Yesterday, I woke up early in the morning and sat at the table across from my son, who was awake and eating breakfast. I had a lot on my mind about my future, of things I may keep and others I may have to give up, and tears came to my eyes.
He doesn’t usually see me this way: human, vulnerable, trying to figure things out. I’m fortunate that I have enough alone time away from my kids to process all that goes on in my life, so that when I’m with them, I can be fully present (or try to be) and focused on their needs. We dance, we eat, I command them to make their lunches and take out the trash. But on this morning I told him that I was a little confused, a little sad, unsure of what to do.
“Grown-ups aren’t perfect, you know,” I said. “I know I’m your mom, but I’m a person, too.”
He looked away and I saw that tears had come to his eyes, tears he didn’t want me to see. He has already learned, somehow, that he is not supposed to show his emotions. That he must keep them pushed down far and not let them surface. Perhaps he thinks it’s unmanly, that sensitivity is a burden we have to mask.
My son is 12 now, and life is so full, his birthday last month passed without me having time to process it. As we sat together, I remembered the final days of my pregnancy with him, my fear and anxiety about giving birth. The day he was due, I went to my garden and dug up weeds and planted new flowers. My stomach was huge, but my body still felt limber enough to move around. I was young, only 27. He was supposed to arrive any day, and I was expectant, excited. But days passed and there were no contractions, nothing showing he was on his way. Finally, one morning, after breakfast, I went into the kitchen and decided to talk to him. I didn’t know if he could hear me, or what he could understand. But I thought if I spoke to him from my heart he’d hopefully get the message.
“It’s time to come out, buddy,” I said. “You have all these people waiting for you, all these people loving you. We’re ready for you now.”
My child was so deeply wanted.
At the hospital a day later, after hours of contractions that didn’t progress toward delivery, my doctor began to give me options. A vacuum, forceps. Or I could have surgery to cut me open and pull him out.
I opted for the surgery right away. I didn’t want my child to experience any pain, especially as he entered into the world. I wanted him to have as easy a life as possible. I would carry whatever I could so that he wouldn’t have to go through trouble.
I know now that it’s impossible to protect your child from pain, because pain and anguish is a natural part of life. But I wanted my son’s life to be perfect. I was going to do everything right. The warm, comforting house. The mom and dad always at his side. Barbecues, parks, a backyard to play in. Siblings, bedtime stories.
And then real life happened, messy and surprising and raw. His father and I got divorced. We all left the house we loved and moved into two separate apartments. My son had to change schools. Now, in middle school, he has friends who aren’t always nice, who sometimes run away from him. He wakes up with a ball of anxiety in his stomach he can’t explain. He worries that he’ll never get a hit at his baseball game. And I’m sure there are worries about girls, about whether they like him or don’t. He doesn’t invite his friends over because we live in an apartment, and he doesn’t want to be different. He doesn’t think his mom is normal. He’s trying to figure out this life, what’s right and wrong, what everything means.
And I can’t fix everything, like I want to. I can’t make it all better. I can’t give him everything he wants, because I’m only human, and have struggles of my own. All I can do is love him as deeply as possible, and provide a place that is safe and nurturing, where he is encouraged to be himself. And I have to trust that what I have to give is good enough.
But despite all that has happened in his life, my son, my amazing boy, knows how to treat people. He knows right and wrong when it really matters. He has an inner compass that tells him what to do when times are tough, how to be. And sometimes that’s hard for him to carry, because he’s only a kid. But I can think of nothing more important in a person than an inner knowledge of how to treat people. And I can’t take credit for the fact that he has that. That came as part of his package, all on its own. It’s how my beautiful boy was made.
I reached over to him, as he finished up breakfast and I sipped my coffee, and ran my hands through his hair. I touched his shoulder even though he didn’t want me to, because he is a little wary when I display too much emotion. I told him I could not be more proud, more grateful, for him.