I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Parenting

I Did Not Know The Boy Who Died This Week


Go Deep

I did not know the boy who died this week. The friendly, athletic, well-liked 23-year-old from our town. My kids are in different grades than his younger siblings. They play different sports and hang out with different people. I am woefully unconnected with the school and the town. I’m not unsociable but I am quiet and reserved and I work full time in Manhattan. I worry that my introversion is off-putting and has kept my kids from being more integrated with the community. I prefer smaller groups of family and close friends, so my path did not really intersect with him and his family.

I did not know the boy who died this week. While I thought about him and his mother and his father and his sisters and his friends and all those who were touched by him, I did not feel I had a place at the wake or the funeral. I don’t know this family. But they are part of my world. I feel like I could know him. He could have been any number of amazing, interesting, fun 20-somethings that I do know. With full lives ahead of them. I guess he was out with friends. I suppose alcohol was involved. I am sure he thought he was invincible. Don’t we all at 23? It could have been anyone. It could have been my child.

It takes some living and some near misses to learn that accidents do happen. I could die at any moment. You could die at any moment. My children could die at any moment. As babies, I held them close. Nursing, co-sleeping, baby-proofing. “Never let them out of your sight,” our pediatrician said, only half-jokingly when we asked him for the most significant things we could do to keep them safe. Well, that’s not realistic.  And so we have lived our lives. We put them on the school bus. We sent them on sleep-overs and on school trips. We taught them to ski and take risks and be independent. My daughter drives and my son will soon drive. Off they go. Out of the nest. More out of our sight these days than in our sight. As it should be. And yet, I grasp. I want to hold them close. I want to live forever. I want them to live forever. I never want to let them go.

When they were young, I thought being the mother of a newborn was the hardest thing I had ever done. The exhaustion, the worry. Are they eating? Are they pooping? Are they BREATHING? The mothers of children older than mine would smile indulgently. “Just wait. It gets harder.” What? What could be harder than a newborn?! Now I get it. Now the worries are: Are they safe? Are they happy? Will they live full lives? Will they love and be loved? For many years. For many years, long after I die.

I am a very cerebral and sensible and pragmatic person. Skeptical of the mysterious and unproven. Crazy hokum. And yet. Is it? Crazy hokum? I am fascinated and increasingly open to my intuition and the deep experiences I have had with meditation and Reiki. On Wednesday night, I was drawn to take a yoga class with Colleen Saidman Yee. I don’t know her very well, and I am not a regular student of hers, but she recently published a book, Yoga For Life, that is touching me right now. At Savasana, she said something like: “Dare to go deep.  Deep to the places within. The places that frighten you. The places that you touch and scurry away from.” I tried, but not much happened. Still, I knew shifts have been and are happening.

That night, returning home, the streets were blocked for the wake. The one I didn’t attend because I did not know the boy who died this week. We detoured around to my house. My home. That night, I woke. For my middle-of-the-night battle with my bladder. Should I get up and pee or can I make it through the night? I lay there. And saw something. Felt something. A presence. I laughed. Now I am seeing ghosts? I went to the bathroom and felt the night. Felt the presence. Who was it? I decided it was my mom. Who else would it be? Then that night I dreamt I had siblings. I was talking to my “sister.” She was 17 years older than me and she told me that we had two other brothers. Wow. A whole family of people I never even knew I had?! And then I dreamt I was flying! I was terrified of the sensation. It was exciting but terrifying. I touched the sensation and then scurried away, waking.  Afraid to go too deep.

Today, blessed weekend, I took one of my regular yoga classes with one of my yoga friend teachers with my yoga community in my yoga “home.” Heart-openers. Damn you Clare. As I lifted and expanded and breathed into my heart, I thought about the boy I did not know who died this week. And his mom and dad and sisters and friends. And I suppressed tears. Convulsive sobbing tears. I touched that space and scurried away. I wanted to shout to my yoga friends: A young man died this week! I am so sad!  But I didn’t. I went deep but not that deep.

There is a video montage of photos of this boy I did not know who died this week. I watched it. It could be my family photos. Beautiful human beings doing family things together. I saw him grow from a boy to a young man.  I cried. Cathartic heart-opening tears.

A young man died this week! I did not know him. And yet…I do know him.

Go deep. Love deeply. Live joyfully. We all die. And it might be sooner rather than later.

