Monday, July 2, 2018

And then … he was 21

It’s difficult for me to find birthday cards for my kids. I struggle between trying to be lighthearted with one of those funny Shoebox cards and wanting to be deep and meaningful (those cards always make me cry but I don’t think have the same effect on my boys.)

Regardless, it didn’t take me long to find a card for my son’s 21st birthday that spoke to me. It said this:

“He was born.
And then he smiled.
And then he laughed.
And then he crawled.
And then he walked.
And then he talked.
And then he ran.
And then …
And then …
And then …”

The inside of the card says, “Loved you then, love you now, love you always.”

That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Isn’t raising kids a series of “and thens”?

I always told my son that he was my first everything – my guinea pig, if you will. The poor kid came into the arms of a mom with so much anxiety and trepidation I’m surprised he survived the first week. But in spite of my second guessing, lack of patience and general “what the fuck am I doing” attitude, I managed through the grace of God to raise a pretty amazing kid.

And then …

I still marvel at the fact that I’m now one of those parents who is telling young moms, “It goes by so fast.” Flashback 15 to 20 years ago I didn’t believe that any more than the mother of the two-year-old believes it now. I look back on old photos and videos and I remember. I remember those moments. My son’s joyful grin (I used to tell him he smiled with his whole face) as he ran in and out of the sprinkler then hugged me and said delightedly, “I get Mommy all wet!” The photo of him proudly walking to me for the first time. The awkward video of him standing like a deer caught in headlights, singing with the rest of his preschool classmates, finding my face and waving like he hadn’t seen me in months. I was his world.

And then …

I said this then and I still believe it now. When your kid goes off to school, you lose a little bit of him. All of a sudden, you don’t know what he’s doing every single moment of the day. He starts to create memories you aren’t a part of, and talks about other kids you don’t know. Sometimes he’ll hold your hand all the way to school; other times he’ll drop it quickly and run off to meet up with his buddies. A part of me was grateful – relieved to have a brief respite from the more than full-time job of parenting. The other part of me – my heart – broke just a little bit as I watched him start his own amazing life.

And then …

I do believe that boys love their mommas in a special way. I don’t have girls, and I was always grateful thinking I didn’t want to raise one like me – or at least like I was as a child. There is a time, however, when that love is buried underneath a lot of teenage angst. In our case, that love was buried beneath a lot more than that.

No one can predict the roller coaster ride that is raising a child. Though I knew the teenage years can be rocky between mom and son, I was not prepared for the outside forces that threatened to tear us – and my son – apart. I was the worst mom during that time, and I was also the best mom. I can honestly say that the years my son was a teenager were the years that I finally grew up.

And then …

And then he was gone. I remember a time when my son and I were asked to vocalize one thing for which we resented each other. (This was part of a healthy exercise so don’t raise your eyebrows.) I told him I resented being gypped out of being able to parent him for two years of his life. I told him I earned that right, and to have it stripped away from me made me angry. Part of me felt like a failure – that I couldn’t handle it so I had to turn him over to someone else; another part of me knew I had made the best decision in order to give him the greatest chance at life.

I’ve heard moms complain about their toddlers, and sometimes I’ll shoot back with, “Just wait until they’re teenagers.” I regret saying that, because it’s not fair. When my son was a toddler it was more of a struggle to take care of his physical needs. He was tired and cranky at inconvenient (for me) times. He was hungry. He was thirsty. And I was responsible for fixing all of that.

With teenagers, you’re both struggling with that perfect storm of hormones, independence and good old fashioned trial and error. It’s exhausting because unlike the solutions of feeding them, changing them or putting them down for a nap, there ARE no quick fixes for a 16-year-old’s emotions. You can't always help, and you shouldn't always help. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve had the solution to your child’s every problem for years – now it’s up to him, and all you can do is stand by, let him make his mistakes and reap the consequences. That’s sometimes what hurts the most.

And then …

And then somehow, some way, they’re 21.

“Legal.” “An adult.”

My son will turn 21 tomorrow. I cannot even write that without the words catching in my throat. I remember 21 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. That kid and I grew so much together. As much as he learned from me, I learned so much more from him. I honestly never understood the term “unconditional love” until I had my son. I’m an easily annoyed person, and thought, “Oh my God, how am I going to be able to live through the shit that is going to happen with raising this child.”

Somehow, you do. I’ve told my kids on more than one occasion, “I may not like you right now, but I will always love you.” That’s true; however, love takes on many forms. There were times when I didn’t think I would live through what was going on in his life, let alone live through him. Love can be beautiful and amazing, but it can also be the most painful emotion you’ve ever felt. Love can hurt so deeply you honestly think your heart is going to break. My heart broke for my son many, many times during his life – and it still does. But now, to me, I know that just means it’s stronger than ever, just like my love for him is.

And then …

I don’t know what’s next for my son. But I do know that I am so, so proud of him. As I've told him so many times during his life and it continues to be true - I will always be his biggest fan. I am so thankful that God chose me to be his mom and to be responsible for what is truly an amazing, unique young man. I can honestly say that if God said to me today, “You want to do it all over again with this same kid?” I’d say, “Hell yes.” I’ll take all the “and thens”, whether I know what they are or not.

Happy 21st birthday, Son. I loved you then, I love you now. I will love you always.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful ! :) Glad to have shared a special chapter with you and your boys! Love! xo


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