MALAYSIA - He looks like he has just cleared the forest and smells like bottled sweat. I have just fetched him home from school. And here I am, standing behind my sullen son, inside the elevator that's taking us to our apartment floor.
Today, the elevator seems to be taking forever. Confined inside this rising cubicle, I studied my teenager, his greasy face with one angry-looking pimple on his nose and his recent "taller-than-mummy" built. Suddenly, it hits me how swiftly the years have gone by.
How long ago was it when I could still hold hands with him? His tiny palm which mine could envelop easily? Now that palm has grown bigger than mine. Sometimes, it would go on a bet to overpower mine, an easily won battle accompanied by a victorious shout of "Yay, I won!"
I remember like it was yesterday, when I was chasing a boisterous toddler with his older sister at the neighbourhood playground in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
I would make the two kids promise me that they would go home without any tantrum when it was time. As usual, they would break the promise and whine, "Don't want go home!" And the next day, the same drama would repeat itself as the sky gradually grew darker.
The elevator stopped at level three for a while. No one came in. My disgruntled teen lets out a groan before jabbing the number at the controls angrily. I throw him an annoyed look and then notice a cut on his finger.
"How did you get this cut?" I ask.
"Nah, just hit something," he replies.
I hold his fingers briefly, as permitted by this teen and realised how long the fingers are now.
I remember those fingers. The tiny oh-so-kissable digits that wrapped around mine when he was a baby. Those fingers remind me how we battled over music lessons years ago.
Just five then, he whined about not being able to stretch his fingers on the piano during practice at home. I cajoled and coaxed, failing which I threatened him, that he must not give up anything the minute it became challenging.
And then out of nowhere, from a little boy who felt he couldn't play the piano properly, he developed into a piano prodigy. Despite his small built for a nine-year-old, his deft fingers were literally flying over the ivory keys as he played Rimsky Korsakov's furiously fast Flight of the Bumble Bee, all learnt by himself.
From the tiny voice that cried he didn't want to go for his Yamaha music class anymore because his fingers couldn't stretch, suddenly it seemed his fingers worked like they were on steroids!
Classical music became his passion. We saw how he patiently played over and again the many difficult sonatas, mazurkas and etudes. He spent hours practising and listening to Chopin scherzos, waltzes and other composers' challenging repertoires. He played for our families, friends and at school concerts.
Then at 12, he developed a craze for all things related to aviation. Anything about airplanes, he would lay his hands on. When his dad told him that he had found an affordable flying centre for him to have lessons on a flight simulator, he jumped up and down like crazy!
He was absolutely fascinated with the weekly lessons and would come back chattering incessantly about how he handled the landing in Phuket, Langkawi or Hong Kong city on the flight simulator.
One day, his dear dad made his dream come true. He bought an air adventure package by a flying club so this little guy could fly a real plane over KL city, guided by a licensed pilot.
He was all of 13 when he met Captain Andreas Walther, scheduled to fly on a four-seater Cessna 172. Captain Walther did a pre-flight briefing with him and after hearing our son share in detail what he had learnt at the flight stimulator, he turned to us and exclaimed that he was impressed!
As the huge Caucasian pilot walked beside my son towards the tarmac, I pinched my arm and asked myself if this was for real. In minutes, my son would manoeuvre the plane and give us the bird's eye view of the city.
After conducting basic checks on the small plane, we were ready for take-off. The engine soon roared to life, and as the wheels of the Cessna rolled and gathered speed on the tarmac before lift-off, I felt larger than life.
As we ascended, I looked down to admire the tiny match box-like homes, shopping malls, factories, the snaking roads, the entwined highways and hills of Shah Alam and beyond, before moving over to the central city, overlooking the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, the shining mosque and other prime landmarks.
Then, I looked up to observe Captain Andreas and my son, both with aviation head sets clasping their ears, discussing figures on flight control and cruise altitude.
Up in the air, as if I was nearer to heaven, I whispered a quiet thank you to God, for giving me this boy who never fails to amaze me with his talents and dreams.
Every time I think of the "son flies mum" experience, I'm reminded how parenting is much like flying. You train your baby to walk, skip and run. By the time he can "fly", you need to let him go and see him soar.
How my little boy has grown. No more saccharin-like voice to profess unabashed affection for his mummy. More often than not, these days he mumbles monosyllables of "yup," "nope," "fine," and "cool," like the typical teenager.
Yes, my son has even outgrown making Mothers' Day and birthday cards for me and getting the words "I love you, Mum" out of him is like wringing blood from a stone.
But one thing hasn't changed (and I pray hard that this will go on for as long as possible). In the stillness of the night, when I quietly read in my room, accompanied by the background snoring of his daddy, this son would sneak in quietly to startle me with a scary "boo".
Almost instantly, he would lower his face towards me and plant a goodnight kiss on my serum-smothered face.
And as swift as the sudden gust of wind, he would disappear back into his room, leaving me to linger in awe at this miracle called motherhood.
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