Image:  4th Mandala Heart Chakra, by Jennifer Christenson

Sisters and Brothers


An Only Child and Her Siblings

I didn’t know April 10th was National Sibling Day until my Facebook feed was peppered with sweet photos of brothers and sisters. Awwww. There were my friends posting past childhood photos with their brother or sister. There were my friends posting current family reunion photos of their middle-aged brothers and sisters. And there were my younger friends posting some wonderful old childhood photos of their parents with their sibling(s). It was lovely and fun and I wanted IN on it! But I don’t have a brother or a sister. And of course there were my friends who do have siblings but didn’t post a photo. Hmmm. Not all sibling relationships are Facebook friendly.

I started combing through photos, looking for my own twist on National Sibling Day. Apparently 21% of us are only children. We can be lonely only’s. (Cue sad story to go here.) Or, we can create our surrogate siblings and find the best of what that relationship can be through nurturing our other relationships.

There is my very best friend in the whole world, truly best friends forever, dear Emily. We met at that fragile age of 11, awkwardly and painfully transitioning from girls to teens to young women to married women to moms to middle-aged women. While she did have a brother, she did not have a sister. And so. Sisters we were and are. I’m quite sure we cut our hands and merged our blood in some profound ceremony of our invention. Blood sisters we were and are. Our paths have long gone in different directions. Our personalities are quite distinct. And yet, like “real” sisters, there is a shared history and a shared bond. We know each other’s family secrets. We remember each other’s past. (Yes, that DID happen. No, you’re NOT crazy.) We love each other and support each other, cheering successes and mourning losses.

There is my amazing cousin, dear Elizabeth. The one who was killed at the age of 48 by a drunk driver in 2002. The one I still miss. The only female of my generation in my small family. Older than me, she knew my mother’s family history better than me. Older than me, she offered a window on what being a 20-something woman might be like while I was a sheltered teen in suburbia. I love her and miss her and hold sacred the ties to the others in my small family. She was and is my sister.

When I met my husband, I was fascinated with his siblings and his relationship with them. Like all of ours, his was a dysfunctional family. When his parents divorced, the three siblings relied on each other in a way I have rarely seen. Somewhat poor, somewhat neglected, they had each other. They regale us with their stories of shared adventures, a robbery, a fire (save the bike!), a wayward dog, going to bars for all-you-can-eat, living on one baked potato for a week because they were out of money. (Surely, that is an exaggeration!) The first time I met his brother, I was nervous and wondering if I would recognize him. Of course the second I got off the airplane I realized that the man at the end of the gangway who was the DNA twin of my husband was him. What must it be like to have someone out there who looks like you? They and their dear spouses welcomed me as a sister, which my reserved and lonely only child persona craved. When their parents died, we all gathered to sift through the memories and the artifacts, sharing laughter and tears. It didn’t really matter who got what because there was such closeness between the families. His brother and sister have become my brother and sister. His extended family, my extended family. A tribe with shared memories who would do anything for each other. Who would do anything for each other’s children. Because it is the next generation that consumes us now.

When we married, I knew deep in my soul that I would not have only one child. Two. I had to have two. I imagined that I would have two girls. Two sisters. That seemed the ideal relationship. Two girls to support each other, grow up together, share secrets together. It was the relationship I felt was lacking in my life. So, when the ultrasound indicated that our second child was a boy, I gasped. An alien! I had an alien growing in me! What was I going to do with a boy? What was my daughter going to do with a brother?   From the day he was born, he adored her. “Bia! Bia! Bia!” he cried out for her with excitement. We have picture after picture of him looking up at her with love and awe. She, on the other hand, like a normal big sister, tolerates him and his little brother-ness with a mixture of loving watchfulness, nurturance, and a touch of condescending superiority. There was a time, like around a few years ago until about now, where they barely acknowledged each other. I wonder if and when this will change. I pray it does. My niece and nephew are close, but that closeness seems born out of the shared, sad loss of their father. I guess that is what it takes. Shared history. Shared memories. Shared triumphs, but also shared losses. And that takes time and maturity. It will come. When I determined to have more than one child, it was so that neither would be alone. After we are gone. Perhaps that is naïve and impossible, a mother’s desperate hope that her children will be happier than she. After all, we are all alone and on our own path. We all suffer. But surely, having a sibling, either through “real” family or by creating one, helps. I love the brothers and sisters in my life.

Hey Mom, Could You Sign This?



