It didn’t happen overnight, him being taller than me. It just felt like it did.
For so long, he was a little, little boy, catching up with me, inch by slow inch, agonising about how long it was taking him to grow, about how all his friends were towering over him. One year, he was under my chin, the next up to my mouth, then my nose, my eyebrows, my hairline; small amounts, year on year.
Then one day, I glanced over at him and realised that my eyes had to adjust upwards, to take in a defined jaw and handsome, long face. I realised that the tiny, incremental, years-long changes had crystallised into a beautiful young man, my teenage son.
When he was a very little boy, before he learned to speak properly, he would nevertheless make his views perfectly clear, as only toddlers can. ‘Big Up!’ he would command, imperiously holding his pudgy arms aloft in my direction, demanding to be picked up and carried. ‘Big Up!’ I would repeat, swinging him up to my lofty height, showing him the world from my vantage point as he nestled his smooth cheeks into my neck and clung on to me.
The Big Up phase seemed at the time to last forever, an oft-repeated refrain punctuating my long, stay-at-home-mother days. A demand I found increasingly difficult to obey, as he grew heavier, as my belly swelled and my arms filled with his siblings.
Now, it seems like it went in a flash and I wish I could hear his baby voice lisping the command one more time.
Last week, he came home from school and showed me the work in progress of the muscles in his biceps whilst I was cooking the children’s tea in the kitchen. ‘Punch me there, Mum’ he exhorted in his deep, deep voice, ‘punch me, so I can see if it hurts’. I explained, patiently, mother-like, as I carried on cooking, that I was not in the habit of punching my children and I had no intention of starting now.
He was briefly distracted by food, but waged an impressive campaign throughout the evening, continually urging me to punch his upper arm. ‘I don’t want to hurt you’, I repeated and he just raised his eyebrows at me quizzically, dismissing that notion as so self-evidently ludicrous that it did not even require a comment.
So, eventually, I did. I danced around on my feet to try to make him laugh, telling him I was going to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, as he stood there, bicep clenched in anticipation of the blow. I didn’t put my back into it, of course. I wasn’t about to try to hurt him deliberately and I like to think I would have punched an assailant with considerably more force. Nevertheless, my pride also made me want to impress him with some modicum of strength.
‘Is that it?’ he said, with a disarming grin, when I had landed my blow – ‘never mind Mum’ and he ruffled my hair with a devastating smile, adding ‘Is there anything else to eat? I’m still hungry’.