At precisely 8:16 this evening, my little boy will turn eight years old. Eight. Wow. Eight! As cliché as it sounds, I cannot help but wonder where all the time has gone. It seems like just yesterday when I was holding him close on my shoulder in the hospital, waiting to be discharged, nervous about whether I could place him in the car seat properly, softly singing “You are my Sunshine” in his ear. And now I can barely lift him. He is all puppy arms and legs, and solid as a rock. A big second grader who reads, writes, loves math and science and tae kwon do. I love this beautiful kid with every fiber of my being and sometimes, more than I would like to admit really, I fear that I am fucking it all up with him. Because I worry. A lot. Almost all the time.
Being a mother is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Getting pregnant, giving birth, passing the bar exam, commuting five hours a day to New York and back—all that stuff pales in comparison to the day to day work in the trenches of parental life. As a kid when you did something stupid, irresponsible or dangerous, your parents would say at the end of almost every lecture, “Just you wait until you have children of your own, then you will understand” as you rolled your eyes. And of course you didn’t understand, you didn’t want to understand as a kid, you just wanted to live the fantasy… and then BAM! just like that, you have a child of your own, and then you get it. No amount of parenting guidebooks, websites, support groups, whatever, can ever ever prepare you for this gig. Though parenting has been around for thousands of years, for each new parent, it is a case of first impression.
The whole being pregnant thing is such a tease. The GAP, Babies R Us, and A Pea in the Pod make it look like being a parent is such an easy breezy blast. The hip and cool maternity clothes, the to-die-for layette, and the registry! It’s like getting married all over again. As a pregnant woman, you walk down the street and other women smile at you warmly, people get up and give you seats on the bus and pieces of fruit, people look for excuses to chit-chat with you and rub your belly. You are magic and light, for you are creating life… you glow, your hair looks amazing, and you get away with lots of shit you might not ordinarily but for that bun in the oven…And yes you do worry, you forego salami and sushi (listeria and bacteria!), you give up lattes and cocktails (caffeine dependency and fetal alcohol syndrome!). You pray each time you see the doctor that you will hear the wonderful rapid thump-thump thumping of that tiny heart. You freak out from each and every test, from the risk ratios and the amnios and then the thought of contractions and the epidural in your spine and labor and delivery and whether your doctor is on call or not the night you go into labor and about pooping on the table (!)….
But nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the level of worry that you experience when that baby is actually in your arms. I recall as if it was just yesterday how anxious I felt holding my son in those early days. I felt like he wasn’t mine, like he was a delicate objet d’art that that I, the bumbling fool, was not qualified to hold. I worried I was not cradling his head and neck right, I worried he was not getting enough milk, I worried about SIDS, I worried about colic, I worried that he was too hot, then I worried he was too cold, I worried that I would crush him in my sleep, I worried about him sleeping alone in his crib, I had butterflies with each slippery baby bath (it never was calm and loving like it looks in those Johnson & Johnson commercials). I worried when I went back to work and left him with a nanny, I worried when I left him with the next nanny because the first one didn’t work out. I worried when we left him in day care. The minutes I spent worrying were agony to me. In the deepest throes of my anxiety about my baby and my shoddy parenting, the only way I could get down from my ledge was to hold out hope that as he got older, there would be some inverse relationship between his age and my worrying. But eight years in, I am finding that it is not true.
Getting to know my son, as he also figures himself out has been really challenging for me. And it has also been truly eye opening. You think that when you have a baby that he will simply be the best pieces of you and your “baby daddy”. That he will be a mini version of you. A mini version of you that does not possess all the horrible shit you hate about yourself. After all, he’s got your great hair, your pointy ears, your coloring, therefore it should hold true that he will like sushi, baseball, and tuna salad. But that is such a Pollyanna (or is it narcissistic?) view of things. And it also completely discounts that your child is a unique individual in his own right. So it is not right or fair of me to get upset when he doesn’t like the baked ziti or chicken marsala that I have made because they “taste weird and googly in my mouth” when I find both of those meals scrumptious. And it is not right or fair for me to get pissed when he tells me that he does not like elbow shaped pasta nor spirals nor wagon wheels but only penne when I could give a rat’s ass what shape the pasta is in as long as it’s cooked al dente. And it is not fair of me to scratch my head befuddled when he tells me that he does not really like going to the movies or eating hamburgers or baseball and instead likes sketching, PB & J and tae kwon do.
So there is still worry. I worry that he is not eating enough of the food pyramid and that somehow he is malnourished and it is all my fault. I worry that he is not a big fan of America’s favorite pastime and that he won’t experience the joy of having a catch with me in the backyard like I did with my father and it will scar him for life. I worry that I am fucking everything up by worrying so much.
I had lunch with my mother yesterday. She and my son have a truly special bond, for she was right there at 8:16 p.m. on that freezing December night to lay witness to his entry into this world… It was my mother who cut his umbilical cord because I think my husband was somewhere on the floor in an unconscious puddle. She tells me that I do worry way too much. That kids are weird and picky and stubborn and difficult. But that just because this may be true, there is generally no need to go to the “bad place” where my worrying tends to take me… Now that I am a parent in my own right, her anecdotes about parenting my sister and me are like precious gold. They help me down from the ledge. Over lunch my mother told me that my sister and I were such fucking pains in the asses about eating that at one point she would just cook dinner (chicken, lamb chops… whatever) and because sometimes we would look at her like she had served us heaping platefuls of fresh steaming shit (even though we might have found the chicken or lamb chops or whatever delectable just a day before), she would take the plates of fresh-from-the-oven food and hurl them unceremoniously into the garbage and storm off leaving us to fend for ourselves. And then over a nice bottle of wine she proceeded to regale me with stories of me being afraid of my own shadow, of the shit fits I would throw when she (infrequently) left me with a babysitter, of me sneaking into her room each and every night and laying on the floor because I was scared of the dark or the thunder or the monster in my closet or of absolutely nothing, of me declaring I was no longer eating anything red, of me running away on a weekly basis and then coming back because I was hungry ten minutes later, of me punching her in the stomach the day she came home with my baby sister who she delivered via C-section. And this was just 1979. Boy did she have major grounds to worry.
In conclusion, on what will be my son’s eighth birthday, I want him and all of you to know that I think the world of him. His smile is like the sunshine. His hugs and kisses are simply the best. He teaches me about life every minute of every day. He gives me pause. He is beautiful, whip-smart, kind-hearted and good. He is goofy and funny and curious and quirky. He is the best big brother I have ever seen. And I feel so very blessed and lucky that this kid calls me “Mom “and still wants to hold my hand in public.
Happy happy birthday, Sweetheart. I love you so very much. May all of your dreams come true. Except for the ones about playing pro football (traumatic brain injuries!) and the other ones (you may or may not yet be having) involving buxom shiksas named Brittany (VD and teen pregnancy!). I’d like to promise you that I won’t worry, but I can’t say that in good conscience, but I can pray that I don’t fuck you up all that much.