It’s 7:06 am and in our precisely choreographed busy busy busy morning routine, that means my son has one minute to get out the door to catch the bus. In between my loading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, organizing everyone’s lunches, and taking a last swig of coffee, my son thrusts a piece of paper at me. “Hey Mom, could you sign this?”

He tried to be nonchalant, but it came across as sheepish.  Waiting for me to yell: “Why do you wait until the last minute? You’ve gotta give this stuff to me the night before! This is just another example of how disorganized and unplanful you are!” But I didn’t yell. I don’t like yelling. I hate it when I yell. I don’t think it helps. He just hides away more, avoiding my judgment. Besides, yelling at him upsets me. Because I love him so much. So, with one minute to spare, I take a breath and calmly look at the piece of paper.

10th Grade Health.  Arguably the most important course he’s taking, except that schools should probably offer this course several years earlier with a more dynamic teacher.  You know the course.  It covers smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex.  And last night’s little assignment.

“List your three top values.”

Okay. Sure. No big deal. Easy.

The clock is ticking.

What should I put down? What are my top 3 values anyway? What should I put that won’t embarrass a 15-year-old boy? Couldn’t he have given this to me last night? We could have had a family discussion. What can I impart of my 52 years of long and hard thinking about the meaning of life into 3 words in 60 seconds. Well, more like 50 seconds by now.

The clock is ticking.

Honesty. I can’t think of any other word. It just bubbles up unannounced. Hmmm. I didn’t know that honesty was my number one value. But there it is. Is that because I’ve spent most of my life chameleon-like pleasing other people, being someone I thought I should be? Now, nothing matters more than for me to be me. Is that because the number one reason I chose my husband is because he was him, the most honest person I had ever met? I write it down. Honesty. 40 seconds to go.

What’s #2? I reach for my yoga, my midlife wisdom. I discard what I might have said even just a few years ago: discipline, hard work, ambition, achievement. Done all that. I check in with my gut. So much wiser than my mind. Ah, there it is. Kindness. Be kind. Lead with the heart. It’s why I wear a heart necklace now. It’s not about me and my ego and my ambition. At least not any more. It’s about love and the people I love and being kind. I write it down. Kindness/Love. 30 seconds to go.

Ack! Now I’m stumped. What’s #3? The clock is ticking. Let’s face it. Smartness matters. I’m pretty determined to be the smartest person in the room. That’s gotta be it. Um, wait. Remember #2. How can I convey my appreciation for all the richness of the world without ego getting in the way? Education? Intelligence? Reading? How can I convey to my son that I want him to appreciate all the richness of the world in whatever way works for him? Ah, there it is. Curiosity. I write it down. 20 seconds.

I sign my name. Pen down! My son grabs his disorganized and jam-packed backpack, he’s ready to go. I look him in the eye, with honesty, kindness, and curiosity, and hand him the piece of paper.

Honesty. Kindness/Love. Curiosity.  May he cherish these values, my values, as he finds his own.

He’s off! 10 seconds to spare. “Thanks Mom! Love you!”

I love you too.

P.S. We had the family discussion later that night over dinner. His #1 value? Family.

When Backpacks Made The Outfit


Now We Are Seventeen (and a Half)

Now We Are Six

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

– A. A. Milne, 1927

Ah! The first day of school!  So full of promise.  Remember?  This year, I will be organized and brilliant.  This year I will be friendly and popular, a role model.  This year I will be new and different, the amazing me I aspire to be.

When you are a 17-year-old girl entering your senior year of high school, the stakes are high.  Where else to play out your dreams of being a better, bolder you than with your outfit?  The first day of school outfit.  Remember?

It was simpler when a cute backpack gave her all the confidence she needed.

I should have asked her what she was going to wear.  But I didn’t want to attach too much importance to The Outfit.  I’ve spent my life thinking that if I looked right, then I would be successful and people would like me.  I imbued my outfits with so much importance.  I don’t want that for my daughter.  I want her to know she is beautiful, completely and thoroughly, inside and out, regardless of what she wears.  I want her to know she is loved, completely and thoroughly, regardless of what she wears.

Besides, she is more creative with fashion than I ever have been.  She watches fashion in music and entertainment and is keenly aware of who is wearing what and what looks stylish and flattering.  She is my style consultant these days, not vice versa.  (Though she cares what I think.  Still.  Thank God.)

