Peter knocks on the door, exhales softly, then opens it a crack. He sticks his head through the gap.
"Can I see you for a moment?" He tries to sound cheery, but Beth could sense the subtle dread in his voice. She was always good at reading him. It's the kind of familiarity you get working the same job for eighteen years.
"Certainly," Beth says through a wide grin, used to both disarm Peter and fool herself into some sort of ease.
Peter sits down on one side of a long, wooden table. He adjusts his tie, a Windsor knot his father first made for him at 6th grade graduation. He keeps it for comfort as much as ease.
Peter fidgets in his seat as Beth enters. Before she could process what was going on, Peter opens his hand toward the empty chair across from him. Confused but obedient, Beth sits down.
Peter stands upright in his chair, folding his arms on the table in an attempt to show his strength, though it was belied by his fumbling hands.
"First," he forced out, "I just want you to know how much we appreciate all that you have done for us in this position. You've been in this role since before I can remember, and no matter what happens, know that all of your hard work is appreciated."
Beth leans forward, her eyes squinting. "You look adorable in that shirt."
Peter folded his hands and placed them towards his mouth, index fingers in his mouth, middle fingers buttressing his nose.
"Eighteen years is a long time for someone to do anything–"
"–What is this about, Peter?" Beth forces out.
Peter grew firm. "It's just that, after this much time, I feel it's best if we transition you to another role."
Beth raised her voice. "Are you firing me? You can't do that! I'm your Mommy!"
"Not anymore," Peter says coolly. Beth is forced back in her chair. Peter reached over to touch Beth's hand, but she refused to touch him. Peter sighed.
"This isn't easy for me, either. But it's time to move on. We're transitioning you from the role of 'Mommy' to 'Mom.' "
A tear started to form in Beth's eyes. Peter soldiers on.
"I've assembled a packet for you that outlines the curtailing of your responsibilities."
Beth starts to fondle the paper with heavy breaths.
"Please," Peter says, offering some sort of consolation in his voice, "peruse it we'll discuss any issues you may have."
"Peruse!" Beth happily moves her shoulders up and rolls them back. "What a great word!"
Peter points to the packet. "Please read it over."
"Fine, fine," Beth says with the dismissive air that one can only accrue after nearly two decades of parenting.
She opens the packet to find neatly laid out charts, graphs, and guidelines to follow. She starts to read. Peter sits silently, watching as she pours over the page with great diligence.
"Hold on," she says, pointing at a section, before looking up at her progeny. "I'm only allowed five kisses OR hugs per month? That's not fair. Don't you know how much I love hugging and kissing you?"
"Considering I will be attending college four states away–"
Beth clutches at her heart. "Don't remind me!"
Peter begins again, "Considering my distance from you, we feel that it is an adequate allowance of public shows of affection."
Beth narrows her eyes before returning to the text. "No, no, I can't only tell you 'I love you' twenty times a month. How will you ever know how much I care about you?"
Peter leans in and points to a graph. "I have calculated that, at an average of 3.4 'I love you' affirmations per day, over a period of eighteen years, you have verbally shared your affection 22,338 times. That's listed here."
Peter points to another section. "I received the message somewhere in the early thousands, as my cognitive brain formed, as shown in Figure 4."
Beth furrows her brow, "but I love you!"
Peter nods, "Yes, yes, I'm aware, as noted. Now you have 19 more to disperse over any of your four allotted monthly phone calls, ten texts, or five Facebook messages."
Beth peps up, "or on your wall."
Peter points to a specific line of text in the agreement, as if memorized.
"Article 10 – no Facebook wall posts under ANY circumstances. However, you're allowed five monthly likes. Choose wisely."
Beth leans in and rubs her hand over her son's. "But I like everything you do!"
Peter nods slowly, "yes, but you needn't share that with the world, specifically the peers I'm going to try desperately to impress. You are free to like an infinite number of things on your own, by yourself."
Beth takes a second and then leans in towards Peter. He begins to recoil before Beth gets her hand on his throat. "Stop fidgeting. Your tie is all off. It's been bugging me this whole time."
Before Peter can wrench his neck back, his mother fixes the tie.
"There. Was that so bad? And did you brush your–"
"–YES I brushed my teeth!"
