Can I Come with You?

Can I Come with You?

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Can I Come with You?

“Why are you going out again? Can’t I come with you? I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay home with me.”

Words of love from my ten-year-old.

My older children used to say the same things, used to cry when they were babies, when I would leave them for an evening; used to beg, when they grew older, to tag along wherever I’d go.

“We’ll be good. We won’t make any noise. We promise.”

Sometimes their demands would annoy me. Why couldn’t they stay home with someone else for a while? The things I had to do weren’t fun things. Alone I could finish more quickly and get home sooner, and then play with them.

I tried reasoning, explaining. “But we want to be with you,” they insisted.

So they came. Everywhere. To the grocery store, the bank, the library, the movies. Anywhere I went, there they were, right by my side.

Most times I didn’t mind, but there were days I ached for moments alone. Driving in the car, I would turn on the radio and a song would come on, one that I loved and I’d turn up the volume and a little voice would interrupt. “What does ‘Go Children Slow’ mean, Mommy?” “What town are we in?” “Did I tell you what happened yesterday?” And the song would be long over by the time the story was told.

In restaurants, I’d be listening to a friend, hoping my son and daughter would talk to each other, which they did. They always tried to be polite. But there were important questions, legitimate interruptions. “Mommy, do they put celery in the egg salad in this place?” “Can I have a vanilla milk shake?” “Will you go to the bathroom with me?” And I’d wish for a time when I could finish a sentence, have a complete thought, eat one entire meal without interruption.

It was my attention they wanted. My opinion and presence they craved. I was the audience they played to day after day. I became accustomed to their stories, their interruptions. Their fresh observations enriched me. “Why is that man called a waiter, Mom, when we’re the ones doing the waiting?” “How come that sign says, ‘dressing room’ when everyone goes in to undress?”

As they grew older, their questions became less entertaining and more annoying. The early teenage years were accompanied by a litany of demands and complaints. “How come everyone else can go out on a school night and I can’t?” “No one else has to be home by eleven o’clock. Don’t you trust me?”

Then, most of all, I wished they would be quiet, find something else to do, someone else to listen to them. Why did even the simplest things have to turn into confrontations? Couldn’t they ever just leave me alone?

Now, too often, they do.

“How was your day?” I’ll ask my seventeen-year-old son, when he comes home from work. “Where did you go? What did you do?”

“We hung doors somewhere. It was no big deal, Mom. It was just work.”

Just work. This isn’t fair. I want detail. I want texture. I want to know what he does twelve hours a day. I want to hear about his friends, listen to his stories.

“How was your trip, Mom? What did you see? Did you have fun?” he used to ask only a few years ago. “What did you do at night? Did you go out? Did you miss us?” The endless questions always answered, always explained.

“Are you going out again tonight?” I find myself saying.

“Can’t you stay home sometime. You’ll be leaving for college in three weeks and I already miss you now.”

Why didn’t someone tell me this was going to happen? Everything is reversed. Now I’m the one tagging along, saying, “I miss you.” “When are you coming home?” Marking it on the calendar when he has a day off.

Mornings when I drive my daughter to work, if a song she likes comes on the radio, she turns up the volume and I know better than to talk. She loses herself in the music. She doesn’t want to hear what I have to say. And I understand.

But underneath the understanding, there’s this feeling, this growing awakening: This is how she felt, how my son felt years ago. Afraid that something—some song, some play, some activity, some person—would come along and take me away from them. She shouldn’t like that song more than she likes me, a child thinks. She shouldn’t be able to have fun without me. So the child complains and the child imposes. Here I am. Look at me.

Here I am. Look at me, this adult wants to say. But of course I don’t. I simply understand a little better when my ten-year-old sulks when I am someplace she can’t be. Finally, after all these years, I am beginning to understand why children cry when they are left behind.

Beverly Beckham

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