Besides, I believe that at 17 you should be trying on different looks, different personas.  You don’t know who you are at 17.  Now is the time to practice being independent and grown up, especially during your senior year of high school when you have the safety net of a home base.   I purposefully did not ask her what she was going to wear.

When she came downstairs that morning, I paused.  Long enough to think.  But I didn’t think.  I went to blurt-out mode instead.  In my sternest MOM voice, I proclaimed:  “You can NOT wear that to school.  Those are hooker stockings.”  Really.  I said that.  “Hooker” is hardly even in my vocabulary but it poured out of my mouth.  (Ironically, they are my stockings.)  Who was that woman I turned into in that moment?  What happened to all the wisdom I’ve accrued over the years?  What happened to putting myself in her shoes and gently suggesting that her outfit was not appropriate for daytime nor for school?

I don’t want to face the fact that my little girl is beautiful and sexy and ready for a boyfriend, or at least a date.  I don’t want to remember some of the outfits I wore to high school that make me cringe now.  I remember, at the height of my thinness, wearing skinny jeans and stiletto mules.  I wanted to look sexy.  My mother said I looked cute.  I didn’t want to be the mom who was clueless about her own daughter, the way my mom was.  I want to give my daughter support and freedom to explore.  And yet…I lashed out.  Frightened, embarrassed, protective.  Don’t make the same mistakes I made!  Don’t be too sexy!

Don’t be too sexy.  Ah, that is the crux of it.  The judgment about looking too sexy.  Smart girls use their heads, not their bodies.  The judgment about being too sexy.  Good girls have more worthy activities to pursue than dating boys.  The fear.  The fear inherited from my mother’s stabbing.  The fear I’ve buried from my own murky memories.  Did that really happen?  I am not sure.  But judgment and fear – of sex, of food, of all things pleasurable and delicious – is not what I want to pass on to my daughter.

My nasty, thoughtless judgment merely solidified her own uncertainty about her outfit, her anxiety about the day and the upcoming year.  She didn’t defy me.  Another 17-year-old daughter might have said, “You can’t tell me what to wear!”  My 17-year-old rushed upstairs in tears and changed her clothes (to an amazing, adorable, and appropriate outfit, by the way).  I apologized.  She apologized.  We gave each other space.  But there’s no taking those words back.  No getting that day back.

How many days, how many years would I like to get back and do over?  We don’t get them back and we can’t do them over, but we can learn from them so that the next day, the next year, is better than the last one.

When we circled back to speak about the day, it was her half-birthday.  I gave her Rosemary Wells’ Voyage to the Bunny Planet (thank you my friend for the suggestion), where the day that “should have been” gets reimagined.  She said that she was sad that she would never have that day back, the happy and confident first day she had dreamed of and hoped to memorialize with a photo.  She shared her dreams for a fun and social senior year, in spite of the rigors of an AP-heavy workload and the anxiety of applying to colleges.  And then she confided that she wishes she could hang on to being 17 forever.  I too want this time to last forever.  To hold my girl close.  To magically turn the bad days into good ones.  But it is her time.  Her time to grow up, to become a woman, to figure out what makes her happy, what interests her, who she is.  Fly, beautiful girl!  Find your passion.  Live your life.  Don’t let me hold you back.

From Boy To Man


A Talisman for My Son

We gave away the swing set today.

Ten years ago, at the peak of the building euphoria when we completed the renovation of and addition to our house, we bought this childhood accessory, fantasizing about the fun times our children would have flying through the air.  They were 3 and 7.  We had some metal monkey bars from a neighbor, but I wanted swings.  I had had a swing set as a child and was determined to provide this accoutrement for my children, hoping it would attract friends and laughter.  Happy solitude would be okay with me also.  The swing set got a lot of use that first summer.  Pretty quickly though, the slide didn’t seem very slippery or very steep.  The monkey bars were wood and gave my son splinters.  He preferred the ugly metal hand-me-down from before.  My daughter could no longer hang upside down without her head touching the ground.  The squirrels chewed up the canopy.  The next-door neighbors used it more than we did.  It has completely languished for the last few years.  Finally, it was time.  The decade of having young children has passed.  The neighbors up the street eagerly accepted the offer, carting it away and power-washing it with enthusiasm.  The swing set has new life.  They completely surprised me with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine to say thank-you.  Four and two, the young girl looked me in the eye and handed me the bouquet of flowers.  It was all I could do to not cry.  It is time.  I wish them friends and laughter; happy solitude; and the sensation of flying to the sky when they swing.

