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By Shelley Murphy
Last month, my younger son underwent shoulder surgery, which subsequently left him in a shoulder sling for the remainder of the summer. I’m obviously not happy that my son’s shoulder injury required surgery, but I am grateful for one unexpected outcome.
His operation and subsequent recovery found us reverting to our long-retired roles of doting mom and dependent kid. With his dominant arm in an air cast, I cared for my son like I did throughout his toddler years: helping him with buttoning his shirt, cutting his food and combing his hair.
I know the natural progression of parenting leads to my boys needing me less and becoming independent adults—which they are—but for a few weeks I savored turning back the hands of time.
This summer, instead of passing by my younger son’s bedroom and hearing him ask, “Mom, can you close my door?” my convalescing son asked, “Mom, can you come in here?” And I welcomed the rare chance to spend one-on-one time with him.
My son’s recovery included weeks of rest at home with restrictions limiting his activity to not much more than reading books or watching television. Searching for a new series on Netflix, my son discovered Friends and started binge-watching; and at first I didn’t understand his newfound fascination with the decades-old comedy.
What did this kid, who is typically consumed with science fiction films, find captivating about Ross and Rachel’s conversations at Central Perk? Sitting next to my son and watching an episode of the series his interest became clear: my independent 20-year-old identifies with the show’s themes and the ensemble cast of six self-sufficient individuals in their mid-20s navigating life amid the obstacles of adulthood.
The sitcom aired on television from 1994 to 2004. My younger son was born a couple years after the series started and that, coupled with our generation gap, explains us watching the same show yet laughing at different dialogue.
I giggled at a mistake Rachel made while recording a message on an answering machine. My son didn’t laugh at the mishap so I explained answering machines and the difference between incoming and outgoing messages, which left me feeling laughable.
He found the fashion trends funny and said, “Why are all the clothes so baggy? That’s not really how you wore them?” Defending and describing the fashion statements of the early 90s is much more challenging than I’d imagined.
A particular reference to the 1960s television show The Flying Nun had me summarizing the premise of the comedy. My son said, “How was that a thing? It seems kind of ridiculous.” I hope he remembers that when he tries explaining The Walking Dead and its post-apocalyptic zombies to his kids.
My son is nearing the end of binge watching Friends, his physical therapy is progressing and he’s found a facility close to his college to continue his rehabilitation.
In a couple weeks I will help him pack his belongings then cram them into the car and drive him to his university, just like many other parents of college kids.
I empathize with the parents of soon-to-be freshmen who are feeling an overwhelming weepiness and facing the fear of becoming as obsolete as an antiquated answering machine.
I’m among those struggling with letting go and of being let go. But unlike the parents of incoming freshmen who are wondering if their kids will like their campus, make friends or feel homesick, I’m wondering if this summer is the last that my younger son and I spend more than a few days together.
When the month ends we’ll return to the natural progression of parenting as my son goes back to school. My son will resume his life as independent 20-year-old student, finding his way through adulthood and needing me less—just as it should be.
Parenting may ebb and flow, but it never ends, and no matter how old my boys are it’s nice to know they sometimes still need their mom.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.