Tag Archives: parenting

A Dozen Years

A dozen years have passed since I became a mother to a son.  As I’ve said frequently before, having never had brothers, having never seen firsthand what it was like to mother a boy, I didn’t have a good idea of what that would entail. I imagined lots of very smelly dirty socks and climbing on furniture, fewer dress up parties, less concern about hairdos and clothes.

I was totally right and totally wrong about all of it.

Your dirty clothes are numerous and the smelliest I have ever encountered.  You climb and jump and run and throw and fall and catch and just physically bend the world to the will of your body in ways I have never seen anyone do. As though you have to feel what will happen when you (insert physical activity here) to believe it is true.  Smelly socks and non-stop movement, I had those right.

But I was completely wrong about the rest of it.  Dress up parties abound in our house, and although they occasionally feature camouflage and Nerf guns, they also frequently involve blazers and ties and skinny jeans and an attention to what shoes look good with what outfit that is unmatched by any other 12 year old I know, boy or girl.  Your interest in your hair is  boundless to a degree that borders on comical, and certainly outpaces the time and effort spent on hair by the other five people in this house combined.  Your care and concern for your hairdo was so well-known in your school in England, it was worked into the school play as a punchline.  (You DO have really great hair, though, I cannot deny that.)

I had assigned these stupid gender roles to little boys in my head that I soon learned were completely a product of what society had taught me and were in no way representative of what boys are and can be. 

You are a sensitive soul and you wear your emotions — all of them: joy, anger, sadness, fear — right on your sleeve.  Far more than your sister, actually, you are willing and able to say how you feel without embarrassment.  (Boys and girls don’t have to do things the way boys and girls have traditionally been told to do things.  Lesson learned.)

You love sports, yes, and you generally excel in all athletic endeavors, but you also love to dance.  You’re a really, really good dancer.  You dance all the time, and all the ways, including tap dance, which I love love love to see you do and which I need to find an instructor for here in Massachusetts so you can keep doing it.  (There are no activities for boys and for girls.  There are just activities, and any person can do any of them.  For real.)

You really do care and pay attention to fashion and style, unapologetically, and have done so since you were pretty little.  You have good taste and a good eye and you like to dress up, even if it’s just for a random Monday at school.  Given the choice, you’d take a suit and tie over soccer shorts and a hoodie.  (Fashion is not exclusive to girls. Looking good and wanting to look good isn’t girly.)

You defy expectations and you prove that boys are never one thing, just like girls aren’t.

Being a mother to a son has changed me in ways I never anticipated and I sorely needed.  Your very presence in my life, and the presence of your brothers after you, has made me a better, more well-rounded person with a more thorough understanding of boys and girls and the dynamic between them. 

In the last year, we’ve done some amazing things. We traveled of course, and visited a few new countries to add to your list: Austria, Spain (mainland), Belgium, the Netherlands, and Greece, and we visited some repeats that we loved and wanted to see again: France, Germany, Italy.  We have climbed on mountains and sailed across seas and explored cities and tried new foods and through it all you have maintained the same sense of wonder and gratitude that I so appreciate. 

But you also traveled alone on a school trip for eight days, driving across Europe to ski the Dolomites in Italy with your friends.  It was really hard to let you go, but we knew as soon as you got home that it had been so good for you.  You’d matured so much in your week away that it was physically imprinted on you and obvious in your manner from the moment you got off the bus.  It was one of those breath-taking instances of parenting when you literally see your baby grow.

Your dad and I have had multiple conversations about how proud we are of how mature you’ve become.  You easily and comfortably talk to anyone, children and adults alike, and you are thoughtful in what you say and you listen to what others are saying and you’re just enjoyable to be around.  Your siblings may argue that point, because you haven’t quite translated that behavior into your interactions with them all the time, but occasionally we get these glimpses of the grown-up versions of all of you hanging out together and I know we’ll get there in time and I really think it’s going to be fun.  You guys are awesome.

You’ve adapted really well to our big move home and another major transition to a new school and making new friends.  I know you miss England — you tell me, cause you talk about how you feel — but you also know that being here is great too.  You’ll always miss the people you can’t have right near you and it’s the curse of having been lucky enough to have lived there.  I’m grateful for social media that allows you to chat with your England friends pretty consistently and keep those friendships going.  You’ll always, always have a place there. (Not to mention some school records in the Sports Day cricket ball throw that I think could stand a while!)

