My son turns 10 years old today, and while he celebrates turning double digits, the celebration is essentially all mine. Growing up, on my birthday, all my parents’ friends used to call and “Congratulate” them on my birthday. I thought it was a stupid Russian thing; “It’s MY birthday – they get their own day.” But after I made it through the first year of motherhood, I realized why for every single first birthday party I attended that year, I hugged and congratulated the parents; I finally understood that is OUR holiday.
Today I will jokingly reminisce (just like my mother has done for every single year of my 37 birthdays) about my 45-hour labor. How long was it that the story went from being THE Most Dramatic Story of my arduous labor to a funny tale of 43 non-drug hours followed by 2 drug-filled nasty hours resulting in a 10-minute push out that changed my life. A seed was planted at his conception, but the bud sprouted when he was born. How metamorphically cliché and generic. But it’s what happened when you’re struck with the Motherhood Magic Wand. You see LOVE in a whole new way. The biggest hearts in the world expand. Exponentially.
Before you are a parent, you can imagine it, maybe even picture it vividly. I wasn’t able to do either. I never babysat; didn’t have many babies around. The last baby I was really around was my sister and that was over 3 decades ago. When my son was born, I didn’t understand these feelings. Motherhood. The all encompassing LOVE and desire to protect, to pour all of yourself into this tiny baby.
THIS I couldn’t have predicted.
Immediately he became my medicine – against pain, against sadness. His birth immediately answered Life’s Ultimate Question: Why? He was my eternal Because.
But as much as I fell in love with my son and Motherhood, it was not without its decade-worth of “lessons,” as we’ll call them. “They are our greatest teachers,” my cousin from Hawaii told me after his baby turned one. We’ve had everything from viruses to bullying with a divorce, 4 moves and a new sister in the process. Every day I fell more in love with my son. He was so special – and everyone noticed.
He is, at ten, what I hope to be – eventually.
He is kind and considerate, smart, inquisitive, loving, brilliant (did I say that already?), imaginative, articulate, sensitive, generous, selfless. The fact that I had anything to do with him brings me pride on a momentary basis – notably whenever I look over in his direction.
At one, he would organize his Thomas the Tank Engine trains neatly in a row on the edge of his train table; I called it “taking attendance” but secretly worried if I was making him an OCD clean freak (nope). I watched proudly as he recited the names of all these wooden trains: “Percy, Henry, Gordon, Clarabelle, Scarloey, Sir Topham Hatt.” The faces were virtually identical to me amongst the dozens of trains that cluttered my house – but he knew every one. I remember thinking after he turned one, how will he impress me now?
At five he was doing Lego sets designed for children double his age. He would study the instructions like they were the architectural plans for the Vatican and he was reconstructing it. I was always so proud. How would he top that? Can I be any MORE proud?
The things that would spill from his lips amazed me with every conversation. So appreciative of the world around him, he thanked me for everything – from vacations to breakfast to medicine. If I could wrap my arms around him twice so I could squeeze all the breath out of him like a sponge I would – that’s how tight I want to hug him.
By nine, he had read all seven Harry Potter books three times. He is the reader I strive to become. He already has his own voice as a writer. Fourth grade has been the most academically and socially challenging one so far. But once again, he made me prouder than I ever could foresee, overcoming obstacles I could only dream to be courageous enough to confront.
This year they keep a journal at school and one of the writing prompts was “What was a gift that you received that you didn’t realize you wanted?” His answer, “My sister.”
How does he do it? If a cat has nine lives, a mother has nine million because every time I witness one of those moments; ever zinger I live through, it feels like an arrow to the heart, stabbing and exploding the loving shit out of me.
What have I learned in a decade of being a mother?
I learned patience. I learned calmer, slower, stop and smell the flowers and play with the dirt. I learned perseverance and strength and how to lug a 4-year-old in my arms while standing on a moving bus. I learned how to protect and defend and teach him to stand up for himself on the playground – and in life. I learned unconditional love – how the love you give is incrementally equal to the love you take. I learned the lyrics to “Beautiful Boy” after playing it for 3,650 days at nighttime. I learned what it was like to have a part of your body separated from you … and sent off to school in a bus way too big for his little legs. Then I learned how to lose him for half the week. (This was one of the hardest lessons.) I learned that their pain hurts me so much more. I (eventually) learned to trust others (with him).
Mostly I learned how to trust myself – because my instincts were those of a mother’s, and until I became one, I didn’t realize the strength in that.
Today Jacob Dylan turns ten years old and I will have been a mother for a decade. Today I will celebrate the day his birth bestowed upon me the title of which I am most proud: Mother.
Photo: 3.26.07; 5 years ago when he was just half-a-decade-old. I was feeling nostalgic.