I know that is a trite thing to say. Of course it has, you moron, you might be thinking… And of course, it has changed in all the ways people talk about. I’m tired. I’m busy. Things are messier and more chaotic.
But I’m so much more driven. Because, you see, once you have children, you have goals. I have two goals, because I have two sons. My goals are similar. To see these small humans through successfully to adulthood. These goals are stressful. To me, at least. And they are manifested and pursued in different ways for each of my sons. And that is hard, too.
I look at parents with almost-grown boys and marvel. I shake my head and wonder if they know something I don’t. I wonder if they are wiser or calmer or more intuitive than I am, that they could have managed the enormous feat of raising a boy to near-adulthood successfully. I think of this especially when I see the almost-adult boy doing respectable, polite things. Being cordial and sweet, charming and gracious. I wonder about the people who raised him. How did they manage it?
I am trying. And I am terrified.
One of my sons makes it easier than the other. One of them seems content to just grow up, and I get to hug him and cuddle him and love him along the way. For him, it seems like growing up is just happening. The other wants to fight. He wants to fight me, he wants to fight his peers, but I think mostly he tries to fight himself. He wants to be bigger than he is, older and more mature. He wants to fight time and chronology. And growing up for him seems to be a struggle. And so it’s stressful for me. I lose patience, I get angry. And I constantly ask myself if I’m screwing it all up. If I’m screwing him up. If I’m doing anything right at all.
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, this child-having. And I know that this stress will not leave me as long as they live in my house. And probably not then. But my goal right now is just to raise them to adulthood. To have two grown, stable men stand next to me and call me “mom.” To know that they are secure and strong, and that I have met my goal – that I can finally hand the responsibility over to them. That I can rest.
And sometimes, I swear, all I want to do is lie down.
School starts next week for my littles. Turbo will be in third grade and Lunchbox is going into Kindergarten. They’re starting at a brand new school, since we moved last year… and they’re both weirdly fine with the entire thing. I keep checking in, probably inspiring anxiety where there is none (because seriously — these are MY kids, right??) But they’re rolling with it and taking it all in stride. It’s unsettling. There’s nothing for me to DO… (except buy ALL the school supplies. 20 glue sticks for two kids? Sure, that makes sense…)
This summer my kiddos have changed. I guess they do that every year — hell, they do it every day, don’t they? But this year Turbo has become calmer, easier to talk with. He’s insightful and smart, and I’m starting to get this glimmering idea that maybe we’ve done some things right.
But he’s changing in other ways, too. He’s also embarrassed when I hug him in front of people, and won’t kiss me if anyone is looking. Still though, in the car in the morning when I drop him off for camp, he’ll look at me as I hug him, and whisper “I love you more.” And there’s something in that look — a longing, an understanding — something that tells me he knows what’s happening, just like I do. Something that tells me we both feel him growing up, growing away. And even if he might not be able to talk about it with me in the terms that I might use, I know he senses that maybe it is something to be mourned, just a little bit. There’s a knowledge in his expression at those moments that breaks my heart a little as I hear my own mom’s voice in my head telling me that I should never wish away their childhoods. “The days last forever, but the years fly by.” And when I hug Turbo as tight as he’ll let me, I look into his eyes to see that knowledge, hoping he’ll see the knowledge I carry now — that I know our time is short. That I know he has to move away from me and become independent. That it breaks my heart a little every day, but that I want him to do it because I can’t imagine anything greater than having created a kid who has the confidence and faith in himself to step away. I just don’t know if I’m ready for it to happen in third grade.
Lunchbox veers wildly between sweet huggable little boy and raging delirious madman. He wants to be held and hugged in a way that Turbo never really did, but he’s also indignant whenever the word “baby” slips out of anyone’s mouth, lest it might be aimed at him. He is quiet in company and ludicrously crass and vulgar — and hilarious — at home. If I have worries about him, they center mostly on his reluctance to let his personality show to those who don’t get to know him well. He has spent the whole summer at camp, and just this week as I dropped him off, one of the counselors asked over his head, “Is he always quiet? He never talks.” I wondered silently if it might be because she was one of those grownups who talked about kids like they weren’t standing RIGHT THERE. I’ve gotten variations on that question a lot, usually with Lunchbox right there to hear it. To me, that’s a version of, “What’s wrong with him?” and I don’t like it at all. He’s cautious and you have to earn his trust. And I just hope that his kindergarten teacher will not be one of those grownups who wants to ask me what’s wrong with him instead of asking HIM what his hopes and desires are for his first year of “real” school.
I guess I’m finally realizing that this whole parenting thing is so much more than I’d ever imagined. I’d thought about family, about having kids. I’d thought about it like a photograph — me standing there with the Major and our offspring. And we’d look happy, and it would just be. I never knew that having children is life eviscerating you, hauling your insides out to be examined and then you slowly figuring out how to put it all back in, but never being able to fit it all back quite right. I never knew I’d be completely undone by a two-year-old Turbo refusing to nap, me standing outside his bedroom door, holding it shut and screaming, “I was the marketing director of a public company!!” Like he cared. Like in the face of his refusal to comply with my rational demands, my past success might make a damned bit of difference. I never knew that I had a wolf inside me who wanted to rip apart the clueless jerk at Walmart who looked at my sweet tiny Lunchbox (who had to wear a helmet as a baby to shape his head) and asked “What’s wrong with your baby?” I never knew that having a kid catapults you into a completely different plane of existence, but it does. And sometimes I get to visit that place I used to live, that other world where different types of things seemed to matter a lot. But what I’m starting to see now, eight years into this journey, is that I’m happy where I am, in this alternate universe called “parenthood.”
Every day I try to remember to hug my little summer-brown boys as tight as they’ll let me. I try to remember to snuggle with them and to lay down on the floor and let them climb on me. I tell myself to take the time… because there are ghosts of the future wandering my house now. And I see one of them standing outside Turbo’s room — not begging him to stay in and sleep, but begging him to come out and just…be with me a bit longer. I want to hold them as tight as I can, all the while knowing I have to let go soon.