Sunday, May 14, 2017

To My Boys on Mother’s Day

I hadn’t planned on writing anything today. Then I saw this picture in my "Facebook memories" – you know, that stupid feature that sends you pictures from a year or two or three or four that either makes you go, “AWWWW I remember that!” or “OMG, Facebook, THANKS A LOT, I was trying to forget that.”

Today's was a good memory. I had somehow bribed you to bike ride the Rock Island Trail using the carrot of Jane’s Ice Box, a local diner/ice cream shop as our goal and it worked.

That day, I was happy – happy that you had agreed to go, happy to spend time with my boys, happy to be out in the fresh air, exercising on such a gorgeous day. I saw you both ride ahead next to each other and snapped a picture.
Having it show up on Facebook four years later makes me happy, but in a heart-tugging, that-kinda-hurts, wistful kind of way. That picture represents more than two brothers racing ahead of their mom to get to the ice cream at the end. Now, it represents two young men who are slowly riding away from me and the life I have known for nearly 20 years.

I remember when both of you were born like it was yesterday. I remember those crazy newborn weeks and months. I remember amidst all the chaos and hormones that I could sit and hold you and just stare at you for hours. With you, my oldest, it was how fair you were– I could literally see through your earlobe it was so transparent. For you, my youngest, it was just the opposite. Your eyebrows extended all the way to the hairline of your soft, dark head. And you’d both stare back at me like I was the greatest thing in the entire world.

I remember when you were toddlers and all the discoveries you’d make. My oldest laughing uncontrollably as you ran in and out of the sprinkler on a hot, humid evening, then coming up to me and hugging my legs saying, “I get Mommy all wet!” My youngest loving to be outdoors with your brother, digging for bugs, chasing frogs or catching fireflies.

I remember when you were in grade school, and you’d smile so big when I showed up to have lunch with you or at your room parties - and when you came out of school at the end of the day I'll never forget how you'd look around, spot me, get this big smile on your face and run at me like you hadn't seen me in weeks.

Back then, you regaled me with stories when I asked you the daily question, “What was the best part of your day?” That was a great age to do a lot of fun things like visiting all the swimming pools and playgrounds, hiking at Starved Rock or taking the train up to Chicago – you were at that past-nap stage and old enough to think I was taking you on the best adventures ever.

I remember when you were in middle school and things got a little more complicated. I remember not knowing as much about what was going on during your school day, or hearing friends’ names I’d never heard before. I remember freaking out because you were getting to be that age where you didn’t want a babysitter but you were too young to stay home alone. I remember feeling guilty that mom had to go to work when there were so many adventures we could be having together, not realizing that I was slowly becoming not so big of a part of yours anymore. I remember feeling scared at 8th grade graduation, thinking that the next four years were going be life changing for all of us.

And they were.

You two are so different. I never realized it fully until a few years ago. It’s almost unbelievable – but at the same time, looking back, your personalities as they are now were there from the very beginning. I know I’ve said this a million times, but I’ll keep saying it. You have no idea how much I love you both, equally yet differently. You always used to ask me (and still do at times) who I loved more. I can honestly say I love you both the same for the individuals you are. I hope you know this love one day if/when you have kids, but even then I'm not sure - I think a mother's love and a father's love, though both intense, are very different.

Sometimes it makes me cry just thinking about you. It chokes me up realizing that your dad and I created you. We made you. I am awe-inspired just typing those words. I look at you both today and I think for the millionth time, “You are my greatest accomplishment." You are. I’ve failed at a lot of things, and I know I’ve made many, many parenting mistakes. But I made you – and that’s two of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. And I want you to know on this Mother’s Day that I am so, incredibly grateful that God gave you to me – that he picked ME to be your mom. It has been my honor to raise you, take care of you, teach you, show you, laugh with you, cry with you and help you grow. I could not have asked for any tougher, more exhausting, more humbling, more heart-wrenching job and I would never, ever trade our years together for anything in this world.

Thank you, boys, for coming into my life. Thank you for loving your mom, because I know you do. Thank you for giving me a reason to celebrate Mother's Day. Thank you for making it possible for me to look back at pictures and both smile and cry at the memories we’ve made together. It has been a privilege to be your mother. And as you pedal further and further away from me, just know that I’m still back here, pedaling a little slower, letting you go on ahead, but still trying to keep you in my sights, just in case you need me.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What's One Word That Describes You?

The other day, my teenage son and I were chatting. (This sentence blows me away in that I can actually “chat” with my teenager.) Every once in a while, he poses some pretty interesting questions. This time, the question was, “What one word would you use to describe me?” Now, being a wordsmith, this made me pause, because I really wanted to find the right word. So I said, “Hmmm … that’s a great question. I’ll have to think about that. Let me get back to you.” To which he replied, “Do you know what word I would use to describe you?” I waited nervously. What would he say? “Stressed?“ “Overprotective?“ "Meddling?"

“Resilient,” he said.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. Resilient. He explained, “Because you’ve been through a lot of stuff and you’ve gotten through it.”

This really made me think. Yes, a lot has happened over the years that my son has been old enough to be aware of, and in some cases, go through with me. But it made me wonder – should he have been privy to all of this? I never really knew when my parents were going through something. First of all, that was usually kept between them, and second, I was too selfish to even notice. I suppose when you’re a single parent and don’t have that “Plus One” to bounce things off of, maybe you take advantage of your “too mature for his age” 15-year-old son.

Then I thought, because I’m resilient, maybe I’m showing him how to be resilient. We talk a LOT, this kid and me. I never expected that at age 15 he would have the compassion, empathy and maturity well beyond his years that he possesses. He’s the one who asks me how my day was – every day. He’s the one who actually asks me for advice, and even wants to know how it was for me when I was his age. He asks questions that make me know he’s thinking of the future – questions about college, working, relationships … even having kids (OK slow down, Son).

I wonder how much of this is because he’s been right here with me through my ups and downs. He was the one who was there when I got the call that my mother had passed away. I’ll never forget what he did – at age 13. He sat down next to me, put his arms around me, and didn’t say a word – just sat there as I sobbed.

He’s seen me struggle with my older son and the intense feelings that have emerged through that - frustration, anger, worry, fear and extreme sadness. It’s hard to keep it from the one person who lives with you – even if he is only 15.

Though the “stuff I’ve been through” may be a bit unique in some ways, it’s no more than many go through – and much less than some. Yeah, every once in awhile I throw a pity party for myself and selfishly think I’m the only one in the world having a bad day, but then I get over it and pull myself up by my bootstraps and remember the good I have in my life.

That must be where the resilience comes in.

A little later on, I finally found the word to describe him. “Authentic,” I told him. “What do you mean?” he asked. I said, “How you act is who you are. You are compassionate, and you act compassionate. You are kind, and you act kind. You are thoughtful, and you act thoughtful. You don’t put on airs. You are simply a genuinely good person.”

That made him smile, and at that moment, I think we both felt that together, between my resiliency and his authenticity, we could conquer anything that life may throw at us.