It feels as though I tucked in a sweet but mischievous, prank-playing, lizard-catching little boy, and awoke to a 17-year-old Brandon High football player ready to tackle life without a single need from his mama.
My son Branden, in the wake of his parents' divorce, embarked upon his senior year convinced he is an adult and no longer requires the guidance of mom or dad. Add in the inevitable "senioritis," and you expect some distance.
I've tried to give him room to deal and cope in his own way while still assuring him that I am there and that I love him.
It hasn't been easy. The anger that resides just below the surface is evident in any teenager. Add in the fact that he's returned to relying on the generosity of friends after wrecking his car, and the frustration of an injured hand that forced him off the field in his last year of football, and the relationship has grown more difficult.
But, we mothers tend to hunker down and prepare to do whatever it takes.
I send text messages on game day wishing him luck and "I love you" before bed. I take him to dinner, alone. I go to every football game, even though he doesn't acknowledge anyone who comes to watch him play.
It's not what it used to be, as he predominately lives with his father. But, I've tried to stay optimistic. I've tried to look at it as though he's going to be 18 in February and I need to learn to let go. I need to prepare for my firstborn to leave the nest.
I'm reminded by other parents, especially the dads, not to take it so personally.
"Teenage boys are less connected to their emotions and not as willing to communicate as our daughters."
"You're still his mother. And you always will be. He will come around."
I found out from my mom that he planned to go to the Homecoming dance just five days before the event.
This would be the first year I didn't take him shopping since his eighth-grade dance.
My heart sank.
I felt intentionally left out, punished and hurt. I never told him. I simply said, "I'm glad you're going, and I'd like to see you before to get pictures."
He responded, "Okay." Only family and close friends can appreciate this response, because he has hated posing for the camera since he was 2. Most family photos lack even a smirk.
I tried to be proud and look at it as though he embraced the independence I had taught him all these years. However, I selfishly wasn't ready to relinquish this part of motherhood.
Out of nowhere, he started texting Saturday morning: "I don't have a tie" and "I'm not sure this shirt is right".
A smile flooded my face.
I told him the shirt was perfect. I advised him to go to Burlington and take the vest. I suggested he take a few pictures of solid metallic silver ties and send them to me so I could tell him which one to get.
"Why? Where are you? You can't meet me?"
That moment is embedded in my heart forever.
I couldn't help because I was picking up a friend at the airport.
He sent me pictures of the ties, and I helped him pick the right one.
As he arrived at the house for pictures and gave me a hug, he jovially said, "You're not going to start crying are you? Wow. You are. You're crying!"
"No," as I took a deep breath in an effort to rid the tears, "my eyes are sweating. It's hot in here."
He told me he loved me. We took pictures together. And he hugged me. In front of 30 fellow teenagers. Which is a serious faux pas in Teenageland.
But, I savored every moment. Every sweet, adoring, beautiful moment.
A boy may not need his mom all the time. But, there will always be a time when a boy needs his mom.
Heather Tempesta is a Brandon single mother of two sons, 17 and 10, and a daughter, 15.