You’ve thrown yourself into your new life, taking advantage of every opportunity to play with your cousins, to swim in our new pool, to explore our new home.  You are adapting to the new school really well, although that was always going to be the hardest part after the school you were in for the last three years.  You’ve been so helpful with the unpacking and the moving furniture and the painting walls and every last little bit of it. 

We’re looking ahead to a year full of adjustments and new and different adventures and I know you’ll face it all with the same optimism and confidence you bring to everything, and I know that, as I have for the last 12 years, I will be so grateful to view the world through your eyes and so proud to have you as my son.  Happy 12th birthday, Gabey baby.  I love you the most.

Fourteenth

On Sunday, the day before your birthday, your new cousin was born: 7lb 6oz of tiny gorgeous perfect baby. Then on Monday you turned 14, and I sat at the hospital that morning holding the new little girl in our family who can basically fit in the palms of my hands and thinking of you, now nearly as tall as me and about to start high school and I could not begin to wrap my head around where the last fourteen years have gone. 

I looked at your aunt holding her brand new girl, exhausted and in love, and with all those years of parenting stretching out in front of her and I can’t lie, even though I know how all-encompassing and demanding and soul-consuming it is to have a new baby, I was jealous — I want eighteen more years with you before you go off and begin your own adventure, not four. I want every minute of the last fourteen years back to do over again because I have loved being your mother for all of it.  I look at you and I look at your beautiful new little cousin and I can exactly picture the moment you were born and I am just overwhelmed with how much has happened and how much changes and how fast it all seems to have gone by.

From the moment you have children, older parents tell you to enjoy every minute because it happens in a blink.  When you’re up four times a night nursing an infant, when you’re chasing after a wobbly toddler just learning to walk, when you’re buckling car seats and cutting up every bit of food into tiny bite-sized pieces and cleaning up toys for the millionth time a day, it’s easy to take the time for granted.  It’s easy to wish for the next stage, for the end of a long and tedious day. The days drag by, for sure; but it’s also true that the years fly.

If I’m being honest, I don’t really want to redo the baby years.  I love where we are now and who you’ve become and how all my kids are old enough that we can do really, really cool fun things all together.  But man, I want it to last forever, and I know it can’t.

Now you are about to start high school.  HIGH SCHOOL! You’ve grown up into this amazingly bright and intelligent person, with opinions on everything that are generally well-thought out and perceptive.  You’ve got a quick wit, a fantastic sense of humor (as long as you’re not the punchline of the joke), and a goofy side that makes me so happy when it appears.  You’re fun and you’re funny.  You’re organized and meticulous.  You’re smart and analytical.  You’re determined and brave.

You’re about to make yet another big transition to a new school, but I feel like the last move prepared you for this one; you know that even when you go in knowing no one, you’ll make friends and have amazing experiences.  I am so excited to see how you grow and change and thrive in this new place, just like you did in England. 

And as you’ve pointed out to me before, it’s easier here – we DO know people, we’re surrounded by family and friends and that makes it feel like home right away.  I really want to make sure that you feel rooted here as quickly as possible so that when you do head off to college in four short years, you know where home is without a doubt.

My girl, as you get ready to start the next chapter, here’s what I want you to remember:

Every place, every experience is what you make of it.  Go into it all with optimism and hope and make the best of everything even when things aren’t great. Speak your mind.  Try new things.  Be nice to your brothers even when you don’t want to be.  Be kind, be kind, be kind and be mindful of how your actions affect other people.  Remember how lucky we all are, in almost everything.   Use your talents for good.  Get enough sleep and exercise, even when it’s tempting to be a lazy teenager.  Be nice to your parents; remember we’re people too, with feelings and lives and ideas and goals.  Embrace what you love, regardless of what other people think.  

And more than any other thing, know how very much you are loved, right down to the core of who you are, right from the moment when you were that tiny baby I could hold in the palms of my hands, and always know how very, very grateful your dad and I are to be your parents.

Happy birthday baby girl.  I love you a bushel and a peck.

