“And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”
-Elton John, Your Song
My brother died 10 days before my wedding. I was caught between suffocating despair and the happy prospect of marrying the man I love. But I didn’t think I’d ever feel pure joy again. I couldn’t imagine joy in a world without my brother.
Six months later we lost my Grandpa. My big strong Grandpa. The Purple Heart Marine with the big booming voice. I will always believe that he died of a broken heart after the loss of my brother. A few weeks after we lost my Grandpa I found out I was pregnant. The sun started to peek through the darkness, just a little.
Nine months later my beautiful baby boy was born. He came into the world wailing and thrashing. “Feisty” was the word that came to mind. I proudly proclaimed him my feisty strong willed boy. Barrel chested and dark hair. He was strong and vibrant and ready to take on life.
But I was scared out of my mind. I was experienced with babies. I had spent my high school years babysitting. But I felt like I didn’t know how to do this. This, the most important thing I would ever do. I felt inept and inadequate.
I was scared I wasn’t feeding him enough. I was scared that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was scared that he was in a pain and I didn’t know it. I was scared that there was something wrong with him that I was missing. I was scared that I was screwing it all up. I was scared that he knew that I had no clue.
I was scared that he would get sick and die. The impossible such a real possibility to my family.
Fear dominated the first few months of my son’s life. Every doubt about myself magnified in the face of motherhood. Every fear I had after watching my brother suffer intensified as in imminent threat.
And I worried that he could sense my fear. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want him to grow up neurotic. I didn’t want my stuff to affect him, to change him. Another thing to worry about.
As the months went on, he proved me wrong. He defied all of my worries and fears. He was thriving. He was full of life and provided endless hours of entertainment for me and my husband. I would look at him in awe. He was a part of me. I couldn’t’ believe that something so beautiful and amazing came from me. I mentally attributed it all to my husband.
While I was floundering in fear and worry my husband took to parenting as if he’d been doing it his whole life. He took over when I couldn’t calm our son down. I would watch in wonder as he would play with him. I watched with growing love for my husband as he soothed our crying baby. And secretly, in a place that I’m not proud of, I felt jealous. He was better at this than I was. But at the same time I was so grateful. My husband was a soothing presence for my frayed nerves. I was grateful that the man I loved was a great dad. I banked on his strength and confidence to make up for what I was lacking as a parent.
Now my son is fourteen years old. I’m watching him grow into an amazing young man. He’s compassionate and smart and funny and good. He’s good. He seems unscathed by those early years when his mom was fighting anxiety and fear. He’s happy and confident.
I watch him play with his little sister and I see a glimpse of the father he will be. A loving, nurturing dad. Like my husband. I see him smile and laugh with his friends and I see the natural charisma that his father carries. I watch him run, swim, play and I see the natural athlete that is my husband. I see him crack a joke, his dry subtle wit reminiscent of the humor that made me fall in love with my husband.
I listen to my son ask questions when we’re in the car. Questions about world events. I listen as he talks about Syria. And Egypt. And North Korea. Israel and Palestine. He wants to talk about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He wants to watch the morning news and catch up on what’s going on in the world. I listen to him as he gets mad, I see his frustration and anger towards people that hate. He doesn’t understand. And I see a little bit of me.
I see the look he gives me when I’m fishing for a dollar for a man with a sign on the corner. He takes the ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hands it to me. His look says it all. He needs it more than you, mom. On another occasion I watch with overwhelming emotion and pride as he pulls a few dollars out of his own pocket when I am out of cash and a homeless veteran is standing at the stop light.
I watch as he insists on buying a small toy for his little sister. Even though I know he wants to save up for the latest video game, he’s willing to hold off a little longer to bring a smile to her face.
I watch all of this and I feel more joy than I ever thought possible. My son opened up my heart again fourteen years ago. He proved me wrong. The pain of losing my brother isn’t gone, but I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t eclipse the joy. The two can co-exist.
I watch all of this and I feel pride. My son’s a good kid. I think he’ll grow up to be an amazing person. One who works hard and who cares. Cares about those he loves and about those he doesn’t even know. I look at him and I know that I did some things right. I know that along with my husband we’re raising a good person. And I realize now that our raising him isn’t the remarkable thing. We’ve done pretty good, we’ve made some mistakes for sure. Fourteen years later I feel like the good outweighs the bad. Our son is living proof of that. But we can’t take all the credit.
I’ve grown in to motherhood. All on my son’s dime. He had to endure my learning curve. His burden similar to that of many first borns. His siblings owe him a debt of gratitude for him teaching me how to be a mother.
As I look back on the past fourteen years, I see how far my husband and I have come. How much we’ve gone through, how much we’ve navigated. As I look back I realize that the credit isn’t ours alone.
Thank you, my sweet beautiful boy. You’ve been patient and you’ve navigated this path with us.
Thank you for taking our lessons, for enduring our long lectures. For humoring us when we think we’re cool. Thank you for still letting me into your world. For sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you.
Thank you for allowing me to feel joy again.
Thank you for raising some pretty o.k. parents.
Thank you for being you.
Because who you are couldn’t make me any prouder.