Sunday, January 27, 2013

In a Mother's Heart, Part One

It’s my youngest son's last year in high school and I find myself, at odd moments, giddy with excitement at what it represents, and then in the moments that follow, grief stricken.  

Some mornings, when I pull over to drop him off at school and he swings out of the car all gangly and long legged, this tall, thin young man who is comfortable and easy in a body that was once so chubby, in his collared shirts and curly hair and his glasses, well, some mornings I just cry softly on the way to work, not caring about the smudges from my mascara or who might see me cry.  And as I write this now, I can barely see the keyboard.

I will tell you the truth.  I am glad it's almost over, this parenting thing, because by the time I am finished, I will have been parenting non-stop for almost 30 years. Eleven of those years I was married and all I will say about that is that being married to someone with whom you have nothing in common except the children you made is infinitely harder than raising children alone.   

I have thought a lot about the quality of my parenting over the years, and frankly, some days were better than others.  Most people, when arriving at this point remember all the time with their children that they never want to forget, those precious moments of joy and laughter and hilarity.  We had a lot of those, and I hope we have more. I’m sure we will.  But it has been a very, very long journey, and frankly, I am tired. I fear I have gotten so much of this parenting thing wrong, but I have loved my boys with a quiet fierceness that has been steady and strong. And they have taught me far more than I have taught them. 

My friends who have met my sons say things that indicate I should take credit for who they are, but I resist that.  It is more honest to say that they should take credit for the woman I am, because they have changed me.  I think children are given to us just as much for our own growth as we are given to them.  I am a big fan of Kahlil Gibran’s idea that we are the bows from which the arrows are sent, and that our children are not ours, but are instead manifestations of life’s longing for itself. Therefore, they are not mine to take credit for, or to be blamed for.

As a mother, I have made embarrassing, shameful mistakes, said things I wish I could take back, done horrible, thoughtless things. I have forgotten things they remember that are important to them. Whole swathes of time are gone from my memory, many of them during the years of a difficult marriage or the early years of stark poverty and single parenthood in the city. I have fought for them, fought over them, fought with them, pulled them close, pushed them away, held them down as they raged at me, sometimes all those things all in the same day. I worry that this does not sound “normal,” but these things are the truth. And there was never a moment when I thought having any of them was a mistake, even when I was at my worst, and not even when they were. 

I always thought I would not mind as much when my day-to-day parenting duties came to a close, when it was finally time to stop the daily hands-on duties and worries.  I often joked, looking at my imaginary watch, that I am counting the days until I am done with the daily care and feeding...but now that the time can easily be calculated in days, I can't bear to count.  And truthfully, I am not done, I am living in fantasy. Parenting never really ends, if you define parenting as loving someone always and carrying them in your heart, and knowing you would drop everything, everything, everything for them, that they come first even if it may not always seem that way. And besides, none of them are moving out or living at college any time soon.  But soon enough, please God. Soon enough. 

To be continued. 


  1. when my daughter went away to college I cried all the way home after dropping her off. i knew nothing would be the same.from then on. it was suggested that i was codependent on her. I didnt believe at the time but looking un hindsight it was correct. i know what its like to be married to someone that i dont have anything in common but the kids, did that for 31 years. i spent a few years with a therapist that listened to me sort out the transition from married raising children to living alone . i couldn't have navigated it by myself and probably have stayed in the relationship out of fear. sorry for rambling but your post triggered some feelings.

  2. Rambling is OK, Dave. I posted this because I know that the experience of letting our children go is different for everyone - sometimes hard, sometimes easy, maybe really simple or wicked complicated. I think in some ways I have held on too loose and not tight enough, probably because they are boys, but there is a part two to this, so stay tuned.