My Facebook feed is currently full of heart warming baby photos. Several of my peers are just starting families. Babies laughing. Babies sleeping. Babies on their tummies. Babies on their backs. Babies doing baby things.
My baby is 18 today. I always wanted to be a mom but I certainly wasn’t ready when I became one. The most common comment I get when I talk about my son is “I didn’t think you were old enough to have an 18 year old”. Watching peers starting families now when mine is almost full grown, I realize nothing can ever fully prepare anyone for for facilitating another human being entering the world. You are never “old enough” to be ready. You get what you get when you get it.
Every child is a gift.
Parenting isn’t all fun and games. In the beginning, my only job was to keep him fed, make sure he got enough sleep, wasn’t too hot or cold and had a clean bottom. Those were the good ‘ol days, and also some of the hardest. I remember being completely exhausted. I remember discovering I put the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the fridge. My breast leaked. My crotch was sore. My back ached. But the way he looked when he let go of my nipple nursing, his bottom lip still quivering, his arm over his head, eyes closed, completely at peace…. that made it all worth it.
His first belly laugh was inspired by the sound of the zipper on my favorite sleeper of his. I remember it being a blue/turquoise color, thick fleece, full footed with knit trim around the wrists, Carters brand. After a diaper change on the bed, I zipped him up and he giggled. I unzipped and zipped it again and he giggled harder. Again, a little faster…more laughter. Once more, with a dramatic face…Belly busting giggles in response. I don’t know how long we played that game that day but it was the only “first time” he belly laughed that way and I remember it like it happened earlier this week.
When he got to be a toddler, there was no denying he wasn’t developing like his peers. If I wasn’t actively playing with him, he wouldn’t do much other than jump off things repeatedly or run himself into the wall. He started talking in complete phrases he heard from other people or television instead of forming his own sentences. I feared I fucked up my baby….
Much therapy ensued. I feared I would never be able to have a meaningful conversation with my son. I feared for his future, worried he wouldn’t be able to make friends or support himself. It was extremely important to me that he be held to the same standard of behavior as his typical peers. I had watched way too many smart but challenged children get away with poor behavior because they were excused for it instead of being guided to better choices at a level they could handle. I asked all teachers and therapists to help give him tools to succeed instead of dismissing his shortcomings. It was ESPECIALLY important to me that he not be asked questions that weren’t questions (such as “do you need a tissue” while snot is running down his face) and practice asking for the accommodations he needed from the very beginning.
Years went by…. and now I have the honor of being mother to a young man who I am GRATEFUL is very little like most of his peers. He helps me around the house without being asked. He’s a safe, conscientious driver. He’s highly responsible and gets good grades in school because he works until he gets it done, however long it takes. Never have I met a more determined human! He has a job he likes and saves most of his money. The most common comment I get from anyone who works with him is “he’s such a sweet soul”…
I realized I am not nearly as responsible for how he turned out as I wanted to believe I was when he was little. He has a lot of things more together than I ever did at his age. He came to me with his own abilities and gifts. He’s helped me grow. I have done the best I could to help him be a fully functioning member of society and a kind human. It looks like he is off to a great start!
I thought I would feel THRILLED to see him reach this age and be this capable. I didn’t expect tears to fall down my face when I think about him moving out on his own someday. I didn’t expect to be hoping I was a ‘good enough’ mom he will want to keep visiting me once he has. I didn’t expect to miss him as his schedule fills with activities and responsibilities that’s don’t involve me.
I have regrets. I wish I could have been less cross with him. Less critical. More accepting. I wish I could have been happier when I found out I was pregnant and done a better job celebrating all his milestones. I did the very best I could with all I had at the time and I know he knows that. My son has the biggest, most forgiving heart of anyone I know.
He can self soothe. He ‘fact checks’ and doesn’t let other people tell him how to feel. He asks for what he needs assertively and respectfully. He strives to protect the vulnerable from threat. At the end of the day, I couldn’t ask for more.
May his path be ever blessed with safe, supportive people on his journey