Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. As always my husband and sons pampered me with a sumptuous breakfast and thoughtful presents. But the gift I want most can’t be wrapped in tissue or tied up with a bow.
I’ve wanted it since I gave birth to my first son, 22 years ago. I want it so much sometimes the wanting keeps me awake at night.
I long for the gift every mother in the world covets.
I want my children to be happy.
Not just happy but thriving – using their gifts and talents. I want them to be confident and competent – recognized for the incredible people they are now and are still becoming.
When they were babies I devoted myself to their happiness. I cuddled them, kissed them, read to them, fed them, and kept them warm and safe.
But even then I knew my power was limited. I couldn’t prevent the ear infections that made them miserable, couldn’t keep the stomach flu at bay. I had to tell them “no” often and listen to their wails of misery.
And as hard as I tried to ensure their safety, three of my four sons suffered broken limbs. They wanted to skateboard, play basketball and climb trees, and I let them. Then castigated myself when I wasn’t there to cushion the blow when they fell.
Physical illness and injuries weren’t fun, but nothing prepared me for the outrage I’d feel when emotional injuries occurred. This first of such wounds took place when my oldest came home from Sunday school and told me he was stupid. “Ethan!” I said. “You aren’t stupid. Why would you say that?”
My 4-year-old son looked at me soberly and said, “I AM stupid. Brianna said I am, and that’s why she won’t sit by me at circle time.”
It took all my self-control not to shout, “Brianna is the stupid one!”
Of course, that was just the tip of the emotional iceberg. Boys have friend traumas just like girls do. Friendships come and go, and some end with a bang instead of a whimper.
Watching my sons navigate the perilous social world of middle school proved alternately painful and exhilarating.
When the older boys entered high school I tried to let them fly. I rejoiced when they soared and grieved when they fell. The minefield of academic stresses and peer pressure resulted in many sleepless nights – for me anyway. The boys have always been sound sleepers.
Soon I was immersed in the whirlwind of their first dates, first girlfriends and first broken hearts. I cheered for one son at football games and danced in the mosh pit at another son’s concerts.
In the midst of it all I watched and waited for the assurance that my boys were happy – that they were successfully navigating the treacherous transition from childhood to adulthood.
It’s a long process, and I still have two at home. Next year, I’ll have another high school senior and my baby will enter middle school.
I’m waiting for the time when I can rest on my laurels and not worry so much about things I can’t control. But when I talk to empty-nesters, they shake their heads. For moms, apparently, worry is a lifelong condition.
So, on Mother’s Day I held my sons close. I tucked away my heartfelt wish for the gift no one can give or guarantee. I let myself bask in the happiness of moments spent with them.
Their presence in my life has been the source of my greatest joy and deepest pain. I wouldn’t have it any other way.