My son turns fourteen this week.  My sweet boy is turning into a young man.  He doesn’t ask for a lot, but when he does he is very determined to get it.  We usually come up with a way to give him what he wants if we see it is important to him.   When we asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he surprised us with a thought out answer. He wants a coin on a chain, like my husband.  Many of his peers wear a chain with a cross.  I suspect he may want a chain like theirs to fit in.   But we are not Christian, so he knows the symbolic cross does not belong around his neck.  No, better to aspire to the trappings of manhood that his father has adopted and make them his own.  My husband’s grandmother gave him an ancient Roman coin that he had mounted and wears on a chain.  He treasures this coin and never takes it off.  A talisman of extraordinary power and magic.  What son would not want the same?

My husband and I were both touched by his request and set about researching the options.  My husband found a coin with Neptune/Poseidon on one side (my son’s favorite god) and a boy on a dolphin on the obverse.  The boy on the dolphin is, Taras, Poseidon’s son who was rescued from a shipwreck by a dolphin.  It also could be the boy version of Genius – representing the notion that a divine inner spirit resides within us and guides us and determines our character.  I like that interpretation.  And don’t we all need a guardian angel?

As my son turns 14, we are saying good-bye to so many of his childhood ways.  His voice is changing.  I must get a video of him – IMMEDIATELY – before his young voice completely vanishes.  I feel quite urgent about this.  He no longer crawls into bed with us.  Really.  Finally.  It is over.  For 14 years, he has slipped into bed with us eager for a comforting snuggle, a soothing backrub.  When he was a little boy, this was a nightly occurrence.  Gradually, it became just weeknights in the early morning hours around 4 am.  On the weekends, non-school-nights, he was more relaxed and able to sleep deeply and securely.  In the last year or so, the early morning visits have become less frequent – though he remains an enthusiastic hugger and snuggler at other times of the day.  Now, I can’t quite remember the last time he came in.  Just as well, he is getting so big, he really doesn’t fit – galumphing in between us to find a spot.  We knew this day would come.  We were pretty sure he’d stop climbing into bed before he left for college.  And with high school right around the corner, he seems to be on schedule.  I miss my little boy.  I am holding my breath for the man he is going to become.

One of the many things I feel I have missed out on by not belonging to a religious community is the tradition of ritual.  As he transitions from boy to man, it is an occasion to celebrate with a rite of passage.  Without a Confirmation ceremony or Bar Mitzvah, I feel the need to mark his growing maturity and sense of responsibility in some meaningful way.  We will have a family party and make a favorite meal and gift him with his Roman coin.  We will dance to the Beatles’ Birthday song.  And perhaps we will share our thoughts on what makes a good man.

My dear son, as you make the transition from boy to man, know that I am so proud of you.  We tend to think of good men as handsome and strong protectors.  These physical characteristics don’t last.  It is the strength inside you that will make you a good and honorable man.  I wish for you to have the courage to speak what is true and important to you and to live according to what you value.  Accept responsibility.  Seek adventure.  Be generous, patient, and loving.  Fight for truth.  Fight for love.  Live with integrity.  Live like you have only one life.

But What About the Laundry?


My Deepest Fear

Sunday morning, my daughter woke up crying.  She had a class trip to Six Flags and was overwhelmed with homework.  Frightened of her anxiety born of perfectionism, too much like mine, I galvanized her to go on the trip.  “When you’re 50, you will wish you had spent more time having fun and less time on work.”  A tearful mess, (her, not me) I deposited her at the school and went home and worried.  My husband suggested that I surprise our son by taking him to Six Flags.  That way, I could check on our daughter and please my son at the same time.  (Conveniently, he had a business trip that day and could not join us on this “great adventure.”)

