I lean over to kiss my son, and he pulls away. My eyes well and my heart constricts. He’s a day shy of his thirteenth birthday. He’s been avoiding physical affection for a year now, but it doesn’t get easier for this momma, who just wants to hug and kiss her little boy. Little boy. Wouldn’t he like to hear me say this, my boy-man . . .

It’s hard for me to believe he’s turning thirteen. Wasn’t it yesterday that I was tripping over Legos and Matchbox cars? And now, four of my sons wear black hats. My husband and sons make half a prayer minyan. I get a little emotional about these milestones. Just a little? I become a weepy mess.

I spent his entire birthday cryingMy oldest son turned eighteen this past spring. I spent his entire birthday crying. My friend was hosting a bar mitzvah party that night, and it took an hour of lying in bed with cucumbers on my eyes for the swelling to come down enough for me to apply some eye makeup. What’s so hard about eighteen? Some people celebrate their children’s eighteenth birthday.

I can’t believe they’re all grown up. It’s what we pray for, that our children grow up happy and healthy. We wait for these milestones, and somehow they come—and I feel like they hit me, really hard, out of left field. Whack. It feels so final, this growing up. I want a retake. I didn’t do it all the way I wanted to. I wanted to do better. They deserved better. I haven’t always exercised all the patience I possess. I haven’t always listened completely. But wait. Look at these kids. They’re great. They turned out fine. More than fine. They are finding their way in their journey of life. Discovering their true selves. Without me.

I’ve been entrusted with these precious souls, and they are wholly dependent on me for the first part of their lives. And as they grow up and move away from me—slowly, so slowly—I don’t realize it’s happening. But then suddenly—a milestone, and I reflect on their lives and realize that they don’t belong to me. That they never did. A part of me lives in them, but they belong to themselves. They have no idea what a strong hold they have on my heart.

So a makeup artist will come, and I’ll ask her to waterproof my face. My friends and relatives will join us to celebrate. Sure, I’ll be happy and proud, but that won’t stop me from crying, my heart from breaking, or from feeling like an essential part of me is slowly slipping away, out of my grasp.

A part of me lives in them, but they belong to themselvesIn the meantime, I’ll be grateful for a four-year-old who climbs all over me, plants hundreds of kisses all over my body and says “I love you” with such intensity. I will allow myself this sweet denial, and refuse to believe that one day she, too, will be a teenager. I am still tripping over things, but now I’m tripping over dolls and shoes and iPod wires and other electronic accessories. And I know that my bar mitzvah boy will come around. It may take a few months, or a little longer, but I’m pretty confident that within the next year he’ll find that it’s not so bad to give your mother a hug and kiss, or at least tolerate her affection.

I will continuously thank G‑d for entrusting me with this gift, with these cherished souls. I will persevere as I embrace this exquisite pain of motherhood, in which I do my best to hand my beautiful children the keys to my heart and the tools they need to leave me.