A letter to my son on his 7th birthday

Every year I write a letter to my kids on their birthday. I hope to one day give each kid a book of these letters – as way of apology and explanation. 

Dear Luke,

You turn seven today. SEVEN! This seems impossible, nearly as impossible as reconciling that the boy in front of me is the same as the baby I took home from the hospital. You are a million things that I never could have imagined on that day seven years ago when I tried, and failed, to button you into the too-small outfit that I thought to take you home in.

My baby is 7

The most astonishing thing about parenthood is the fact that my children are actual people- people who are different from me and have their own minds. You, my boy, are a person I’m so happy to know; a person unlike any other I’ve ever known; a person who is nothing like I ever expected.

I might have imagined tall towers of blocks. But they’re not you. You are the impetus, the intensity, and the energy it takes to build them. I might have imagined scraped knees and wet sneakers. But they’re not you. You are the racket, the commotion, and the spirit that it takes to fall a thousand and one times, get back up, and run into the wet with your shoes on. (Who am I kidding? You never wear your shoes. You are the boy who is barefoot no matter what.)

My words fall short of painting a full picture of all that you are. You are the chaotic blur between my organized thought and vocabulary.

You are the blur

This special thing you are- it is a plum I hold in my hands. Tender, impossibly sweet, and a complete mess. My job is to usher this plum through childhood unbruised. If you can retain all of your plumminess into adulthood, you will truly be one of the world’s most special people.

Your exceptionally strong will and unwavering moral code will serve you well in life. You stand up to any perceived injustice, especially if done against you or your little sister. I love this about you and I hope that sense of right stays with you and speaks louder than your peers do as you continue down the sometimes perilous course of childhood. The people you care about along the way will be lucky to have you in their corner.

Your innate feeling of protection over your sister is incredible. You will protect her from me, even when I’m coming down on her for something terrible she did to you. Please continue to do this. All evidence points to you being a pretty big guy as you grow up, and, right or wrong, I’d like you to intimidate the heck out of all boys who look at your sister.

Speaking of big guys, I can’t pick you up anymore. At all. This means that I’m left with only verbal options and facial expressions when I want to convince you to do something you might not want to do. The transition from me being able to physically “encourage” you, to you needing to listen to me based on your opinion of my authority has been bumpy at times. What might be defiance in a seven-year-old is something altogether different in a man. My job is to somehow curb the contrariness without crushing the chutzpah. That’s a tricky one- one of the many tricky things I’m charged with as your mother.

So much about you is surprising and special to me, but nothing more so than your capacity to love. Your love is huge and boundless. Staggering. As an object of this affection, it can certainly be overwhelming. How can I teach you to keep some of it to yourself without teaching you that so much love is wrong? Who can endure the number of hugs you want to give? Who can reciprocate with as much enthusiasm? I hope that one day you find someone who can. That’s what I want for you most of all.

Love

Oh, enthusiasm! Wow. I never knew that a person could have so much of it. Whether you are enthusiastically joyful or enthusiastically angry, you are most definitely committed and passionate. More so than anyone I have ever met. I love this about you so incredibly much. As a life-long cynic, I have a lot to learn from your unabashed zeal for life.

Jump in

Happy birthday, my astonishing boy. I love you so much and can’t wait to see what the future holds. So bring it, seven, bring it on!

Love,

Mom

You can see more birthday letters to my kids here.

It’s not my fault – my teacher was a baby

It’s entirely possible that I’ve learned more from my children than they’ve learned from me. This is worrying because my children know next to nothing. Thankfully, they’re not responsible for teaching me any facts, of which they know none, or any language skills, or else I’d be difficult to understand, or any manners or social graces, or else I’d be a pariah. What they have taught me is how to parent.

I think all parents learn how to do this parenting schtick from their children. Get one of those happy, sleepy babies and you learn that parenting isn’t so tough so long as the child’s needs are met. Get a pliant, eager to please child and you learn that patient guidance and consistency are key. What kind of child you have, and thus what kind of parent you learn to be, becomes the lens through which you judge all other parents.

Our firstborn children really mold us. Any subsequent children come as a surprise and we need to relearn all that we thought we knew. Many parents take this opportunity to humbly regret all the judgement they might have passed on others because they finally got the difficult child the rest of us wished upon them.

My sequence is opposite. Luke has been a challenge since the day he was born – at 10 lbs 3 oz. My c-section was my first hint that nothing for the rest of my parenting days would ever go according to my plan. I wanted to be the baby wearing mom, whose baby smiled and cooed and slept peacefully in his sling while I went about my business. This was not to be. None of it. Luke hated being in a sling, Ergo, Bjorn, or any other device that I tried. When front-facing he’d mash his face against me, screaming, scraping off his own skin against my shirt with the vigor of his face-mashing. When he was a bit older he could tolerate facing forward in the Bjorn, but I could no longer carry him in one because he weighed too much. The Ergo was a no-go as he then still refused to face forward and I never figured out how to get the kid onto my back.

I learned that parenting is hard. That I basically couldn’t go anywhere or do anything unless I was willing to endure Luke’s screaming, baleful looks from sympathetic moms, uninvited advice from everyone, and judging eyes from all non-parents or parents of easier babies.

