My eldest son blew through me like a hurricane for nine long months, intent on getting to his final destination—which was, namely, anywhere outside of my body.
Not one to be easily confined, he clued me in early to his preferences. Sick for roughly eight of those nine months, I wondered what had overcome me. And how someone the size of a raspberry could wreak so much havoc. As I wretched in the ladies’ room and wondered how I’d make it through another meeting without nausea winning, I tried to remember how much I wanted this little guy.
And I so did. Want him, that is. But the loss of control threw me. “Good God,” I said. Often.
I had left my parents’ house years before to move to a bigger city–in part because as the youngest of six daughters, someone in my house always thought they knew better than me. At a certain age, that becomes a bingo game you know you’ll never win. I moved on to freedom in the Big City, at least for 11 years or so. And then someone the size of a raspberry took over. Guess what? He too thought he knew better than me.
He thinks this often, to this very day. He frequently storms out of my house, ranting about knowing what he is doing. He doesn’t. Know what he is doing, that is. Few headstrong 18-year-olds do. I try very hard not to point this out on a regular basis. Sometimes, it requires a zen beyond my capacity and I find myself in the laundry room, violently shoving blankets that probably don’t need washing into the machine. Hey, you have your ways—I have mine. At least no one is harmed in reactionary laundering. Not yet, at least.
The Universe tried to clue me in. It really did. In dreams that now seem prescient, I held my newborn baby boy. He roared, with the head of a lion. You may laugh, but that’s closer to the truth than I can tell you. He has been roaring ever since.
During my pregnancy, I was able to stomach very little. What I did get down was usually tuna or watermelon. Yes, I know that’s not exactly what doctors now tell pregnant women to eat. But, it’s what my tiny dictator would allow. And I laugh wryly as I think of my eldest’s personality. Despite a closet filled with many options, he generally has always worn only four or five shirts. His favorites become well-worn; the rest always hang unused. I guess in clothing—as in prenatal foods—his tastes are distinct. He tolerates little outside of those margins.
After I ate, his father and I would watch my stomach for entertainment. It looked like aliens were duking it out in there. He flipped and rolled in the most uncomfortable ways, 21 ½ inches in a belly not even close to that long. I guess he was doing a little remodeling of the living quarters.
When I became pregnant with my youngest, I prayed for an easier time. It came. Sick only for the “normal” first eight weeks of pregnancy, in my dreams of him I could not tell if he was boy or girl. Only that he had a gentle soul. I rarely got poked or prodded by my tiny tenant. He seemed to know he was just renting and was fine with the accommodations. “Thank God,” I said. With a sigh and a smile.
I knew he had a penchant for ham sandwiches and spicy chicken long before he entered this world—not because I was too nauseous to eat anything else but because of mild cravings. Those were so much more in line with his personality. This was no hurricane. He was a gentle sea breeze rolling into my world. And he still rolls that way much of the time.
I love these boys immensely and equally but relate to them differently. My eldest still likes to blast in like a hurricane, dictate terms, keep the parameters of a relationship per his specifications. And my youngest still needs to be coaxed to put himself in the equation. To make his needs known. While I pride myself on being consistent, their differences call for different sides of me to show up at the table. “Show me, God,” I say. Every day.
For those of you who think you’ve “molded” your child, I’ll stay mum. You can stop reading now before I go there.
Ha. Molded. As if we are master craftspeople who create a soul, instead of being handed one from the divine ether. I have seen many friends think surely their children will be model citizens because they’ve read all the right parenting books. And gone to church. And avoided dyes in their food. And attended mommy-and-me yoga classes, with frequent apple-picking sessions at the orchard. And never raised their voice with their spouse in front of the children. And worked. Or not worked. And played Mozart. Or not.
Most of us don’t want to admit that much of this thing we call parenting is a crapshoot. Stop by any book club and listen to mothers critique those they deem misguided. “I mean, I’m sure she’s trying but they really need to discipline that boy.” “Well, what can you expect when . . .” I won’t even finish. You can fill in the blank. You’ve probably heard it—or said it—before.
I’m not advocating for throw-up-your-hands parenting. I’m just ruminating on the souls who decided to enter my family. The lessons I have tried to teach them. Love. Truth. Laughter. And the lessons they came to teach me, whether as a hurricane or a gentle breeze. Patience. Consistency. Vulnerability. It is a two-way street. Anyone who thinks it’s not is either very lucky and unchallenged by their children, or very misguided in thinking they can run roughshod over those children’s spirits.
The parents I love—the ones I just want to hug—are those who accept their children’s souls. No matter how different. It’s not as hard as most of us make it. Even if at times, it’s not pretty. Or they’re not. Or we’re not.
Show me, God.
Often. With a sigh and a smile. Every day.
As I look back, I realize these words comprised a prayer through the decades. A prayer I’d utter—sometimes softly, sometimes through gritted teeth, sometimes with raised voice. But a prayer nonetheless. Staccato, pieced together like a messy patchwork quilt, over days and hours, weeks and months. Over eldest and youngest. Over my own evolution as a mother.