Beth smells the air. "Recently?"
Peter sighs. "This morning!" He shakes his head quickly, as if to reboot. "That's not the point!" He tries to calm himself down.
"Dental care is very important," Beth opines, "especially in the female department."
"I know, Mom."
"And you better keep those teeth clean. We invested a lot of money in them. Are you still wearing your retainer?"
"And did you pack it yet?"
"No, Mom. I have to sleep here tonight."
"Oh, oh that's a good point. You're so smart! Have I told you how smart you are? Gosh, I tell all the mothers that–"
Peter reaches forward and flips the page. "Article 23 – Curbing public praise to appreciable levels, especially when Peter is in the room and is pointed at as if he's a living trophy."
Beth throws her hands up. "I can't help it! Maybe I shouldn't have raised such a handsome, talented, smart boy. Maybe it's my fault." Beth turns her head to the side.
"Article 4," Peter rattles off, "no guilting, purposeful or otherwise, to make me feel bad about growing up."
Beth opens her mouth but stops. "No, no, I'll shut up. I'll stop talking. I'll just ignore that you're being ungrateful, and cruel, and mean, and think that this is all some sort of big, elaborate joke that you're playing on me, and not some hurtful dagger that you're jamming into my heart. I won't say any of that. I'll just sit here and let you disparage me. That's fine. I'll just sit here and let you do that."
Beth folds her arms as Peter grinds his jaw, the teeth squeaking like a car parked too close to the curb.
"This is nothing I did. It is time. It is inevitable. You can't live with me in my dorm–"
"–Though I want to!"
"Expressly because you want to! God, why can't you just let me go?”
Peter shakes his head. "I'm not sure, Mom. I'm going to be getting a degree, like you've always said I should do."
"And you should," Beth says, nodding vigorously, "you have to! But..." she looks to the side, "I'm going to miss you like crazy!"
"Yes, Mom, I–"
"It's just that I look at you and you're still that little boy, the smiling little guy in that Mickey Mouse shirt and that beautiful smile. Oh! And when you said, 'I have to urinate' in A&P and the other ladies in line were so impressed! I taught you that, you know."
"Yes, Mom, I know."
"Or when I was tucking you in and you said, 'Mommy, no more kisses,' and I was so, so proud of you. I could never speak my mind like that to my mother."
"Yes, Mom, you've told–"
"–And it was just so cute, and I just couldn't help myself, and kept kissing you."
Peter's face begins to narrow. "Yes, that's when this report first–"
"–And when you ran into my room, and I was napping, and you ran in with your little penis all erect just TERRIFIED that it was going to fall off!" Beth starts to laugh, putting her hand over her mouth. Peter pulls back, horrified. "I know, I know," Beth admits, "I shouldn't laugh. But it was just adorable."
Peter stands up. "Stop! Just stop! I can't do this!"
Beth stands in reciprocation. "Don't raise your voice to me! I'm your mommy!"
"And who's going to stop me? I brought you into this world, you ungrateful little shit, and you wouldn't be anywhere without me. And how DARE you try to force your will on me! I'll be your Mommy for as long as I walk this earth.”
Peter stares at her, long and hard. Beth lays on a devious smile. "Are we done here?"
"Not yet." Peter turns around, "DAAAAAD!!!"
Stephen ambles in, tired and weary. He stands behind Peter and exhales.
"Beth, if you don't stop coddling him and treating him like a child, he'll never learn how to be independent. Then, as soon as he receives some bullshit degree, he'll come home and stew in the basement, directionless, with no impetus to leave this protective bubble. He has to go through hardships, and he has to have his ass kicked, or else all of this work we've put in to this will be for naught. If you never let him go, then we've never done our job as parents. So please, Beth, sign the agreement. I've already signed mine."
Beth tries to speak, but stops, putting a hand at her side, and one over her mouth. Then, after a second, she drops her hand slowly.
"But what am I going to do? Being a Mommy is my dream job. I can't...what do I do?"
Peter leans in and flips a few pages in the packet, getting close to the end.
"Well we haven't talked about your possible advancement yet. How does 'Grandma' suit ya?"
Mike Anton is the Editor-in-Chief of The Inclusive. Have that information at your disposal when determining whether or not this piece was worth including in the series.