It requires so much of a mother, these first five years. Since my children came into my life, I’ve all but stopped writing, stopped dreaming my own big dreams, stopped creating. Of course, improvising meals with the last can of chickpeas and an old jar of capers requires some creativity. I dream now of taking a vacation I can truthfully call “vacation,” replacing my old standby of writing a novel in Paris. My days involve hundreds of small decisions, an ocean of patience, giving my space up constantly to little people who need it all from me.
I am still in the chrysalis stage. Possibly a mother never really emerges from this stage; change being the constant hand on her shoulder. Learning how to parent a newborn, a two year old, two babies at one time, a step daughter entering adolescence, a son shedding his baby years and becoming a boy. Each stage and age is beautiful, and challenging, and brings me to tears, and leaves my heart burst open. Each stage is new. Each stage is different. Each stage requires something from you that you haven’t had to give before, and gives you back the unexpected in turn.
I am grieving now for my baby that is no longer my baby. People try to talk me out of this. I’ve tried to talk myself out of this. “He’ll always be your baby.” “Be glad there are no more diapers!” “Five to ten years old are the golden ages, think of the fun you’ll have.”
These things are of course true. Mat is in heaven now that Noah can kick a ball around with him, and go on bike rides just the two of them. Noah didn’t leave much room for anyone else when he was my baby. Mat was jealous, and rightly so. Noah breathed my air, lived for my touch. He would snuggle so close and hard, bury me with so many kisses it was like he was trying to burrow a warm, safe hole inside me. The lovingest baby. All mine.
I am allowed to grieve this loss. I’m allowed to long again for when he fell asleep in my arms, when he was so light and limber and affectionate, he would just wrap himself around me as I carried him places. I am allowed to be sad that he is making room now: for other people, for other adventures, another life that doesn’t so much have to do with me.
I don’t need to be talked out of it. I agree that there is so much joy to be had in the years to come. When we can have real conversations, and interests that align. But this part is so hard.
There will be a time, soon, soon. When he will not bury himself in me. When he won’t smother me with kisses. Today, he still tells me “mama I love you!” at every turn. He still fits in my arms, and still wants to be there. The days are numbered now, I know this deeply.
How does a mother let her child leave her? That baby is not here anymore, and is not coming back. I have pictures, and memories covered in haze, which are such poor stand ins for my baby’s touch as to be rendered nearly pointless.
Noah is to me a soul mate. That may sound strange to some people, and to others makes perfect sense. Maybe because birthing him was the most transformative event of my life. His unwavering devotion to me fills my cup when nothing else will. I share a bond with him that is unassailable. Possibly what I’m feeling now is not only grief, but fear.
All mothers share something special with their children, until the children don’t need them so much anymore. Then that bond, the one the mother can’t live without, stretches and morphs into something less recognizable. I don’t want him to forget about me. What does one do with unrequited motherly devotion? How can it not drive one to tears constantly? Is it possible we won’t always be soul mates?
But of course we won’t. This is the irony. Motherhood requires a woman to give nearly all of herself over in the beginning, so that when they do move on, when they don’t need her, when they can do life on their own, she knows she’s done her job well. That’s the sacrifice. We think it’s our bodies, or our sleep, or our careers. No. It’s jumping into to this thing with all you’ve got, knowing that there will come a time when your love for them outweighs their love for you. And even then, you must keep loving.
I realize this birthday is not so much about me. It’s about celebrating the life of this beautiful, beautiful soul that I somehow was lucky enough to be chosen for.
And so this.
You have a smile that dazzles strangers. It’s such a true, effortless expression of the joy you share with those in your life. You were born happy. You inherited your father’s optimism and easy going manner. You still get excited every time you see an airplane in the sky, or a commuter train pass through. You notice the beautiful, small miracles – green sprouts pushing up through the cold ground, or the first snowflakes to fall.
A word that comes to mind is that you are sensitive. But that word doesn’t appropriately express how you are in this world.
You are intuitive. You have always thought about other people, and sensed how they were feeling, without any words being spoken. So extremely empathic that you plead with me to get Lola a present for your birthday, and you still defend her to me after she’s hurt you. You are so caring when other people get hurt. You’re the first to step close, and say “are you ok?” and offer up something to make them feel better.
You are a lover. Watching you with Katya, she reads you a book and you snuggle up so tightly and stare up at her. You wrestle/hug Lola, the two of you rolling around on the ground laughing. Every morning in our bed, when you and Lola climb in to wake us up, you go through the rounds of all the people and animals that you love.
You are becoming more sure of yourself. Whenever you first started something, whether school, or soccer, or playing with new friends, you were an observer. But now you step out. You talk to people, you ask questions, you join in, and let people see more of you. You’re braver – flying down the hill on your bike, or sledding down a steep hill, or climbing higher into a tree.
You are striving for your independence. You want to use the bathroom alone now when we’re out. You want to play outside by yourself. You’re asking my permission to let you go a little bit. I am resisting, but I understand, ultimately, that you must ask and I must grant.
I feel so lucky to have been chosen as your mother. Your gentle, caring nature is a much needed salve to my heart. But I can’t be selfish with it. My promise to you this year is to protect this part of you, so that as you grow you can share it beyond me, and beyond this family. I will do my best to support you in becoming the active boy you need to be, but I will also fiercely guard your inner world. You don’t need to be toughened up. You don’t need to be told that big boys don’t cry. You are a rare, pure expression of kindness and love, and I will nurture this in you. You are a gift to a world that desperately needs big-hearted boys and compassionate men. My promise is to keep safe this gift.
And so the years push on. My promises are starting to add up. I am doing my best to be true to them, and to you.
Tonight I tucked you into bed and you wrapped your arms around me, held them and said “you’re stuck to me like glue! You have to stay with me forever.” And I said, “of course I will, my sweet boy.” Eventually you let me go as you rolled over to sleep, “we’re not stuck together anymore, Mama.”
This playful nighttime fun, spoken so innocently before you shut your eyes. In the morning you will wake up a five year old boy. Tonight I will cry. Tomorrow we will celebrate.