Fourteen years ago I was eighteen and in my freshman year of college. In just a few weeks it will have been fourteen years since I found out that I was pregnant for the first time and everything I knew to be true in my life would get turned sideways. Just over three months later I would be married. Everything about where I am now hinges on those two events. And while I often ask questions about whether or not the marriage was right, I never question the pregnancy. I never have. I won't allow myself to. More importantly, I don't want to. Getting pregnant at eighteen changed my life and, if I'm honest, in some ways it has made my life so much harder than it might have been otherwise. But in so many other ways, the important and best ways, my life is richer because of that child.
I remember every detail of the day I gave birth. Steven was at church. My little sister was staying with us. And I was wearing my favorite maternity dress, the one that wasn't a maternity dress at all but rather a thrifted one bought two sizes too big. As soon as I realized I was in labor, I started panicking, not because of the pain, though that was something I could have done without, but because I felt so completely unprepared to be a mother. I had really been handling the pregnancy well up until that point, considering I was an immature teenager. I had read all of the books I could get my hands on. I had prepared the nursery. I had even gone into false labor a week before and come home disappointed because I was so ready to meet my son. All of that evaporated when the reality of motherhood slapped me in the face. My meager nineteen years of growing up did not feel like nearly enough to be charged with caring for another human being. In minutes I moved from certain that I could handle this to certain that I was going to fail miserably.
Twenty-two hours of labor later, I held a tiny mess of a baby in my arms and I wanted to cry with him. I didn't, however, because there were so many people there waiting to meet him. All of our family and so many friends. We felt loved, and we were. And so was this child. He didn't know it yet, but he was surrounded by love. We were greeted and the baby was passed around to the many eager arms. Hundreds of pictures were taken in a matter of minutes. And then they were all gone, ushered out by a nurse who I still believe to this day could see beneath my smile to the absolutely terrified expression I was hiding. With quiet finally upon us, Steven eventually fell asleep on the cot beside my hospital bed. That's when I cried. With my baby in my arms, I cried. I cried because I knew that failing this little creature wasn't an option. I cried because I knew that I probably would fail him along the way. I cried because this child was mine. This beautiful little being was permanently attached to my heart. I could feel the pull of him as if he were still inside of me, like he left a part of himself behind. A part that was all mine as his mother.
Thirteen years have gone by far too quickly. I can still vividly picture him as a baby with blonde hair and tiny fingers and toes. I can see him at two playing in the snow in his pajamas. I can see him at three meeting his sister for the first time. I can see him at four in his Bob the Builder T- shirt. I can see him at five asking me to call him Chris not Christopher because he was starting school meant that he was too big for full names. I can see him at six learning to ride a bike. I can see him at seven driving his sisters around in a John Deere gator. I can see him at eight at the beach. I can see him at nine looking uncomfortable on the baseball field. I can see him at ten playing his DS in the backyard with his best friend. I can see him at eleven graduating from elementary school and posing for pictures with his friends. I can see him at twelve figuring out middle school and loving band and running home to play minecraft.
Twelve sentences later he was thirteen.
Twelve sentences later he was thirteen.
Thirteen. This boy of mine. He is clever and he makes me laugh all the time. He is so very smart and logical. He is tall, and I swear getting taller by the day. He is a runner and he's good at math. He's a gamer and he wants to be a graphic designer. He's shy and yet so incredibly cool. He's edgy yet conservative. He's silent but he can make himself heard. He's loyal, fiercely loyal. Girls follow him around. Literally, there are a group of girls that follow him around school, because, once again, he's incredibly cool. Joe Cool, in the snoopy way, and he likes when I call him that, which makes me like him. He likes Monty Python and Psych and Food Network, which makes me like him more. He is difficult to understand at times and hard to parent. He challenges me daily yet he is obedient and helpful without prompting. He is so much like me and so much like his father. He got the best and worst of both of us, yet he is his own. He is a crazy mess of a teenager pulled together by a pretty amazing personality and heart.
As he gets older, our relationship is shifting. I can feel it. He needs me a little less each day. The days of mothering a young child are behind me with him. We have shifted into a stage where he is learning how to be a man. He is learning to navigate the world around him. His eyes are opening to life's realities and he is beginning to see the ugliness and the beauty in those realities. I am finding this stage of parenting to be both the hardest and the most rewarding. Some days I feel him pulling harshly at the mothering cord. He wants to be set free. He wants his independence, yet I don't see him walking away. In fact, more often than not, in his moments of independence I see him turn around to make sure that I'm alright with the steps he's taking. The day he doesn't check in or ask for me to see what he's working on or ask for my opinion about a situation in life, on that day I will know that we have shifted again and my heart will really break, I fear. For now, I will keep letting him go little by little, knowing that he will make mistakes but also knowing that he will right himself again by trusting that he is a truly good young man. Because he is.