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this face, this life

September 7th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

{this photo makes me weep- it’s my Mom, and Griffin when he was 2 weeks old}

My boy is a Junior in High School this year. I repeat this to myself often, trying to implant it in my head in a way that makes it sound familiar enough, likeĀ I’m truly talking about my own child instead of some stranger who hangs around my life.

I only have a few friends with kids the age of my own. We can commiserate on parenting teenagers, watching them grow and evolve and it helps to see another set of eyes grow wide in wonder at the amazing transformation that happens right in front of us. But a lot of my friends are parenting young still; they’re experiencing potty-training, weaning, first days of school and all sorts of other milestones that have already faded to sepia tones in my own mind. They lament the startling rate at which their children are growing, and yearn to keep them young. I want to embrace them because I understand. But I also want to tell them ‘The best is yet to come.’ And I truly mean that.

I’ll never wish for my son to be young again. I won’t. Beyond the fact that he’s just so much of an amazement to me, I look back at our life then, and for us, so much was different. And it wasn’t always fun. I parented single-handedly, with a few dedicated adults that lent solidity to my son’s life. But it was a lonely and empty existence sometimes. There was no one to ease my worries as I sped to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night (twice in one month, people) with a sobbing, anguished child in the backseat. There wasn’t an option of rest at the end of a long and tiring day, someone to make dinner while I tried to push the stress out of my head. No one else was there to assemble the tricycle, teach the proper way to swing a bat or encourage the training wheels to come off. At the same time, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, no one else saw the first bowling strike, the first homerun, the first exclamation of “My tooth came out!!” or the triumphant first circling of the driveway on a two-wheeler. I get to cherish those memories alone. I got to teach the importance of a bike helmet by pointing out the dent that took that first impact. I got to hold the hand of a nervous boy the first time he sat in a dentist’s chair. I got to see his face as he confidently told me that he didn’t need me to walk into his Kindergarten class with him anymore. It is both lovely, and bittersweet. Even as the tone of them fades in my memory with the clang of an ever-changing clock, no one can take them away from me. No one.

There are times my boy comes rolling down the stairs in the morning and I am still shocked at the young man in my house. But I am not sad to see him grow, evolve and become the person he was created to be. This is exciting. This is an adventure. Those firsts are all behind us and his entire life is forming and beginning to unfold now. And I am amazed. I’m humbled. And I’m pleased. When people tell me how polite he is, I barely am able to thank them because I’m too busy thanking myself for never giving up on the constant, day-in and day-out reinforcement of teaching him manners, even when I would have rather torn out my fingernails before reminding him to say ‘Thank You’ or ‘Excuse me’ again. When the girl cousins tell me how nice it is that he puts the toilet seat down, again, I feel better about the thousands of times I hauled him back into the bathroom and made him put the seat down himself until he got it on his own. You put it up, you put it down. You take it out, you put it back. If you open it, you close it. Every day, every month, every year, for years on end thinking I would go mad with the repetition. When it pays off on it’s own, and my friends- IT WILL- you will feel the same that I do. It isn’t pride, really. It’s the inherent satisfaction of a long and difficult task that’s finally- finally!!- shown it’s just rewards.

I may have, at some time felt the urge to keep my boy at a certain age forever, but as he grew I realized that I don’t have to wish for that anymore because it’s already there. It’s just there in memory, but it’s the sweetest memories of all because as he grows, I can look back and see just how far he’s come. I’m excited to see what his life will do in the years ahead. I do have my own wishes where his life is concerned, and they are far more selfish because they’re for me, not for him. I wish to never forget the first time he smiled, or laughed, or said “Ma!” or the sound of his voice before he went through puberty. I wish to never forget the look on his face when he finally got something, when he fully understood for the first time. I wish to never forget how empathetic he was a young boy, the time he sat by my side at the tender age of three, stroking my hair as I lay on the floor crying, trying to ease the pain of a terrible backache. Or the time, stuck in rush hour traffic on a snowy December afternoon and going nowhere, that we talked about how excited he was for Christmas to come, and he says to me- all of five years old- “Mom, it’s too bad that you have to spend Christmas without your Mom.” I wish to never forget, at maybe 2-1/2, when he wanted to call his beloved Uncle Mike, my brother (that’s them above, BFF’s now and forever), and when the answering machine came on he said loudly “Pees call me yater.” I wish to never forget how he loved to help me with everything I did, so I’d put a sponge in his hands or give him a dust cloth and allow him to clean to his hearts desire, even if it took him an hour to do one simple job that would have taken me 5 minutes. And I especially don’t want to forget when I told him that I’d met someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and he smiled and said “That means he’d be my Dad, right?”

I can look at him now and see the person that I envisioned sixteen years ago, as he lay his chubby baby cheeks on my chest and gazed up at me with his perfect love. I can see that I’ve given him a firm foundation to base himself on, that he can speak for himself because I gave him a voice, that he can stand up for what he believes because I first believed in him, that he can laugh himself silly at how ridiculous life can be because I had to show him that even as beautiful as it is, it will never be perfect. I can see how resilient he is because he learned from me that not everyone will be his friend. I can see the good choices he makes because I gave him room to choose for himself. I see how he aptly deflects the pain of life because I never lied to him about how the world will hurt, how life is often unfair and how difficult some days may be. It went against the very instinct of parenting sometimes, but I knew he would never survive if I sheltered him, kept him safe within the circle of my arms or never let him know the truth. It’s better for him to see the world through the filter of my eyes than to be pushed into it with no ability to cope.

