I once remarked quite exasperatedly, “If Andrew were a first born he would have been an only child.” I was talking about my second child and I was exhausted. This was after four sleepless years that began with his premature birth and was marked by chronic ear infections, a tonsillectomy, late night hospital visits and a very, very inquisitive baby. I didn’t understand Andrew. Our rhythms together felt out of sync. This child’s needs were different from my daughter’s and I had to relearn ways to meet them. She was what we called the “easy baby”, flexible and slept through the night! I felt a special connection to her temperament and I knew that no matter how far away she went when she grew up we would always remain close. On the other hand, even though my love and devotion to Andrew were as strong, I felt in my heart it would be his wife that one day would be buying my mother’s day cards.
Those early years of parenting Andrew were like dancing with a brand new partner. Stepping on each other’s toes our dance together was often awkward. The music seemed to change just as I learned the rhythm. I was out of step and having difficulty keeping up. I know there are a lot of mother’s out there that are nodding their head when I carefully allude to the fact that boys are different than girls. And I know that basing parenting decisions on stereotypes is not a good idea. But, I could not escape what became inevitable in raising a son. Having a daughter as a first-born brought into our home an array of toys, dolls and art supplies. There were no toy guns, no interest in video games and certainly no discussions of bodily functions at the dinner table. Yet as if preprogrammed to behave this way, the first Lego figure my son built was a “shooter”, the carrot sticks were weapons and burping the ABC’s in first grade was of great pride to him. I scowled, scolded, I redirected. I avoided at all cost those items I felt were associated to the downfall of childhood. Despite all this, wooden sticks were carved into bows and arrow, pots and pan were shields and helmets and forts and battlefields sprung up in our yard. They became enriching experiences, lessons on love and war, on using a pocket knife safely, on protecting the animals and making worlds of fantasy that played out into happy endings.
I have learned a lot over the years. I have learned that parenting is about growing together, about leading and by also following a lead, about relaxing and pausing before reacting. But most of all its about being there to watch your child learn to dance alone.
At nine years old Andrew has a bunny, plays baseball, reads Harry Potter and likes video games. He thinks I am too overprotective when I park on the left hand side of a one way street and make him get out my door and can’t understand why he isn’t allowed to watch scary movies. But he holds my hand instinctively when we cross the street, calls my name when he is hurt, and sleeps in my room when he is scared. This past Mother’s Day he made me a card that was addressed to the Best Mom I Ever Had.
12 years ago I wrote this piece for my journal. Nothing has changed and everything has changed. Through the rhythm of life we grow, we love and we discover endless possibilities.