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Seeing her 21-year-old son fall in love for the first time didn’t give this writer butterflies—but the happily ever after is knowing that her son is finally coming into his own.

“Yeah Mom, we really love and care about each other and we’re thinking about living in Canada one day.”

I know my son Kamau kept talking because his mouth was moving, but his words became baritone static. When he looked at his girlfriend lovingly and put his hand on her knee, only the Skype screen in front of me kept me from openly gagging. Maybe because it was the first time I was meeting her—if a Skype call qualifies as a meeting—or maybe it was just seeing my son touch a girl/woman on the leg, but I felt a tiny prick in my chest. Of course I smiled and offered the normal pleasantries, but inside I was screaming: “Who said you could go to Canada? You’re not old enough to be planning your future with someone!” The irony is that I had a one-year-old son at 21.

Kamau is not the average 21-year-old. He doesn’t drive, he calls me while in the checkout line at the grocery store to transfer money into his account, and he seeks my opinion frequently. This is not to say that he’s completely dependent or incapable, but I think our relationship as a single parent and only child for most of his life has created some patterns. My husband and I thought Kamau going to Japan for 10 months was the perfect nudge to gain more self-reliance and confidence. Weeks after Kamau arrived he called me for advice because he was interested in two girls and wasn’t sure what to do. I encouraged him to enjoy his new adventure in Tokyo, before getting in a committed relationship and he agreed. The following week he calls me. “Soo, I’m in a relationship…”

Meilan Carter Gilkey and Kamau

Once I found out her name and saw her picture, I began to investigate. I wanted to know who this girl was who captured my X-Men-loving son’s heart. When I saw the two of them in his profile picture on Facebook I knew things were getting serious. I started having anxiety. My son was becoming a stranger, he was someone’s boyfriend and every time we talked, no matter what time, his girlfriend was just a foot away or closer. Maybe it’s the Oedipal complex, but I felt displaced and confused. Isn’t this what I wanted for him? I ranted about it to my family and my friends.

When Christmas came Kamau asked me to order them matching rings. One said Support and the other Carry–his ring was Support. He also wanted to get her pepper spray to protect her from any obnoxious guys when she returned home to Ireland in January. I stifled my eye roll but saw the metaphor of the rings and began to see that Kamau was transforming into a young man who wanted to protect and care for this young woman as my husband David does for me. While at times a little nauseating, their relationship is actually sweet. They share things in common, wore coordinating Pokémon Halloween costumes, play video games together, and they seem to genuinely care about each other. Since they met Kamau’s posture has changed: he’s happy and more confident.

I wanted to know who this girl was who captured my X-Men-loving son’s heart. 

One evening as we were Skyping, Kamau mentions getting not one, but two jobs, and I tried to not let my mouth hang open. Before he left we had suggested he try to work—his friend even gave him a contact for a job in Japan—but Kamau was concerned about juggling a job with schoolwork, his mild learning disabilities, and “getting better at drawing” to meet his goal of having a career in art. Now two jobs feels doable especially when there are plane tickets and Valentine’s gifts to pay for. Getting his license is also a new a priority because he wants to be able to drive his car (which has been sitting for the last five years) when she visits.

I’m not complaining—this is what I’ve been wanting for years, but it’s like watching a movie fast forward without pressing the button. I wanted Kamau to have a girlfriend. I used to joke that he needed a girl “with good grades, a job, and a good sense” to get him motivated—and it turns out I was right. Truthfully I am not that shocked to see this transformation: Love has brought down empires and changed history—it can certainly motivate a young man to find his way.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this movie.

Meilan Carter-Gilkey is a freelance writer and a writing coach, who blogs about being a parent of sons 16 years apart. She has an MFA from Mills College in creative writing and her work has appeared in Mutha Magazine, Heart&Soul, and elsewhere.  

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Meilan Carter-Gilkey is a freelance writer and a writing coach who blogs about being a parent of sons 16 years apart. She has an MFA from Mills College in creative writing and her work has appeared in Mutha Magazine, Heart&Soul, and elsewhere.  


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