“Hey Mom,” my son yells as he blasts into the house; his backpack landing on the foyer floor with a thud as he peels off his jacket and runs up the stairs. “Okay, so we are going to play soccer at the rec, then a bunch of us are going over to Oscar’s house.”
His words reach me in my home office before he does, derailing my train of thought.
“Who is ‘we’ and how are you getting there?” I answer, barely glancing up from my keyboard at his face, flushed from the cold.
“I don’t know, you know, everybody, and Danielle’s mom is driving. “
“OK, but be home by 8:00. And don’t call for more time. You have homework, remember?”
“Mom! C’mon, let me stay out till 9:00. No one else has to come home that early. I’m a sophomore, remember?”
“One more word and you won’t go at all.”
He stomps out of the room. It is understood that he will go and then call to stay later, and I will give him till 9:00. This is the dance we do. I am compelled to be so tough on him, but then I cave in to his pleading and give him what he wants. Although I hate when I do that, I do it again and again. At least he calls. As memory serves me, I didn’t call for more time at his age. I just didn’t come home.
A moment of guilt passes through me as I think about how much I try to hold him back. He is growing up so fast, and the memory of him taking his first unsteady steps towards me seems like only yesterday; his chubby legs carrying him precariously, arms outstretched reaching for Mommy. I was his whole world back then. Now he is running full tilt away from me at every turn.
Resigned to the inevitable, I try to go back to my work. Opening a client email from a divorced woman who is struggling with her nineteen-year-old son who won’t get a job and move out. I read about how devastated she is by the bad choices he has made. She feels powerless to move forward in her own life until he moves forward in his. As her life coach it is my job to offer her insight, to tell her to set boundaries, to make choices that empower her. Yeah, right. While her son is strewn across her couch and mine will stay out till 9:00.
The weight of mothering wraps around me like a heavy second skin, both comforting and burdensome. I have always felt that motherhood chose me rather than the other way around. My son’s father had children from his first marriage and my first foray into motherhood was as a stepmother. With two half-grown children thrown into my life, I approached parenting as a fun game. Let’s see if I can win them over! I knew a teenage girl would love me; we could do Girl Things! In my mind my ten-year-old stepson would be the bigger challenge; I had no idea what to do with a boy. In the end, my stepdaughter hated me, and my stepson and I had a blast making cookies and playing games. It was the opposite of what I expected—like much of parenting.
After awhile the constant calls from his ex-wife to discuss the comings and goings of the kids made me feel left out. It was as if this was a special club and I was only a guest member. I wanted in. I wanted a child of my own; one that we would share together in which I would have a say. Not knowing then that I would leave when my son was three, that I would end up having all the say, and in the end, how hard that would be.
I set out to be a good mother, not a great one. Less than the highest standards, perhaps; but I knew from the day he was born that I could not turn my entire being over to motherhood. An independent woman all my life, I needed to be a woman first. His needs would be the most important thing to me, certainly when he was a child, yet as he grew older I kept an eye on when I abandoned myself to give him what he wanted. My greatest fear beyond his health and safety was that I would lose me.
This would prove to be an unpopular approach to many. To my own divorced mother who sacrificed much for her two daughters, to my sister who, while being childless herself, never shied away from imposing her strong, negative opinions on my parenting choices, and ultimately, to my son. He wanted to come first. Still does.
I stare at the screen and think about how powerless we really are over our children and yet how much influence we have over them. I remember reading once that, children rarely listen to what their parents say and inevitably imitate them.
Motherhood can be an exasperating ride for even the strongest among us. Yet it contains the most precious of moments. Cradling them as sleeping infants, we stare in awe at their perfection. If the sweet scent of babies could be bottled we would douse ourselves in it. Their laughter is more delightful than music. Their achievements bring our deepest pride; their disappointments our greatest sorrow. They love us. They need us. Our need to protect and care for them is as powerful as anything we are ever compelled to do.
As they grow, we try to instill in them the values we hold true. We try to guide them to be good, to do good. They are pieces of us out in the world and we want the world to look kindly upon them—and upon us as their mothers. Yet, they are not ours to own. As we impose our will upon them, they can lose a piece of who they are. By surrendering ourselves to mothering them, we can lose a piece of who we are.
My son is finding his way as a young man in this world. I know I must honor that and let go of my need to have him become the man I want him to be. As I continue to guide and protect him, I must also have faith that he will be who he came into the world to be. He has taken what he needs to know and will do with it what he chooses. I have to trust him. Being his mother is just one of the reasons I am here in this life. It’s time to get back to being the woman I was so afraid of losing.
Thinking about the choices I have made to become the woman I am, I realize many of them were in rebellion against my own mother. Her efforts to mold me guided me in the right direction in many ways, and yet I have chosen my own way much more often. My son deserves to choose his own path, too.
Closing my laptop I wander downstairs to find him before he leaves.
“You can stay out until 9:00 then get straight to that homework, okay?”
“Really? I will, I promise! Thanks, mom,” he says, kissing my cheek as Danielle’s mom pulls into the driveway.
About the author – L. M. Dalton grew up in the Midwest and has created a new life for herself in the San Francisco Bay area . . . twice. Her slice of life essays have been included in various publications and is the co-author of You are Loved…an email memoir. Her day job as a Life & Business Coach focuses on supporting the personal and professional creative expression of others. She lives in Alameda, CA. Read more on her site and follow her on Twitter!
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