Liesl and Smee

Her first lead role, with solo singing and several costume changes and (yikes) almost-kissing a boy.  Since she hadn’t really practiced at home, and certainly not at top volume, her first song caught me almost entirely off guard. 

I am sixteen, going on seventeen…

I knew she could sing, but I didn’t know she could SING. She danced across the stage, graceful and so composed and she just nailed it.

My heart couldn’t have been more full.  That she received rave reviews from people who are not me was gratifying, because I often think that my unabashed adoration of my children is the result of maternal bias. Other people telling me that they are, indeed, as amazing as I think they are is reassuring.  And my goodness, she was just so good and she loved it so much.

And then, a week later, his first speaking role too.  At eleven years old it’s easy to imagine he’d be embarrassed or think it wasn’t cool to put his whole self into it, but this boy does nothing halfway and he loves what he loves wholeheartedly and without reservation or pretense.  He was INTO it. 

He was so excited about the costumes and the make-up, and he kept it all a secret even though he is the actual literal world’s worst secret-keeper.  Striped shirt and rosy cheeks and thick mutton-chop sideburns and the obligatory specs perched on the end of his nose, and he loved every minute of it.

He played his part so well, the comic foil to an amazing performance by Captain Hook, who  also happens to be one of his very best friends and favorite people. 

And then as the cast marched down the center aisle to exit the stage on the last song, spotlights bright on their shining faces, he blew me a kiss when he walked by me and I could see the pride and joy and excitement shining in his eyes through the tears glistening in mine.

My babies. On the stage.  Owning it and loving it and my mama heart just bursting with pride because they had done it all themselves.  I didn’t help them memorize lines (they helped each other, actually – even better!), I didn’t force them to rehearse or practice even one time. 

Every second of glory is theirs, and all I can do is stand in awe.

Individuals

I snapped a picture as the gondola rolled down the canal, the sunlight in my eyes blocking my view of the screen, so all I could do was hope it came out.

Later, I looked at it and my breath caught in my throat.

If you’d asked me to capture each of my children’s personalities exactly in photo form, this is what you’d get.

She is smiling at the camera, hair perfect, sunglasses perfect, smile perfect. Confident and happy and just a little sassy.  Smile, I said, and she did, and it was perfect because she knows how to make it so.  I don’t think it’s vanity, but it’s a self-awareness I certainly didn’t possess at thirteen, and an acceptance that it’s actually okay to care.  It’s not pretentious, not forced, and she’s not embarrassed by it.  She is a perfectionist, and she does live in a world where every moment can be insta-worthy, but I like to think she balances that out.  We sometimes think that only the ugly moments are real, but the pretty ones are too.  As long as we can accept both as truth, we’re all doing okay.  She’s more than okay.

He, the oldest, heard me say smile but waited a heartbeat to do what he was told.  He is purposely still staring off in a different direction, a feigned look of mild confusion on his face.  Hair coiffed to perfection though.  He knows what’s going on, knows what we want him to do, knows how to do it, but he likes to pretend he doesn’t sometimes.  Wants the world explained to him in minute detail, wants to ask questions that have already been answered and wants me to answer them again and again.  A split second later he was grinning at the camera, but I missed it and he thought that was funny.  Innocence and mischief, that one.

He, the middle, did not hear me say smile and is not bothered by it.  He was not listening.  He is leaning over the side of the boat, which we told him not to do, trailing his hand in the water, which we told him not to do, and he is not bothered by the fact that we will tell him both of those things again.  He knows he will not fall in.  Knows he will not get hurt.  Knows exactly what he’s capable of, knows what he wants to do and how to do it, and knows how far he can go without getting into real trouble.  Because he knows we also know what he is capable of.  He is independent and fierce and determined, and humors us by following the the rules we lay out before him, but not always.  Not always.

He, the youngest, is in the center of it all, confident and grinning and happy and posing like a king, letting all of us orbit him in his glory.  He has no doubt in any fiber of his body that anything is less than wonderful, and that radiates right out of him at all times.  He is completely secure and sure that everyone loves him, that everything will be fine, and that life is good.  He is right.

I don’t know what I did to get so lucky to have these little individuals for my own for a few years, these little people whose personalities are so completely their own, even when I do occasionally see glimpses of myself or Matt or another relative in them.  They came this way, and I am just lucky enough to get to steer them along their course for a little while.

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