“People are not things; you cannot keep them.” When I heard this statement in a class recently, I was reminded of a particular morning when Noah was five and Jonah nearly three. As I watched my sons together, carefree and silly, I was overwhelmed by the realization that Noah was more than ¼ finished with his time at home. I would only have these kids for 18 years before I would have to release them into the world. When you leave the hospital, you mistakenly believe these are your little bundles of joy; then one day you understand they are not.
Noah defiantly entered the world a full 3 weeks early. After I labored for 14 hours, pushing for two, a stalemate was declared and the surgical team called in. He was ready, but my womb was not. The struggle took place somewhere beyond a sheet, the medical staff tugging on their fixed patient while my body refused to let go. Once I felt the pressure ease, I knew he was free. A brief glimpse of my son’s face and a nurse whisked him away. I lay there shaking, cold, and exhausted while the physician and his team cared for my wounds. I couldn’t feel anything as they stopped the bleeding and stitched me back together, but still I cried. In a dark recovery room, I waited for my son in the early morning hours. When a nurse finally brought him in, I took him cautiously, unsure how to handle this tiny human now that he was outside my body. As I held him in my arms, though, I knew that he was mine and I would learn.
I learned things I could not have imagined. I learned that it is possible for a child to puke directly into the pajama pants around his ankles at 2:30 in the morning while poop explodes from his other end into the toilet. I learned that coming home from work and finding “DEEZ NUTZ” written across your roof in chalk letters large enough to be detected from a Delta Airlines flight is really quite humorous once you get over the thought of your young children falling to their deaths. I learned that no matter the location or guests, having boys means someone will bring up the word “fart” or actually rip one at the dinner table. I learned that the best Mother’s Day gift is a remote control car careening across the floor into your feet with a rolled-up scrap of paper that says, “I love you, Mom.” I learned all the hard stuff is worth it when you get a text saying, “Just want you to know I love you and that you did a great job raising me.” I also learned sharing your kids with their dad after divorce is devastating, but not the end of the world. It may even prepare you for the inevitable. I learned that mothering is hard work.
Even when they love each other, an independent, strong-willed teenager and an equally stubborn Mama sometimes find themselves in constant conflict that eventually comes to a crescendo. Two years ago, at 16, Noah went to live with his dad. The parting was not pleasant or planned, and its prematurity nearly broke me. He was ready to be free of my rules, but I wasn’t ready to let go--of him or of control.
As I watched Noah’s life for months from afar, my heart ached. One night the weight of it was so heavy I lay on a towel on the cold tile of my bathroom floor and sobbed for two hours. I questioned who I was. Everything I thought I knew about mothering was bleeding right out of me, but my Mama-friends stepped in, propping me up, encouraging me, praying for me, praying for my son. They didn’t pretend to have any answers but simply worked in tandem with the Great Physician, who cared for my wounds, stopped the bleeding, and stitched me back together.
While recovering my self, I waited for my son. Finally, there was a phone call. “Hey, Mom. I have a break before I have to go back to work. You wanna have lunch?”
It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I had already eaten, but I gathered my things and said to my boss, “I haven’t had a meal with my kid in over a year, and he wants to have lunch with me. Gotta go.”
When I saw Noah, I wanted to wrap my arms around him, but I was apprehensive, unsure how to handle this man-child now that he was out from under my constant care. When he walked over and gave me one of those awkward side-hugs, I knew I could learn.
Children are not things; we cannot keep them. Mothering is hard work. Not the hard work of doing the job, but the hard work of learning to let go.
Note: This piece was read at the 2017 Listen To Your Mother Show - Baton Rouge.