My son turned twelve the other day.
A dozen years. I stand in awe that he reached this milestone unscathed. Just before his first birthday, my mother called, wondering what the theme of his party was going to be? Theme? One year olds have themed parties? Really? My suggestion of "one year no breaks, yay!" did not go over well. We settled on football, a manly endeavor, appropriate enough for a boy. The one year old boy who was a little freaked by the candle flame but really enjoyed smearing chocolate cake all over his face (after the candle was blown out, of course). (I may struggle with my maternal instincts (or lack thereof), but I knew enough to not let the baby play with a lighted candle). He may actually have gotten some of the cake into his mouth, just before he passed out from a combination of sugar overload and the fever caused by the flu that apparently struck at the tail end of his birthday party.
Happy, cranky, cake-smeared, sated, snuffly and fevered. One. One year, no breaks. What a miracle.
I was terrified the day he was born. After nine months of pregnancy (that felt like a thousand years), I was still not convinced that I had any maternal instincts. At all. Even as a little girl, I looked at the prospect of motherhood with some trepidation. I never played with dolls. In fact, I thought they were silly toys. They did nothing, said nothing, fell over if you didn't hold onto them. I saw no difference between the dolls of my girlhood and an actual baby.
Babies speak a language all their own, and there is no handy Rosetta Stone providing a key for translation. How can any person have the capacity to distinguish all the subtle variations of their cries--- pitch and strength and length and whine and wail and squalling, wordless need?
They need to be fed. Every day. Many times a day. They need to be cleaned, since they tend to drip fluids out of several different orifices, sometimes all at once. I saw that green, bulbous sucky thing that was designed to vacuum mucous from the nose. Eewwww. Really: eewwww. Let's face it: babies are bundles of endless and infinite need.
Dolls are one thing. If they break, if a dress gets torn or a head gets pulled off, you can fix it. Or get a new one. Or send it to the island of toys we don't like anymore. If they fall, it's no big deal. Those eggs that they use these days in High School health classes, to teach kids about the awesome responsibilities of parenthood? If you don't fake feed the fake baby, you get ten points taken off your grade. That's it. And then you go to your next class and move on with your day. This does not flow with actual babies
Babies are small and defenseless and helpless and fragile beyond belief. What if I broke him?
There were complications enough. Given my vivid imagination, my somewhat dark personality, I had no trouble being the What If Awful-izer. I spent hours thinking up worst case scenarios: what if this, what if that, what if what if what if, until I wanted to scream. Delivery was no picnic. More complications, and no drugs. Dammit. I begged for the epidural. The only legal high I was going to qualify for, and I failed. There was pain, and fear, and more pain, and hovering doctors and a hovering mother and a slightly green hovering husband and pain beyond belief and fear that filled me with ice and more hovering doctors and an emergency C-Section.
And then: my son. My beautiful, beloved son. Squalling and crying and covered in fluids that I don't want to think about, even now.
He sounded like I imagine Heaven sounds, on a really good day.
And now he is twelve. Relatively unscathed. He is not quite as fragile as he was, not quite as defenseless. I have not broken him.
I am far from a perfect mother. I snap at him. I yell and nag. I am inconsistent. My follow-through could use some work. He watches too much television, doesn't eat enough vegetables and plays way too many video games. He can recite all eleventy seven thousand Pokemon but can't remember if he brushed his teeth. He learns all the lessons I teach him. All of them, including the not-so-good ones. He is funny and smart and kind and loving and annoying and needy.
Yes, he needs me still. He's no longer a baby, but he is still needy. Needs to be fed, to be clothed and cared for. To be loved. And I have managed to do this one perfect thing: to love my son unconditionally, without question or reserve. Ever and always, as he finds his way and walks his own path through this world, he will find shelter in my arms and know, without doubt, that he is loved.
- I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.