As Luke grew up he became many things, but easy was never one of them. (Still holding out hope on this one!) He did, however, become fastidious about wiping his face on his sleeve after every bite of food. This is pretty gross and untidy and I throw napkins at him constantly, but he is always clean.

Sally was an entirely different baby. Ever since she grew out of her colic, which I’m still surprised I survived, she has been easy going, happy, pliant, and eager for approval. I had to learn how to parent this much simpler* child, and I’m still learning. One thing I have not learned yet, is to wipe her face after eating as she does not fastidiously self-clean on her sleeve.

I never notice her crusty face until I’m out in public. Then I notice that she is the only child with a full milk-crust goatee and jelly stripes up to her ears. And again, even with my easy child, I find myself looking like a careless mother. “But my older kid is a sleeve wiper,” seems like a lame thing to say. And anyway, that doesn’t speak so well for my parenting either.

Oh well. I have mostly come to terms with the fact that I either am or appear to be a lousy mom no matter what combination of kids I’m out in public with.

*Don’t get mad, I don’t mean stupid.

A Letter to People Without Children

Dear People Without Children:

Hi. I used to be one of you. While my life has changed into an almost unrecognizable version of itself from, say, 7 years ago, it’s not so long that I don’t remember. I recall just what it was like when my responsibilities included: my job, my spouse, my apartment, my social life. Back then, a day off would mean tending to some combination of all of those things.

These days, a day “off” is so dissimilar than those of yore, that it ought to have a totally different name. Let’s call it “Marty”. Marty is a day when my kids are in camp or school for a few to several hours. When you hear that a parent has a Marty on his/her hands, please don’t ask, “So, what are your plans for the day?”

This question makes us feel bad and uncomfortable. We expect that you expect some answer that includes items like sitting in a coffee shop, reading a book, going for a long bike ride, getting a manicure, shopping for fun, or just lazing around. We feel really lame when we have to tell you the truth.

Today I’m having a Marty. I was asked that very question. Here’s the truth:

  • After a solid 40 minutes of driving and dropping people off, I will workout.
  • Upon returning home I’ll sort a giant pile of dirty clothes into lights, darks, and sheets/towels.
  • I’ll put a load into the washing machine.
  • I’ll spend the next 30 minutes preparing dinner which includes trying to cut all the fat off of the on-sale organic chicken thighs I bought. (I’ll remember why I always buy breasts instead.) Then I’ll attempt to turn the mangled remains into pretty 1 inch cubes.
  • I’ll mix up a marinade and toss in the chicken.
  • Then I’ll move the wash into the dryer and reload the machine.
  • Then, I’ll sit down at the computer to check email, Facebook, and write this post.
  • I’ll go downstairs to find that the dryer is not yet dry, but the second wash is done. I’ll do what I always do, and always regret, and take the wet clothes out and put in a new wash, creating a dryer bottleneck.
  • Now I get to take a shower! I realize that I’m shivering because I’ve been in sweaty workout clothes this whole time.
  • After my shower, I’ll unpack the three still-packed bags I have from my last three weekends away. This will create more laundry.
  • While I’m elbow deep in my closet, I might sort out some clothes that are ugly or don’t fit and add them to my giveaway pile.
  • This will inspire me to do the same in the kids’ rooms.
  • Now the dryer will be done. I load in the wet pile from the floor, empty the washing machine, and put in another load. Still a bottleneck.
  • I’ll bring the first dry load up for folding.
  • I’ll get distracted by Facebook.
  • Now it’s early afternoon and I’ll realize that I haven’t had lunch yet. I’m STARVING. I decide to make a very healthy and reasonable lunch.
  • While I wait for my lunch to be ready, I’ll snack on everything within arm’s reach. I will not notice the snacking at all. Tomorrow when I get on the scale, I’ll shake my fist at the heavens for the injustice of it all considering how little I ate yesterday (today).
  • Shit! I’d better start folding that laundry. Let me have a cup of coffee first. I’ll push the button on the Keurig.
  • I will forget about that cup of coffee and it will sit there until tomorrow.
  • As I begin to fold laundry while watching a DVR’d What Not to Wear, I’ll get a call which will lead me to do some other task. It might be calling the mechanic, doing some research for my husband, making doctor’s appointments. I can’t predict it. But it will happen.
  • All of a sudden I’ll realize I’m late getting my kids. How am I always late?
  • Kids home, house destroyed within minutes. That basket of unfolded, clean laundry is an invitation for them to go bonkers and throw shit everywhere.
  • Which reminds me that I need to take the next load out of the dryer and reload it.
  • Now I need to prepare the rest of dinner. Chicken out of the marinade and onto skewers for the bbq.
  • I will need to wash my hands several times in this process to tend to the kids’ needs. Kids + raw meat = parental nightmare.
  • Next I’ll prepare the veggies and sides.
  • Stop hitting her.
  • Stop annoying him.
  • OK, I’ll sit with you for a minute.
  • We’ll turn on the TV.
  • This is ALWAYS when my husband arrives. He sees: a house that looks like an after picture from a natural disaster, dinner 2/3 prepared, and me lounging around in front of the TV.

So, that’s the real answer to my plans for my day off Marty. This is why I vaguely say something about errands and change the subject.

So, please, Childless People, stop asking us.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

A Mom Who Needs to Check the Dryer Now