Seated on a two-seater couch in my hotel room, my 22-year-old son fixes his gaze on mine, his expression a powerful mix of love, hope and excitement.
I see just a glimmer of uncertainty in his eyes. I’m nervous, too.
I reach into my handbag to take out a small box, the transfer of which is the reason I’ve flown to Boston to meet him. The box holds the engagement ring I wore for decades, set with a stone handed down through his father’s family for generations. Only three weeks earlier, I had told him he could have the ring if he ever decided to get married, blithely assuming that moment was years away. Eyes brimming with tears, I present him the ring. He sees the joy in my face. I see the relief in his.
When my children were young, I gave and withheld a lot of permission. It’s part of the fabric of parenting, isn’t it?
“No, you can’t have another dessert.”
“Sure, you can go to Mikey’s house, but not until you finish your homework.”
In fact, over the years I gave and withheld so much permission that, well, it took a little effort for me to learn to back off as he moved into adulthood. He was, of course, quite willing to point out the growing number of instances in which he didn’t need my permission.
“Mom. Please. No more curfews while I’m home, okay? When I’m at school you don’t even know where I am.”
“What?” (Cold stare when I catch him standing over the kitchen sink, snarfing cold pizza for breakfast.)
By the time he graduated from college he was gainfully employed and living with his girlfriend. While he told me about his decisions, he wasn’t asking for my permission. A full-fledged adult, he no longer needed that in order to do a darned thing. Still tempted to weigh in on his choices, even retroactively, I slowly learned to hold my tongue.
One might assume that the conversation in which I offered him the eventual use of my engagement ring was a tacit granting of permission for him to wed his long-term girlfriend. Ironically, that wasn’t my intent. While I very much liked her, my vision for his long-term plan didn’t include betrothal at the tender age of twenty-two. The offer of the ring was as much for my benefit as for his. I wanted to know I had found a use for it.
You see, for the five preceding years, that ring had been a thorn in my side. After my ex and I split, I’d stopped wearing the ring but had no idea what to do with it. I wasn’t going to give it back to him; he’d given it to me. It was a gift. And I sure as heck didn’t want him proffering it to the inevitable new fiancée. Given its family history, I couldn’t bring myself to sell it. And I have two sons. Why would I give it to one over another? And what about my daughter? Why did her gender put her out of the running for this jewel?
Stashing the ring in the back of my jewelry box, I did nothing about it but fret. My inability to make a decision about its disposition somehow hampered my ability to move past my marriage. Or maybe represented that?
One day, out of the blue, clarity hit. I’d simply offer the ring to my oldest son.
The way his life was unfolding, he seemed likely to get married well ahead of his considerably younger sibs. If I sensed some kind of rivalry over the gift, I’d find a way to even it out. He wouldn’t have to take custody of the ring but at least I’d have the certainty of its fate.
I liked the symbolism of passing the ring on. When his dad proposed to me so many years ago, he had proffered the ring outside of his family, as a means of bringing me into it. I would do the same for my son and whomever he chose to marry. I thought, and hoped, that would eventually be the woman with whom he was living. But I didn’t explicitly say that when I called to offer him the ring.
During that call, I wasn’t offering him permission to get married. He’s an adult, remember? (He doesn’t need my permission to make his decisions.)
Within a matter of days–not the years I’d anticipated–he’d called to take me up on the offer. He had decided to propose to his girlfriend, soon. He wasn’t asking for my permission. He was telling me what he was going to do.
I hadn’t yet expected that call, but I booked a flight to bring it to him. In that hotel room, sharing hugs and tears of joy as I gave him the ring, the reality of being the parent of an adult child struck me, hard. He didn’t need my permission. But I’m his mom and marriage is a big decision.
He simply wanted my blessing.
This article originally appeared in GrownandFlown.com on March 13, 2018