad packs in his lunchbox. By the time this column is published, Dash will have given Sophie the letter and I’m scared for him because I never want him to be heartbroken. I’m also afraid because I know that one day he’ll meet the woman who won’t break his heart, but will hold it as tenderly as I do.
This chapter in Dash’s life is necessary, healthy, even adorable. But I just want to hold him as close as I can for as long as I can. I’m not ready for a stranger to have access to his heart, but I have to give him room so that he can learn to navigate a world that may not always be kind.
I may not know it all, but I do know this: As he walks into school Monday morning with his letter burning a hole in his backpack, I’ll be nervously waiting to hear how it all turns out. And whatever happens, I’ll be there.
But in this moment, I owe him a debt of gratitude for giving me a glimpse inside of his non-cynical world, a world still filled with the thrill of first chances and new beginnings. A world where if you love someone, you own it, risk it, not without fear, but in spite of it.
And maybe, just maybe, my husband will take a play from Dash’s book and write me a love letter.
*Name changed/redacted to protect my future daughter-in-law’s identity.
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