My firstborn will graduate from high school this week. Despite the instinctual inclination to reflect back on the past 18 years and do what another senior mom I know has done—latching on to every last thing he’s done as a senior as that final time he’d do this or that—I’ve managed to avoid getting maudlin and misty-eyed and mourn what was, rather than cheer what is and what is to be.
I’ve been determined not to look back, only look forward. But then I started reading a book about a new mom and her experiences in those happy, dark, early days of motherhood and in a flash flood of memories, my son’s blink-of-an-eye 18 years has spiraled through my mind and it’s all I can do to not allow those betraying tears to make an unsolicited appearance. I won’t cry, I just won’t.
But then I think back to that day he was born. Determined to not come out, weeks after his due date, he was forced out through a long and arduous labor, his head distorted out of proportion from the effort. And after too many hours of grueling physical exhaustion I found myself the proud owner of a spanking new cone-headed little boy, with whom I had absolutely no idea what to do but also with whom I knew instantly I was smitten.
I would be lying to you if I said I remember those early days with unbridled fondness. Pretty much nothing about them comes to mind as highlights. Well, except his entire existence, his impossibly tiny digits, his delicate baby’s breath, his wide-eyed gaze of wonderment (when he wasn’t crying). Overall he was a very agreeable baby, except for the fact that he was vehemently opposed to sleep. Despite his hefty over-nine pound size, it was nearing a year until he finally slept more than a few unbroken hours in a row. Thus that sleep-deprivation—the very thing that’s used as a device of torture—did take away my ability to focus on that early time as anything but stunningly fatiguing, overwhelmingly overwhelming, and as best I can recall, I think I felt like a five-year old tasked with running a nuclear power plant, such was my lack of experience in the matter. Hell, I’d never even babysat a child before, let alone had the onerous task of being responsible for one’s entire existence thrust upon me as it was.
Little by little I got the hang of this parenting gig, and days lapsed into weeks that lapsed into months that somehow, when I wasn’t looking, or perhaps when I was wishing them away during a particularly trying time in life, my kids grew up on me.
Way back when my son was a baby, I felt ill-equipped to handle the whole parenting job. I was without a doubt thrown for a loop—nobody quite told me how taxing it could be. Or how emotional, or how gut-wrenching, or how enchanting, heart-swelling, pride-inducing. Truly, I was under the delusional impression that babies were born, they were bad when they were two, and that was that. Somehow in the whole notion of “having a baby” the reality of it was lost in the shuffle.
But just as nobody advised me about how bone-crushingly hard parenting could be at times, nobody told me what a great joy it would be to watch as your children make their way in the world, and develop personalities and skills and talents and all of these other ingredients that when thrown together miraculously make up these amazing souls, these people who, if they weren’t your own kids, you’d want to know them, you’d choose to spend time in their company, you’d burst with admiration for just about everything they represent.
Dammit, I swore I was not going to get maudlin, or weepy, or stupid girly sad over this. But I guess that’s about as impossible a mandate as letting a Labrador retriever loose in a dog food factory and telling them they can’t eat it.
Yeah, if I let myself feel mournful for the loss of what was, I will be terribly sad, missing the many milestones we’ve enjoyed along the way. But I’d rather focus on what will be, with a beautiful future and child in many ways equipped to handle the hurdles he will have to mount along the way. One whose presence, in a few short months when he leaves for college, will be missed even more than were he a physical part of me. I’m really not going to cry.