So, my son turned 18 on Friday. Years old. Eighteen of them. In a row. I know. Right?
It was one of those big moments in our lives. I’d go from being so excited to kind of stunned in an am-i-really-that-old kind of way. Then, I’d be excited again, thinking ahead to all the things he will accomplish and the adventures that await him in adulthood. Which would take me to sorrows I know will come, as they do into all of our lives.
That would make me sad for him, because as much as I know that sorrow also allows for growth, well, somewhere in my heart, he’s still little Jamesy Peanutbutter who liked to roar like a lion and wander around looking for dinosaur bones.
We had a really great time celebrating his 18th year of life. We had some special moments that brought tears to my eyes, and some sweet moments I’ll treasure forever. There were some hilarious moments on both the day itself and the days leading up to his birthday that reminded me of what an amazing person he is and how much joy he gets out of life, as well as how much joy he brings into the world.
It all felt so concrete and heavy, just as it felt light and joyous.
And it got me thinking about Motherhood:
You’ll fall in love.
You fall a little bit in love with your child the moment the little life is noted inside you. And then, when you first feel the butterflies of kicking within you, a bit more of your heart melts into the huge pool that it’ll become when you see that little face staring up at you for the first time. James was the happiest baby I’ve ever known. He loved every new things, he smiled widely at all he saw, and his laughter echoes in my heart to this day.
As your child grows, you fall in love with them over, and over, and over again. Their smile, the first time you see it. Their eyes as they trace your face while they’re falling asleep. Their little hand in yours. Their back as you rub it. The way their neck smells and the feeling of their sweaty head on your shoulder.
You fall in love with the way they breathe. With the stretches they luxuriate in each time they awaken—and years and years and 18 years later, you’ll recognize that stretch as they lay on your sofa waking up from a post-school nap.
You fall in love with their broadening vocabulary. The studious look with which they practice tying shoelaces and ride bikes. You fall in love with their friends and the way they develop a sense of style. You fall in love with them as you read their school essays (hey, I just got all geeked-out over a 28-page law paper that I barely understood!), you’ll fall in love with them over each tooth that falls out, each pair of shoes outgrown, the girls that follow him home.
When you lay awake listening to giggles during sleepovers, when you peer into the rearview mirror and see them fast asleep (in carseats or with scruffy beards) you’ll fall in love. Every year, every day, again and again, and deeper and deeper and deeper.
Which means, you hurt.
You hurt because you’ll be sure that everything you do will ruin everything.
You hurt because the world is so huge and dangerous, the life you’re carrying is so delicate and you feel so incredibly helpless. You get this special Maternal Gene that makes you feel guilty a lot more than you feel good about yourself. And that will hurt. Because you never have known how much you could disappoint yourself as you do when you hold yourself up to an impossible standard.
You cry when he cries, because that little, loud, mewing roar of a cry cuts you. It cuts you. No one will see all the tiny little shards of cuts that come over your entire being, inside and out, but eighteen years later, if you’re me, standing infront of the mirror one day, brushing your teeth, you’ll see them—with every tear he’s cried, every soured hope or disappointment, little slices have formed upon you. And then light will shift, as you know it will, because you need to look at them—and you see the thick, ugly scars on your heart where his heart got broken.
You hurt. You feel ashamed—of yourself, and sometimes, your child. You are ashamed of being tired. You feel ashamed of failing. You feel ashamed of feeling good about your parenting because you remember why you feel ashamed. You ache with expectation and surprise yourself with doom.
You hurt when other kids are mean. You hurt when yours is mean. You hurt when grown ups judge him, or you. You hurt for when you’re mean and you hurt, that awful day, when after being so excited about how much they grow, you realize they’re too big to hold, and when life comes along with lessons that whack their hearts, and you suddenly realize—my child no longer fits on my lap.
You hurt because they will reject you and disrespect you. You ache when they misunderstand you, and you ache again because you’ve grown up enough to know that you have done the very same thing to them.
You hurt because saying “no” isn’t fun. You hurt because they try and fail. You hurt because everything about growth seems to stretch and take you further and further away from those days when you could soothe everything with a kiss.
But you’ll find, within you, a Superhero.
You learn that you have the power to heal. You find that your spit is a miracle substance that is more powerful than WD-40 and Polysporin and, magically, is germ free. You find yourself doing all kinds of balancing tricks you’d never known you could. You find ways to multiply money so that your child never goes without. When knees are scraped, your kiss will be magic. Your voice will carry across entire city blocks at dinnertime, but you’ are able to whisper “Goodnight, Baby, Momma loves you” to a sleeping infant, a chubby toddler, a mischievous child, a sullen adolescent, a lumbering teenaged man, and it will penetrate skin and bone and soothe hearts.
