My boy turns 10 today. I’ve been responsible for another human being for a decade now. I’ve managed to keep a life alive for 3,650 days. I can’t even keep a houseplant alive for a week. I don’t do a great job being responsible for myself, much less an impressionable young being.
And yet here we are. Despite my parenting efforts, he’s a wonderful, kind, gentle, caring soul. He’s a good kid. He has no idea he drew the short stick in this relationship while I won the lottery. At first it didn’t feel that way. The pregnancy was not comfortable and I did not enjoy it. He was two weeks late, and I labored for almost 24 hours. To put it gently, I was really, really grumpy 10 years ago today.
The moment they laid his wet, naked, chubby body on my chest, I literally felt a shift in the world, in my existence. It was like the earth’s axis tilted just a bit. In that moment, I knew this was my purpose in life. I knew in that moment I needed nothing else. I knew in that moment that all the searching I had done for satisfaction, for happiness, for success, for peace–it all came down to this.
Being his mother has taught me a lot of things. Sure, there are the standard things like never say never, don’t stress the small things, this too shall pass, etc.–the things you find on magnets. I’ve learned those, but so much more. He has taught me:
1) You have control only over your own thoughts and behaviors. No matter how badly you want that child to sleep, or poop in that toilet, or learn multiplication facts–no matter how kind and clever and consistent you are, that child will only do so when he is good and ready to do so. You can’t make anyone do anything.
2) His thoughts count. Really. I was a very obedient child (shocker, I know). I’m used to children heeding authority–families are hierarchies, not democracies. A wise friend pointed out that if he didn’t want to wear his jacket outside in the winter, perhaps he didn’t have to. Perhaps he is a smart and capable child and has reasons for his refusal. And perhaps he’ll put on his jacket when he’s cold, like a smart and capable human being would do. And sure enough, he does. So when he says no, I need to keep an open mind and find out why. He doesn’t always get his way, but his thoughts and feelings matter just as much as an adult’s. And it’s always informative–I learn so much from how his mind works.
3) Simple kindness counts, grand gestures need not apply. He was recently nominated to apply for a scholarship based on grades and humanitarian leadership. He needed to prove his worth by recounting how many coat drives he’s organized, or nursing homes he’s visited, or fundraisers he’s started. All he could list are things like donating toys and food and clothes to people in need, planting trees, and cleaning up neighborhoods. I know those aren’t grand enough for him to win the scholarship. But you know what? He reaches out to the underdogs in school and stands up to bullies. He grabs an extra candy bar for his sister when she’s not there. He asked Santa to bring our neighbor a gift. He prays for my good health. Tell me that’s not humanitarian leadership.
4) Increased stress really does correlate to the rate of hair turning gray. I do not need to elaborate.
5) Children are patient teachers. Every day he gives me the opportunity to learn to be patient (Please. Pick. Up. Your. Clothes). To use a not-so-snarky voice (Which part of “Flush the toilet” did you not understand?). To relax a little (Hurry up, we’re late again!!!). To be forgiving and kind (Spilling milk on the carpet…is. not. a. big. deal…). Becoming a parent has forced me to become a better person despite my best efforts otherwise. Each day, I fail to reach the bar my children have set. Each day they forgive me and love me still, and give me another opportunity to do better.
6) Someone is always watching. Not in a stalking sort of way, though how they follow me into the bathroom when I go pee every single time is uncanny. This Someone Watching is in a scarier way. They see what I do, and how I do it, and believe that is the way things should be done. So when I lose my temper, they learn that’s the proper way to cope with frustration. When they see me help a stranger pick up groceries that have fallen out of her bag, they learn it’s the proper way to react when someone needs help.
7) Snuggles are the original Tussin. They say Robitussin cough syrup cured all that ails. That may be, but snuggles do too. There is magic in the human touch. It settles, it soothes, it calms. It’s love in the palm of my hand and in the embrace of my arms. And he’ll never be too old for snuggles. Trust me, he knows this. He tried to avoid my kiss and hug in front of his friends a couple years ago. He thought it was embarrassing. I learned him–waited a few moments so he was in front of all his friends. Then made a huge show of smothering him with hugs and kisses. Never had a problem since.
Happy birthday hugs and kisses, my son.