I don’t like amusement parks.  I was terrified of the local Halloween Haunted House as a child.  Dark with costumed figures jumping out and bowls of spaghetti guts and peeled grape eyeballs to feel, it was not a frisson of fun for me.  While the other kids were laughing, I was quaking and looking for the exit.  My fear was compounded with embarrassment at not fitting in with the other kids.  What was the matter with me?  When it came to rides, I could barely stand the Merry-Go-Round.  The Ferris Wheel was too high.  The Round-Up was too fast.  I never went on those flying swings.  And forget about roller coasters.  As amusement parks became theme parks and got better at supplying a well-rounded overall experience instead of just rides (think Disney, Busch Gardens), I grudgingly accepted them and even have been known to have a good time, usually in the company of more adventurous and extraverted souls.  The log flume ride was fun!  But roller coasters – I hated them.  The safety belt strapping you in so that you don’t die when you go upside down.  The adrenalin as you crank up to the first swoop.  The force of the swoop on your neck.  The wondering when the ride is going to be over.  The nausea.  The screaming.  And the newer ones in the dark?  I hate them.  I hate amusement parks.

I looked at my husband like he was crazy.  “But what about the laundry?” I exclaimed, grasping at a responsible-sounding excuse.  I wanted to go to yoga.  I wanted to plant spring flowers.  Maybe go for a bike ride.  And, of course, I had the weekly laundry to do.  I did not want to go to Six Flags.  But I was worried about my daughter.  And I did want to make my son happy.  Rarely spontaneous, I am quite sure that when I am 90, I will wish I had spent more time having fun and less time on laundry.  I woke my son and told him we were going to Six Flags.  The surprise, the disbelief, the thrill on his face gave me joy.  Off we went.

When we arrived, I remembered why I hate amusement parks.  The long lines.  The loud music.  The rickety rides.  The junk food.  (I brought my own peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, of course.  I cannot eat that food.  Thank god the security guard didn’t make me throw it away when he inspected my purse.  Speaking of purses, do not bring a purse to an amusement park.  You cannot go upside down on a roller coaster with a purse.)  Six Flags pretty much consists of roller coasters, ranging from scary to terrifying.  It doesn’t help that I wonder about their maintenance and safety records and am skeptical of the nonchalant teens operating them.  For better or worse, the first ride we hit was the most terrifying.  (SUPERMAN:  Ultimate Flight)  I used my yoga:  Breathe.  Remember it doesn’t last long.  I willed the adrenalin to subside.  We swooped and screamed and I did not lose my purse.  I acknowledged, firmly and with no embarrassment nor apology this time around:  I hate roller coasters.  I hate amusement parks.  I wished that I could be a more enthusiastic and spontaneous and fun-loving mother for my son, but I couldn’t do it.  We spent the day sauntering the park, looking for rides that were not too terrifying.  He solicitously didn’t want to make me go on any rides that were too scary.  We ran into my daughter once.  She was having a good time with her friends and didn’t want to be stalked by her mother and little brother.  We let her be.  Exhausted, and about $200 in the hole, we drove home.  My daughter returned on the bus to her mounds of homework.  Life returned to its normal relentless pace of too much to do and too little time for joy and connection.

A 13-year-old boy killed himself this week.  I don’t know him.  It doesn’t matter.  I am devastated.  So sad for his mother.  I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy who can’t imagine life without him.  Even when, (especially when), we have days where I fall short of being the fun-loving mother I aspire to be and imagine he wants.  Tragedies like this one remind me that every day is precious, even when they’re not perfect.  Perhaps being the careful-loving mom that I am who acknowledges who she is and who she is not may be the best mom I can be to him.

Life is hard.  We all suffer.  Some more than others.  At 50, I have more self-knowledge and self-acceptance than I had as a teen.  I have become resilient, surviving the troughs because I have the experience of surviving previous troughs.  Surviving because I have people I love and who love me.  Surviving for those precious and imperfect moments of joy and connection.  Surviving because I am grateful for all the good in my life.  My deepest, most unfathomable fear is to lose a child.  I pray that my children never experience so much pain that they feel there is no way out.  I pray that my children speak their anger and ask for help.  I pray that my children do less laundry and have more fun.

“Who’s Your Favorite?”


Love Is Not Finite

“You’re my favorite,” I winked conspiratorially at my son.

My 17-year-old daughter was packing for Spain and having a conniption about not being able to use her phone (the terribly backward iPhone 4).  We had arranged for a loaner Droid, but it was not up to her standards.  It was my fault.

My husband was scornfully not eating his delicious crabcakes for dinner, because I had forgotten to get tartar sauce to accompany them.  His dinner was ruined.  It was my fault.

My son had dutifully done his homework and uncomplainingly eaten his crabcake.  He pointed both out to me, leveraging the opportunity to come out on top of the family rating scale that evening.  And so, what else could I say but “You’re my favorite.”

