Your children can make you cry, they just can, whether they mean to or not, and sometimes they really mean to. Teenagers can be particularly harsh; I have a friend who says sometimes teenagers are just not good people.
I have two teenagers at 16 and 19 and a post-teenager at 21. But any therapist or any book on parenting will tell you it is part of them growing up, creating autonomy, achieving their independence, separating from you. And you from them; it is a reason so many empty nesters move to condos with small bedrooms and little storage space.
Even in families you assume have no internal friction or cause for upheaval, there are private moments in that household when the ride is bumpy. And if you are a single parent, there is no other shock absorber available.
In the past 15 years of raising three sons by myself, there have been plenty of nights when I cried in my room after the boys were asleep, saying over and over, “I can’t do this alone.” And there were miles upon miles driving alone in the car when I cried, fresh from an argument over the phone with one of the boys over curfew or chores or whatever.
And when I got home, I would read a son’s apology in a text. “Love you,” is how each one signs off. I text back, “2.”
There were nights, weeks, years when I was depleted from conflict over homework or groundings or even just attitudes; that I was angry their father chose to leave them, to disappear physically, financially and emotionally. It is such an egregious, aggressive, unnatural act of omission.
Mostly I was astounded that any parent would think such a decision was even an option from any menu of choices. That it was deliberate, that it was planned, that after more than six years of complete absence has not yet woken up and said to himself in the mirror, “What have I done?” and try to right his wrongs.
But then I remind myself that he left his sons because he knew I could do it all. And that the boys would always come first for me. And he was right.
Lately I cry more, most likely it is because of the Femara I take now after my breast cancer and the Tamoxifen I took before that, before my last surgery. The side effects of those cancer medications are mood swings that can turn me into a hormonal witch’s brew of sensitivity and vulnerability. A distinct brand of bleakness happens when I am overtired. Things look worse then; with some rest and perspective, I can bounce back, see more clearly, be more positive, more like myself.
I know I could not have weathered the boys’ high school years without Coach Powell, all the boys’ high school wrestling coach, in their lives. I simply could not; he is so much to all of them—mentor, friend, role model, confidante, father figure-- not just to my sons, but also to scores of young men from all brands of families. His mark on my sons is permanent.
The other day Coach Powell called to see how I was, knowing from Colin that things had been rough at work and that my relationship of six years with a man I loved deeply had just ended.
“Just checking in,” he said.
It is the outside support for my sons that keeps me afloat as a mother. Whether it is from Coach Powell, the other wrestling parents or my brothers and sisters, this family knitted together by circumstance, chance or relation has circumvented many sidesteps and welded a bright future for each of my boys.
No matter how many books or articles I read on raising boys and young men, it felt that no matter what I said or did, I didn’t have it exactly right. From birth they were always boy-boys, alpha males, rough and tumble, igniting new energy every second, acting first, questioning later. What came out of their mouths and popped in their heads most of the time never occurred to me. I wondered why they couldn’t sit down and relax, why they always had to be in motion. And why they would need to go, go, go, go, run, run, run when I wanted to relax. Why couldn’t they be more like me?
Because they can’t. Because they aren’t. Part of it is gender, a lot of it is gender; I am different from my sons in the ways they act and think and behave. And it is part of many reasons why I adore them.
When the boys were very small—under 5-- I used to put at least two of them in the bathtub at once for the evening ritual; it saved time. Bathtime was never a calm affair; they were always jumping up, flopping down, throwing rubber ducks and squeeze toys, making beards of the bubbles and belly flopping to see who could make the biggest splash. But I loved it. I loved how they smelled like rain and lavender and chamomile depending on the shampoo; I loved touching their smooth, small arms and shampooing their perfectly shaped heads. They were so happy at times the perfection filled me.
When I watch them now as they compete or even as they stretch in the hallway at home on the way out the door, they are men, their arms and legs sculpted and muscular, swoll, Colin calls it. Though the time I have known as their mother has not gone quickly, it renders me awestruck that I have been gifted the privilege of being a part of and witnessing them become such strong men from such small boys.
So many moments I would not trade for any experience, no really, not even for something like a trip to Paris on an expense account or a gorgeous pair of shoes that don’t hurt.
It wasn’t until I was handed a cancer diagnosis and so selfishly and fearfully imagined myself erased that I saw the full picture of who is around me and whose arms are around my sons. There are my doctors I was lucky enough to have treat me, who save lives as a career, and who make it their duty to treat the whole patient with kindness, diligence and understanding.
My parents, though they have been gone for years, are still with me every day. I live in the house my mother bought for us, sit on the raspberry silk couches from her home, pray for her help and feel her hand on my shoulder so often I can swear it is a physical weight. My father, too. He is there in Weldon’s stretches of gentleness, Brendan’s dimpled smile and Colin’s hug good night. My brothers and sisters provide emotional support and even financial bailout at times, and always a clearer path through.
Your children can make you cry, yes, but they can make you humble. They can broaden your existence, and inflate even the most narrow moments with lessons of surprise and laughter and yes, tears. I am not raising my sons alone and I never was. I just couldn’t see it so clearly before. But I see now; it is crowded around us.
Happy Mother's Day. Though only Colin will be home (Weldon is studying abroad and I pick Brendan up from college on Monday), they are all with me, as they are every second of every day.