You find energy in exhaustion. You find resources in poverty and time in even the busiest schedule.
You figure out things you’d never given thought to (“can you make me a Spiderman costume out of these two rolls of toilet paper and a this hunk of chewed up gum?). You find that your reactions carry more weight than a freightliner and that you really don’t go crazy after the 157th viewing of Space Jam.
You find room in your basement for rugby boys and football boys to move in, you find ways to feed them all and to love them all, and one day, when you’re standing on the sidelines of a rugby game and two or three extra kids come over and say “hey, Mom…”…
You are amazed
You are so proud. Their first steps? Amazing! First words! First success. So many firsts come along and amaze you. The alphabet song becomes a victory chant. Watching someone pee in the toilet is becomes a victory. Getting an entire snowsuit on and not having to undress someone so you can watch them pee is a major victory!
Seeing them finish homework without being reminded. Watching them forgive someone you can’t even look at. Listening to them chat with their friends about sex and war and Xbox and global warming as you try to fall asleep. The day they cook their own dinner. Coming home to find they’ve started the laundry.
Getting the 2am phone call, “Mom, can you pick us up? XXX has been drinking and we don’t want to drive”. You’re proud because they are growing and they are becoming themselves.
You’re proud when he comes home and says, “Anyhow, he needed a place to stay while they sort it out, so I said I’d share my room…” You’re proud when they stand up for what’s right, even when it costs them. When they admit they’re wrong, you’re proud! You’re proud when you watch them sleep on your sofa on a Saturday afternoon because they’ve grown so huge and you can’t believe—you’ve all made it this far!
Your heart swells and you catch your breath because nothing you’ve ever known matches this feeling of being utterly amazed. You’ll understand something of God and purpose and goodness that you’d never grasped before.
There is sweetness in realizing that this person, while born of you is not you. That you have the incredible honour of being closest to everything of newness and possibility. That you shape it, but do not own it. That his success (and his failure) are his alone, and you, oh the amazing thought of it, you are permitted the fragile, massive task of calling it forth.
And as it does, you’ll nearly faint from awe. Watching maturity form. Witnessing selflessness and compassion unfold. Being on the receiving end of grace. Learning about yourself in how you respond to the one person who knows you uncloaked—at your best and worst—and loves you deeply.
You stand on the sidelines, watching them soar, and…
And you learn to tell time
One day, all the days before them will have added up. You’ve charted them, you think, in clothes outgrown, in report cards stored in that box in the basement, in photos covering every surface of your home and Facebook page. You have measured them on the trim on the hallway outside his room.
And then one day, the calendar will tell you that your days with him have changed. It’ll tell you that he’s an adult now. That all your work has added up to the fullness of time. That he’s ready.
And you feel, if you’re me, like you aren’t finished yet. You’re not done yet.
There was that one, last trip you wanted to take. That thing you wanted to buy or adventure that was waiting. The last push on the swings or the exhibit you’d wanted to show him. That one last night you wanted to rock him to sleep. That …one…something… you don’t even know, you just know you weren’t done yet.
You laugh at yourself (once the crying stops) because, you tell yourself, it’s not like he’s moving out tomorrow, or we’ll never talk again.
But (if you’re me) you sit down and think about the day when he’ll pack up his things, that whole basement of treasures, his room and such, and he’ll move away. You realize that the stupid song has come true—his life is more busy and structured than yours, and it’s him, now, not you, who has to make time to connect.
And then, if you’re lucky enough to be me, and it’s the evening of your son’s 18th birthday, you get a text, inviting you to hang out with him. So you drive to where they are. You sit and laugh with him as the guys play Xbox and plan their night out. He sits there, all 18-year-old giantness of him and says, “Mom! Tell them about when you were in high school and you…” and you’ll feel so many feelings, wrapped into one.
And when later, that thin line appears and you know it’s time to step back and let 18-year-old life resume, you’ll smile. He’ll say “Hold up, I’ll walk you out” and he’ll hug you in the street; you’ll feel short and small and snug and happy.
And when you turn to go, and he calls out, “Hey, Momma, I love you, see you tomorrow!” your heart will smile and soar and break a little, because the sun is setting, and it hits the windshield in some strange way that makes him appear, for just a moment, like Jamesy Peanutbutter.
And you realize that he’s not finished yet, either.
And you’re glad.
Words etc © 2013 Juliet deWal