A Birthday, a Boy, and a Mom Who Looked Back

My son turns nine today. It’s not double digits. He doesn’t get keys to a car, don cap and gown, or pack his belongings into boxes. But as many other moms before me have figured out, it marks the halfway point in the 18 years of time I’ll hopefully have to raise my son. While he anticipates ripping open packages and shoveling some sugary treat into his mouth, I wrestle with the fact that the next nine years will be much different from the first.

While I first struggled with the challenges of a helpless life that needed constant food, sleep, changing, nurturing, teaching, and love—and every bit of it relied on me—at some point along the way, something happened to me. I came to rely on this child and need him just as much, if not more. So when this life that I have been readying starts to pull away and become a little more independent with each birthday, well, it’s pretty hard on a momma.

While I nurtured and cuddled my son as much as possible, the first nine years have been nothing to laugh at. My son is the kid I’ve had to learn every parenting skill on. I had to learn whether to let him cry it out and for how long even when I wanted to grab him and hold him forever. I’ve been inconsistent and indecisive and I’ve blubbered right along with him. I’ve spanked him in anger and felt hateful for doing it, only to conclude that spanking isn’t right for us. I don’t think I’ve ever spanked my daughter. I’ve had to decide the correct punishment for screaming at your mother and calling her an idiot and bite my tongue in the process. Sometimes I have yelled mean things, and I’ve had to look in his blue-green eyes, put my tail between my legs, and apologize when I really wanted to admit I often have no clue what I’m doing.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for my son being the firstborn, the guinea pig for all of my parenting experiments gone bad. With my daughter, I’ve been through it so I’m more relaxed, even, and firm. My son gets a whirlwind of emotion and a ball of stress. Part of me breaks each time it has to be hard for him. Sometimes he deserves for me to know the answers in advance.

In the next nine years, I know what he’ll face. I know the horrors of middle and high school: pimples, the embarrassment of your parents, wearing the right clothes, growing into suddenly disproportionate body parts. I’ll see more of his bedroom door than his messy room. I know I’ll lose him to a flock of smelly teens with patchy facial hair who grunt instead of speak and stare at my daughter in alarming ways, girlfriends who call and giggle and are suddenly the light in his life.

And between all of that, I still have a job to do. Somehow, I still have to turn this kid into a respectable man who cooks, cleans, smells nice, and has good manners. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But despite our setbacks, I have learned a few things. My son has taught me to be calm, even when he can’t be. He has taught me to forgive and move on because love is more important than any argument over homework or bad language. He’s taught me patience on a level that I never thought existed in me. Times when I thought I would crawl out of my skin waiting for him to do something, I have learned instead to let him do it in his own time. And he does. He’s taught me that no matter how old he gets, he sometimes still needs his mom.

I’m pretty sure by the time I get a handle on this parenting thing, he’ll be grown. Then he’ll have children, and parenting and all the struggles that come along with it will be something he and his partner have to muddle through.

But today, he’s nine. And we’ll have cake, open presents, read our bedtime story, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get a hug out of him. And tonight, I still get to tuck him in, peek at his sleeping face, and love that I still have years of boyhood bliss.

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20 Comments

Filed under Everyday Life, I Love Those Darn Kids

20 responses to “A Birthday, a Boy, and a Mom Who Looked Back

  1. I love the line about your son teaching you to “be calm, even when he can’t be”. Something I have to work on daily. Happy Birthday!

  2. Love this, Karen! So well written and honest!

  3. All of us need our moms, forever. I have no doubt that your son will turn out to be a wonderful man (which is something that the world will always need). Your posts are inspirational and beautifully crafted.
    PS- I have read to my daughter every single night since your post ‘Bedtime Stories’. Whether it is my husband, me, or both of us, we are spending this precious time together, and she absolutely loves it.

    • Thank you so much. That means a lot. All of it. And I’m so glad you are enjoying your reading time together. At 9, my son still looks forward to it every single night. And my heart will absolutely break when he doesn’t.

  4. Awwww…. this post gave me goosebumps. I have two boys and the oldest is 4. I’m still in the middle of what you wrote in the beginning. My poor first born :( Sure love him. Happy Birthday to your nine year old!!!

    • The only good thing is that I don’t think my son remembers a lot of the messes I made early on. ; ) I seriously threw my very own jumping up and down temper tantrum one day when he was very young. Ah, how I’ve grown. Thank goodness he doesn’t now say, “Mom, remember when you threw that fit?”

  5. K. Eley

    Oh, this made me so sad. Being a mom is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding jobs we will ever have. I have one who is so independent it’s scary and one who refuses to be independent that I worry about him and yet love it at the same time. Your birthday boy is a fine boy and you are a great mom. That’s something to celebrate and smile about.

  6. Wow, what a beautiful post so full of truths, emotion, and love. I find you so refreshing the way you put it out there, the parenting moments we all have that went so wrong but that most of us don’t want to talk about. We grimace when we do wrong, apologize, learn from mistakes, and move on to the next moment. Enjoy that birthday boy (and a slice or two of that cake)!

    • Thank you! So sweet! No, I guess there’s no glossing over it. Though let me just say I don’t put everything out there. Whew. I made some chocolate-chocolate chip cookies today. I feel a bit better. ; )

  7. Great post, and one I think a lot mom’s need to read. I appreciate your honesty and I’m sure lots of other mothers do to. I know you know my thoughts on the parenting during the next several years, but let me add the key ingredient to getting through to 23 (18 is a little premature – still lots of parenting to do): Loving Kindness. You obviously have figured this out already at age nine, but meaning what you say and following it up with loving kindness i.e. “I searched your room because I love you and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you,” works much better than a screaming match that ends up with a hole in the wall . . . . Not to worry, you have 7 1/2 years to enjoy before then.
    I loved the way you described teen boys (you must know some), and I highly recommend you spank your daughter at least once because your son is keeping track and he’s going to give you the tally when he’s 23. :-)

    • I know there is still mothering to do, but 18 is big number because some kids move out and don’t come back! When they go off to college, you have to hope you’ve done a good job. Don’t worry. I am the mother who will be searching that room. And I may need your number as I approach the teen years.

  8. Oh, I have a little lump in my throat after reading this post and the comments.

    First, happy birthday!

    Second, my oldest is 12 now, and while I don’t read to him anymore, we often read the same books now so that we can talk about them. It’s not the same as reading by flashlight under the covers in his bed, but it’s as close as I can still get with him.

    Also, I’ve thrown my own tantrums about their behaviour as well, and feel like a fool after.

    • I love that idea and I’m stealing it. When he’s too old to read to, read the some of the same books he does and talk about them. Mental note.

      I’m glad I’m not alone in the tantrum club!

  9. I often call my son ‘the practice kid’ because he’s the first-born. I’ve got a while to go, but sure I will be sniffly when he starts to get up there, too.

  10. What a bittersweet post! Good work, young lady!

  11. I love this post. My son is 4 and my daughter 2 and I can relate so much. I have been a much more relaxed mamma to my daughter and have lost my cool with my son more than I care to admit.
    I appreciate your honesty and am really enjoying your posts!

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