So this is it.
This is what all those women were talking about for so many years.
Women like the old lady in the Wal-Mart checkout line who leaned over the stroller and smiled at my one-month-old baby boy and said, “Enjoy these sweet days. Before you know it he’ll be grown.” This is what she was talking about when all I did was smile politely back while thinking in my mind, Oh yeah, Lady? Well I hope it goes fast. Because I haven’t slept in four weeks since this child couldn’t care less whether the sun is shining bright or blackened in the sky…since all my efforts during middle-of-the-night rocking result in nothing but a baby blinking up at me as if to say “Give up, Mom. I’ll last longer than you, and I’m just fine sleeping when you need to be working”…since my baby wants to eat around the clock even though I’m sore and tired and emotional and really want nothing more than to go a whole ten minutes without anyone touching me.
Women like the Sunday school teacher who shrugged off my son’s two-year-old hair pulling phase as something he would outgrow…as something I would laugh about when he was older…which according to her was something that would happen sooner than I thought. This is what she was talking about even as I wanted to give her a piece of my mind…even as I cried to myself about my obvious failure as a parent because what kind of child goes around yanking out the hair of his fellow playmates? What kind of child walks around with fistfuls of other children’s hair while screams and whispers and angry looks followed after him? A child with a bad mother, that’s what kind. A bad mother who kept scolding and kept reminding and kept crying because all her efforts were going unheard. A bad mother who couldn’t wait for those years to pass because the hair-pulling phase had to be the worst part of parenting.
Women like the fellow sports mom who patted me on the arm when my six-year-old child once-again didn’t want to go onto the soccer field, who told me to enjoy his presence at my side because she had a college-aged kid who wasn’t around much anymore and the time flew fast for her just as she insisted it would for me. So I sat there half-listening to her and inwardly rolling my eyes while quietly demanding my son get up and join the other kids who weren’t behaving so badly…who were practicing the way they were supposed to…who were making their moms look like they had a much better handle on the parenting thing than I did. Because back then that’s what mattered—my need to look like I knew what I was doing.
Women like the next-door neighbor who laughed about my nine-year-old sailing a baseball through the kitchen window and said she wished her kids still lived at home to break her windows. Who said she would let them break everything in her house for the chance to go back to those days and relive them again. Who told me to look at the brokenness as a mark of childhood, as a memory that I would look back on with fondness one day…even as I lamented about not wanting my husband to see the mess and not wanting to hear how much it would cost to repair and not wanting to be one of those less-than-classy people who lived with Saran Wrap over the window because what would people think and when would this kid just grow up already and stop breaking things?
Women like the junior high mom who told me that my son not wanting to play football wasn’t the worst thing that could ever happen even if it meant he didn’t quite fit in for a while. Who said that not fitting in builds character for later…that I should be proud of his difference and encourage it because before long he would be grown…that standing out is the end goal even if it might be difficult when you’re thirteen years old. And as she kept talking I couldn’t hear past the “not fitting in” part and instead worried that not playing football (or basketball or baseball) would leave a mark on his confidence for years and years to come, and also how would he learn teamwork and how would that affect him when he finally grew up and needed to get a job?
Women like the girlfriend’s mom who told me she couldn’t believe senior prom was already here and how handsome my son looked and how proud I must be to have raised such a great young man and could I believe how fast these kids had grown? And was I looking forward to college? And how would I handle him moving out of the house? And all the while I just stood back and wondered what had happened to my toddler and how in the world we were almost to graduation.
Women like myself who listened when my son asked if he could go with me to Seattle last year. Who listened when he asked if we could go again this year. Who listened when he asked me to come with him to Atlanta last week. Who listened when he told me just this morning that he wished I could stay longer. Women like myself, who wondered as she listened how it had come to this…how in just a few very short years she had gone from the mommy of a newborn to the mom of a teenage boy to the mother of a fully-grown adult son. Who cried on the plane ride home only a few hours ago because it was all a bit surreal. It was all a bit overwhelming. It was all–in spite of the pride she felt deep inside–a tiny bit sad.
Because here she was. This was it.
This was what all those women were talking about.
Starting with that old lady in Wal-Mart.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to that day. Sometimes I wish I could look that sweet old woman in the eyes and apologize. Apologize for not being interested in her wisdom. Apologize for thinking she was crazy. Apologize for the small part of me that wanted to punch her. Apologize for not listening to what she had to say. Because if I could go back, I would thank her. I would tell her that she was right—that one day I would think all that stress about sleep and hair-pulling and soccer practice and broken things and fitting in and what other people thought—that all of it was a little bit silly. I would tell her that if I could do it over again, I would remind that young mother to listen…and to concentrate more on being happy.
Because during all those years of struggle, there’s one thing I know for sure: my son was happy. Really happy.
And I was happy too.
Even if it took a whole lot of very short years to fully realize it.