I packed a lunch for my oldest son today. I literally can’t even remember the last lunch I packed for him. But today was his first day of work…a real job…manual labor. Packing that lunch and sending him off on his own made me realize that even though on one hand, I’m counting down the number of days until I can send him on his way, I’m still holding onto him tightly with the other. Even though he daily makes me want to scream, I don’t relish the thought of anyone in the “real world” doing the same. I’m not a hoverer or a very tender mom. I even feel a little calloused at time compared to other moms I know. But today was hard. It was hard to bite my tongue and not give advice. It was hard to not worry. It was hard turning him over to someone else who I know will (thankfully) make his life very physically challenging. Ultimately it was hard to let him go and recognize that this is how men like his father are made…through hard work and hard knocks, through trial and error, falling down and getting up. And none of that involves me holding his hand any more. Just like that, my time with him has shifted and it is time for me to step back and lead from behind instead of in front, to teach through listening and silence instead of repetition of words. Dropping him off, I felt the urge to reach out and grab his hand for old times’ sake, but refrained as common sense warned against it. So I just watched him walk away without looking back, swallowed a little lump in my throat and drove away, alone with my thoughts and empty handed. Who knew what a little sack lunch could do…
I’m sitting by the fire in my pajamas at 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Everyone is sleeping or gone. The smallest tinge of wistful sadness has settled in with the quieting of the house as I look back over the course of this year. There is a sense of finality with the passing of 2016…another year gone, completely unretrievable. My oldest will soon be driving on his own, we have no more babies in our home, and I am quickly approaching 40. Time seems to pass like a hurricane through my raking fingers and I am left gasping and grasping after something that refuses to be caught.
But my sadness is not over the passing of time, nor over the approach of teenagers or mid-life (as I am enjoying both). Rather it is a sadness over the ways that I have failed to encapsulate and cherish every moment of the last year. I grieve all of the times that irritability presided over gratitude. I regret every moment that I rushed through and missed, moments that will never be recovered. I especially and deeply mourn every unkind and impatient word I’ve wasted on my children (and there are many). In my mind, I so badly want to suck the marrow out of life and slowly savor every last bit but I so often fail to live this way.
I recognize the irony. With this being New Year’s Eve, it would be the perfect time to resolve to do things differently next year. But the fact of the matter is, I know that I won’t. I will make the same mistakes. I will fail…and succeed…and fail again. However, lest I be mistaken for a brooding pessimist, allow for a clarifcation. This cycle, in my humble opinion, is in fact the very essence of life and I believe it to be exceedingly beautiful. Life is a compilation of moments: heartaches and joys, peaks and valleys, tragedies and triumphs. Yet, when standing nose to nose with life, it is not always readily apparent which are the successes and which are the failures. It is foolish to bask in the glory of freshly fallen sparkling snow, and then curse the very same when it turns to sludge. So often, our darkest moments become our greatest success stories.
This is why I do not resolve to do anything differently in 2017. Rather, I resolve to do the same thing day-in and day-out, year after year. I resolve to accept defeat and success with gratitude, knowing that both are changing and shaping me. I resolve to put my best foot forward every morning, recognizing that my best may look different one day to the next. I resolve to accept the snow and the sludge, the sun and the sunburn, the rain and the flood (although I know I will not always accept them gracefully). Ultimately, I resolve to always struggle…to fall down and get back up and fall and get back up. It might take me a while to find my feet again, but I will get there…eventually. For it is in the struggle that we are strengthened and made whole. I wish you all good strength and a great journey…Happy New Year!
There is a strange new man living in my house. He is tall, dark and handsome. Apparently, he is also extremely smart. He’s always brandishing this alleged intelligence and for some odd reason, constantly feels the need to remind me of his self-proclaimed autonomy. But it’s ironic…although he can drive a car, he can’t make a sandwich. And even though he’s able to decode insane chemistry equations, he looks at me like I’m speaking in Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice if I ask him to clean his room. This same “man,” who I am barely allowed to touch, also crawls into my room at 4 a.m. asking me if I have any medicine for his “tummy-ache.”
This paradoxical way of living is making me a little insane. If I relied on his feedback at all, I might be a bit schizophrenic and (only) slightly insulted. I have been told I’m a dictator, a crazy woman, completely irrational, and even a crack-addict! The unfortunate thing is, I’m not even sure that I completely disagree. Sometimes I feel like the wicked queen, wanting to wave my wand and banish him from my kingdom forever. Other days I feel psychotic, like I could literally strangle the life out of him that I imparted 16 years ago. At times, I cry, mourning the loss of childhood and sweet innocence. And on rare occasions, my sanity returns to me (if only briefly) and I am able to look into his eyes and see my child. I see his fears and struggles, his pain and insecurities, his dreams and failures. In an instant, he becomes a mirror to me and I am laid bare before my fears and struggles, my pain and insecurities, my dreams and failures. I am amazed and humbled as I realize that even though it seems that he is fighting against me, in reality, we are fighting together…fighting for his personhood, his character, his soul.
This stage of his life can only be likened to a second birth. Many days, I feel as though it is one big, fat, long contraction…sweating and toiling, but painful and very seemingly unproductive. But this time, I am not laboring to bring forth a child, I am laboring with my whole heart and soul to bring forth a fully grown man: a man who is loving and appreciative, respectful and kind, hard working and moral. This is not an easy task in today’s world. So to get through the labor pains, I keep before me the hopeful glimpses into his heart…images of him on the river, hunting with his dad and brother, the amazing photographs he takes, his hidden self-reflective side…and I find my hope that one day, the hard work will be over and standing before me will be an exceptional human being. Lord willing, we will be able to look back and laugh together at these days and what he has put us through.
And then…when time has passed and he’s grown and married and fathers my first sweet grand-baby, I will pull up my chair and popcorn and eagerly await for the arrival of my dear friend Karma!
I remember I broke down in tears after I gave birth naturally to my first child. I had worked so hard and had been so strong that the tears of relief literally came rolling down my face. Today, I look at my boys. We are well into teenage years and even though the hardest years might yet remain, I could almost cry in relief because those early years were just. so. much. To all of you moms with young kids and babies… now that I’m on the other side and have regained (some) sense of sanity, know that you are amazing. You pick up the same toys day in and day out. You hold the hand of a new walker and let them go up and down the stairs fifty billion times. You listen to the same incessant chatter and even though you feel like you might lose your mind, you smile and encourage the novice talker. You sit and endlessly keep a drawer from shutting on their little fingers just so they can learn how to open and close. You have the strength to get through the mundane, the love and loyalty of a mother bear, and the patience of a saint. The bad thing is, you don’t feel like it. You end so many days feeling like a failure, like you did nothing worthwhile, like nothing got accomplished. All I can say after being a stay at home mom for fifteen years so far, is that everything will one day be worth it. You’ll see a picture of your teenage boys sleeping in a truck after a long hunting weekend and every little mundane task, and every never ending day will be so, so worth it. Give yourself room to acknowledge that you have a very. hard. job. Respect yourself enough to take the time you need to regather, and love yourself enough to be kind. The world can be cruel enough without your own self-condemnation. I know that everyone says this, but you will blink and they will literally be grown. But contrary to what others may say, I don’t find it sad or remorseful. I find it beautiful. I love seeing my kids grow into their own person. I love having real, tough conversations with them. I love seeing their passions and even their pains. It all reminds me that as a mom, I have been allowed to co-create another life, another real, live, struggling person. It is humbling beyond belief. I know that I still have a very long way to go. But for tonight, I can fall asleep believing in my heart that every seemingly pointless moment was all beyond worth it.