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.