I loved him enough to do that for him, and to show him anger, frustration, pain, sorrow, grief and despair. I loved him enough to discipline him, sometimes with severity. Yet I also loved him enough to explain why I felt all those emotions, and why for his entire life he was going to have to follow rules so it was best that he start now, not to mention being strong and humble enough to apologize if my feelings made me into an ogre. I always made sure he was aware that it was his behavior that disappointed me, not him, and while I may not have liked what he did, I still loved him more than anyone else on Earth. As he grew and changed, I learned also to forgive myself for the bad times, for telling myself I was a horrible parent when we had a rotten day and for thinking I was doing irrevocable damage by those punishments. Because, you know what? He doesn’t remember it. He just remembers the love, the lap time, the stories before bed and the talking we would do before he fell asleep.

Two years ago when he entered High School, I knew it would be but a blink and a sigh before we were planning his graduation. I’m OK with that. I’m OK with the young man who roams my house, loves his friends and his music, his video games and God. I’m OK with the young man emerging, spreading his wings and learning to fly. I’m OK if he comes home and heads to his room, covering his ears with his headphones, tuning me out. I give him the space and he’ll come out eventually. I’ll be waiting for him when he does. I’m OK with requests for ice cream, Mavericks roast beef sandwiches, and the occasional steak. I’m OK with our cribbage games, even when he skunks me. And I’m OK with knowing that all too soon he’ll be off on his own and showing the world what he can do, with that amazing smile, his politeness and helpful attitude and the ability to put the seat down.

16 Responses to “this face, this life”

  1. Marisa says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all of the awesome content! Looking forward to checking out more blogs.

  2. I’ve been away for awhile, but it’s good to be back reading this blog. Like an old friend who never changes, I know what to expect when I come here. Thanks.

  3. Uncle Mike says:

    Wonderful!!!

    I glad all those “behavior modifications” worked!

  4. davenycity says:

    great blog thank you

  5. roger ganyo says:

    Your Blogs always brings back many memories. I know Jane would be proud of the job you have done. Remembering Griffin just a couple of months of age and the latest picture as a Junior in High school, I just have to say WOW!!!

  6. Amy P. says:

    Kate, I teared up just reading this. Funny how we were just talking about this today. Thanks for the glimpse of parenting from the other end, it’s good to hear it all turns out in the end.

  7. Lisa says:

    This is the first I’ve read your blog. It is a wonderful post! You have very eloquently explained what many parents need to remember. I will probably bookmark this entry to share it with others!

  8. Ashley says:

    hey, nice blog…really like it and added to bookmarks. keep up with good work

  9. Oh Kate –

    Just so beautiful, and even though I’m not at the same place on the timeline, so familiar. I’ve learned that the times I’ve had the most love for my boy has been the times when the teaching has become hard, and we’ve both stuck around and gotten through it. It’s so easy to love them when they’re perfect – and so fulfilling to love them when they’ve needed us to guide them.

    You are an inspirational mother. Thank you for showing me a glimpse of the future…XO

  10. Melissa says:

    I needed this today. My two boys are young, 10 and 5, and sometimes I just want to stop time because they are growing up to fast for my liking. What a wonderful lesson I have learned reading this post. Thank you Kate for teaching me that the best is yet to come!

  11. Michele says:

    I don’t know you or your young man, but I can tell by what you say that you have done very well. I work as a vendor in stores (cough, cough, Target) and I am appalled by what people pass as parenting nowadays.

    There is a line in The Princess Bride, to paraphrase: The worst thing we do to our children is to tell them that life is fair. What I see, is the constant trying to make up to the child for the unfairness of life, and parents who work all day and do not want to be the bad guy. I ask you then, who GETS to be the bad guy? And I’m seeing a generation of children who don’t understand they share a planet with other people.

    I raised four kids, the last who just left for college last weekend. I screwed up many times. But seeing these amazing adults, who are giving back to this world, I know I did something right.

    Good luck to you and your beautiful son. Life ISN’T fair, but you’ve given him the tools to get through the rough times.

  12. samara says:

    Wow! This is beautiful!
    You should be proud of your son and how great he is.
    And he, he should be proud to have a mom like you!
    Happy First Day of school!

  13. Cousin Sheila says:

    Just about made me cry. To start with a picture of Aunt Jane and baby. How proud she would be of both of you!!! I hope I am just as lucky with my children.

  14. Liz says:

    Happy first day of school to you both! Clearly you are doing a wonderful job!

  15. WillBinMN says:

    Wow! Very well written. This is the first blog post I have read of yours and I think it was a good one to start on. Thank you for sharing.

  16. katessisterkris says:

    Beautiful!!!!!!!!!