“Ah!  Mom, do you know that that is the first time you’ve said that to me?” he replied with an earnest look into my eyes and a catch in his voice.

He is almost 14.  How could that be?

“Kiera, Daddy, even Cooper!  (our beloved parakeet) but never me,” he added, inserting knife and twisting.

Maternal guilt strikes.

“Who’s Your Favorite” had become a family joke.  All Aidan’s life, he has anxiously and eagerly demanded to know who was our favorite.  So sure it was his ambitious, obedient, over-achieving big sister.  So desperate for it to be him, we dealt with it by:

  1. Refusing to answer the question.
  2. Answering the question by naming anyone in our family community except for him – teasingly.
  3. Engaging in long, philosophical conversations about love.

How could he possibly be insecure about our love for him?!  We have enfolded him, literally and figuratively, into our arms, our lives, our hearts, profoundly.  I know no deeper love.  How does he not know this to the core of his soul?

When I was pregnant with him, I confided to my husband:  “I love Kiera so much.  I am afraid I won’t love another child as much.”  As an insecure only child, I had little-to-no experience with groupings of people, waxing and waning of friendships, sibling rivalry.  I did know what it was like to want to be the favorite of my parents in our dysfunctional triangle.   I, like Aidan, wanted people all to myself.  If there was fighting, it meant the love was gone.  I never experienced “normal” family fighting and making up and loving each other even when you disagreed or thought the other person was annoying.  My husband, one of three children, said gently to me: “Love is not finite.  You will make room in your heart for another child.”  How did he know?

Sure enough, when Aidan was born, my heart burst open more and there it was:  deep, profound, maternal love for this amazing creature.  So different from my first child.  He is sweet, sensitive, eager to please yet stubborn, charming, competitive, funny, empathetic, motivated by avoiding parental displeasure, disarmingly naïve, and deeply honest and transparent.  He pretty much would be happy staying home 24-7 and hanging out with us all day long.  He tolerates school, mainly because it is important to us.  His is a tough personality to have in a family where everyone else is busy being an over-achiever.

How can I help him feel secure that we love him and confident that his qualities are valuable?  It is challenging for me to not focus on academic and competitive achievements, because that is what I have spent my life valuing.  Aidan’s interests and talents lie elsewhere.

He is the best hugger I know and will happily spend unlimited amounts of time just being close.  Just being.  Not my comfort zone.  I want to encourage healthy, loving touch between mother and son.  Since I did not have that with my father, nor with my mother, it is difficult to know how best to be close.  Am I helping or hindering his appropriate development and eventual independence and separation?

He is not self-conscious.  He says what he thinks; he asks what he doesn’t know; and he is loyal to his family and his friends with intensity and without embarrassment.  There is no calculus of how is behavior or his words will impact his social standing or his cool factor.  He wears his heart on his sleeve.  As first grade teacher Mrs. Goldman whispered to me at our parent-teacher conference, “Aidan is a treasure.”  Yes, he is.

He plugs away at all that we ask of him, with mixed ability and mixed results.  He is diligent, resistant, a procrastinator, a day-dreamer, hard-working, lazy, thoughtful, creative.

He makes me laugh.

He remembers the words to all the tv commercial jingles.  (But not the words to all the math theorems.)

My interactions with him frequently take the form of nagging.  Did you do your homework?  When is your next math exam?  Did you read the chapter for ELA yet?  Pick up your clothes.  Make your bed.  Set the table.  Take a shower.  The time we spend together revolves around working on homework or driving to tennis clinic.  It is wearing us both out.  Surely there is more for us to talk about and do together?  I am at fault.  On the treadmill of life and achievement, I want to make sure he is keeping up.  Instead of quizzing him, perhaps I should listen to him, say yes more, and be open to what he has to teach me, to offer me.  Lessons on how to love, how to relax and have fun, how to be.

A few weeks ago, Aidan invited me to go to the movies with him.  I suppressed my impulse to say “No, I’m too tired on Fridays and just want to go home and relax.”  After all, how much longer will a 13-year-old boy want to go to the movies with his mom?  We went out to dinner afterwards and shared our thoughts about the movie.  And then we did it again the following week.  And again the following week.  Maybe this will be our thing.  It is for now.  When I get out of the house I’m not consumed with all the chores I should be doing and all the homework he should be doing.  When we get out of the house, we can just be ourselves, having fun together.

%d bloggers like this: