My son celebrated his sixth birthday last week. After the birthday party and all the hoopla of the spirited kung fu-and-sugar festival died down, I started to write up something about what he was like as a five year old, to record the milestones of starting kindergarten and seeing mom go back to work. I found myself instead thinking back to my initial reaction to the news that we were having a boy and how my relationship with my son has evolved in the last six years. When we first heard that our baby was a boy, my husband was instantly overjoyed. Although I was happy, my first thought was, "A boy? What the hell am I going to do with a boy?"
I don't want to give the impression that my son was not wanted or welcomed. Quite the contrary--after three years of trying to conceive, I was happy to be pregnant at all. I told myself that the sex of the baby didn't really matter, but in my heart of hearts, I had the tiniest hope for a girl. Maybe it was the lure of cute, pink baby clothes and Hello Kitty hair accessories. More likely, I think it was a deeply held belief that somehow I could rewrite the script of my own relationship with my mother and do better. I arrogantly thought I wouldn't make the same mistakes she did, and my daughter would grow up all the better for it. I thought I would look at my daughter and see some part of me reflected back, but a boy? Would be a stranger. Giving birth at 40 for the first time meant that the chances of my later giving birth to a daughter were highly unlikely. Over the course of my pregnancy, I embraced the idea of having a son.
Though I couldn't wait to meet him, it was not a case of love at first sight between me and my son as I had hoped it would be. When he was born, I expected to be struck by a lightening bolt of insta-love for him the first time I laid eyes on him, but that didn't exactly happen. I just looked at him and thought, "My God, they just pulled a 10 pound 9 ounce baby out of me" and then I fainted.
The sight of him as a newborn filled me with awe and wonder and sheer terror. I was afraid that I might never live up to his expectations (or my own) and fail him as a parent. I was afraid that I might impose too many of my dreams on him and that he might break from the weight of it all. I was afraid that I would repeat the failings of my own parents and forget the good things they taught me. I was afraid I might break him, in body or spirit, without even knowing how I did it.
For me, the feelings of love and maternal tenderness set in gradually, like an hourglass of emotion spilling one grain of sand at a time, eventually filling me up from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head. When I was so full of feelings for him I could hardly bear it, my mom told me, "You know how much love you feel when you look at him? That's exactly how much I love you." In that moment, whatever issues that remained unresolved between my mother and me were forgotten and forgiven. I didn't need a daughter to do that after all.
Since then, my son has taught me more than I could ever have imagined when he was born. It has been a wonderful, frightening, maddening and delightful experience to be his mom. He's a boy who didn't go from crawling to walking; he went from crawling to running and hasn't stopped moving since. Every day there's a new challenge and a new joy. He can be rude and arrogant one minute and friendly and humble the next. He can be a charming little gentleman, or an obnoxious brat. He's an unstoppable force constantly wrestling with immovable objects, including his parents. He is good natured and flexible, funny and sweet, and is utterly fearless of the things that scare me most. He can spin a wild yarn of pirates, knights and derring-do with nothing more than a stick, a rock, and a plastic cup for inspiration. At times, my husband and I marvel at him and wonder how two geeks like us could produce such a person.
Having a son has taught me that I have more patience than I ever thought possible, and exactly where my patience ends. When my mother's voice comes channeling through me and I speak in harsh, unforgiving tones, he looks me dead in the eye and says, "Mommy, you hurted my feelings. You need to apologize." I would never have said those words to my mother, because I would not have known how. I'm not the one rewriting the script--he is.
I look at his face and I see the past, present and future expressed simultaneously. I see my past as big sister to two little brothers who looked exactly like him when they were five and six. There are days when I can't wait to see the person he will become, and others where I want to freeze time so he will always be just as he is now, before his baby teeth fall out and he no longer allows me to hug and kiss him in public. My son forces me to live in the present, savoring the days of his childhood, knowing full well that these fleeting moments of joy won't ever pass again. He's showed me that happiness is not somewhere just around the bend, it's right here, right now.
Sometimes, his face is a looking-glass into the future. There are moments when I catch a certain roll of the eyes or defiant look that may be a window into his teenage years, or a particular mannerism or posture that is his dad in miniature. In him, all of my hope for what is yet to be and what is possible, come clearly into focus. My hope is that he will grow up to be a kind and thoughtful person, one who has compassion for others because compassion has been shown to him; one who faces whatever life throws at him with grace and gratitude, fortified by the knowledge that he is loved.
Six years ago, I had no earthly idea how to raise a boy. In some ways, I still don't. Now, I can't imagine not having a boy, or I should say this particular boy. We've gotten to know each other pretty well, one day at a time. Yesterday, he told me that he can read my mind. When I tested him on it and asked him what I was thinking he replied, "You're thinking how much you love me."
He was exactly right.
This was cross-posted at Silicon Valley Moms Blog.