Celebrating the Love of My Life

It’s just past midnight, so technically it is now my son’s birthday. The love of my life is 25 years old today. And I remember him learning how to walk as if it was yesterday. I’m going to reiterate something I’ve written before — as it still holds the same meaning in my heart now as when I first put it down on paper a couple of years ago.

A carnival gypsy once told me that the love of my life would be tall, dark and handsome.  Somehow she failed to mention he would arrive on the waves of excruciating labor pains.  Now, 25 years later to the day, my son can legally buy alcohol, towers over me, and resembles Paul Bunyan.    He’s out on his own and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Still, whenever we talk, I oftentimes offer unsolicited advice.  No, really, I do.   Other mothers do this too, right?  Right??  Well of course Jake’s response is usually one borne of frustration because, according to him, I’ve not kept up with his birthdays all these years and therefore don’t know just how old he is.  My response is one he will never understand until he has kids of his own – he’s always my baby regardless of how old he may be.  Or how tall.  Or how thick a beard he decides to grow (I mean really, you do own a razor after all Jake!).

Yes, I do know he’s “all grown up.” But sometimes what I see in Jake’s face (despite his tall stature) is the same little boy who went out to play with me in the snow when we had a midnight storm, the small child whose laugh was forever a bright spot in my day.  He is still a bright spot in my day — our conversations always, but always, interesting and spirited with amazingly broad topics. He keeps me on my toes. Of course, I take credit for his love of Marvel Comics and the MCU, even though like Sarah, he knows more about the subject than I do. He has a strong work ethic, integrity, a desire to stand up for those he feels are maligned, and a good heart. In other words, everything a mother could hope for…and more. I could go on and on — but the point is very simple. I love my son. He makes my world a better place just by existing in it.

Perhaps his views will change when (and if) he has a child, but for now, Jake, as with most young people his age, doesn’t understand that when I look at him, I still see that wide-eyed, precocious boy who stole my heart the day he was born.

My Son (or Paul Bunyan Redux)

A carnival gypsy once told me that the love of my life would be tall, dark and handsome.  Somehow she failed to mention he would arrive on the waves of excruciating labor pains.  Now, 23 years later to the day, my son can legally buy alcohol, towers over me, and resembles Paul Bunyan.    He’s out on his own and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Still, whenever we talk, I oftentimes offer unsolicited advice.  No, really, I do.   Other mothers do this too, right?  Right??  Well of course Jake’s response is usually one borne of frustration because, according to him, I’ve not kept up with his birthdays all these years and therefore don’t know just how old he is.  My response is one he will never understand until he has kids of his own – he’s always my baby regardless of how old he may be.  Or how tall.  Or how thick a beard he decides to grow (I mean really, you do own a razor after all Jake!).

And many times during these mutually frustrating conversations, a mental picture of him will pop into my head.  Like when he and I went outside to play in the yard like maniacs during a freak midnight snowstorm when he was 4.  Or when he was a very convincing snowman in a school play at the age of 5.  Or as a 6 year old on a trip to Luray Caverns….which is actually a pretty cute story and one that I go to often in my mental rolodex of memories because it never ceases to make me smile.

We used to make the trek to Luray Caverns every year, sort of a family tradition.  These trips were always a great time.  For those not familiar with the area, near Luray is another set of caverns touted as “The Endless Caverns.”  To me, that sounds sort of horrible. The idea that you could possibly get lost and never find your way out of the dark, stone tunnels, eventually succumbing to starvation with your body going undiscovered for maybe centuries didn’t fill me with a great amount of intrigue.  Sort of like an “always erupting volcano” or “constantly snowing tundra.”  Okay fine, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic….but hey, it could happen.

Well, on this particular trip when we passed one of the billboards emblazoned with “Endless Caverns” Jake asked just what “endless” meant.  Remember, he’s only 6 at the time so he was still trying to figure out the intricacies of the English language which can be tough on anyone.  Being the vocabulary nut I am, I was thrilled to explain to him “Well, Jake, endless means that something doesn’t have an end…. never-ending.”

This is where I have to take a small sidebar and let you know that my husband’s running compliment for me at that time was “hot.”  It could also be interpreted as a running joke.  And having the goofy mentality that my husband did he was always coming up with a “you’re so hot…” comment.   As in “You’re so hot you make lava look cool.”  I know, I know….but what can you do?  I married him anyway.  Not sure what that says about me, all things considering.

So, back to the story….as the meaning of “endless” registered with Jake, he perked up and said, “Oh, so it’s like you. You’re hotless.  Never-ending hot.”   Why yes, Jake.  That’s exactly what it means.

To this day I hold that small, innocent remark in my heart as one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.  Not because it’s true and certainly not because Jake fully understood “hot” as it related to women,  but because it came straight from his beautiful, ever loving six year old heart as meaning something special.  Jake will never understand that when I look at him, I still see that wide-eyed, precocious boy who stole my heart the day he was born.   I don’t think that will ever change.  And quite frankly, I hope it never does.

Although seriously…. a razor wouldn’t hurt now and then.

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jake pier

jake and shaylee

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Parenting Re-do

Whoever here is perfect raise your hands please? If any of you had a shot at the title before thinking otherwise and keeping your hand firmly planted, good for you. Correct answer: no one is perfect. I think we can all agree on that. If we follow these delectable bread crumbs of knowledge where does the path logically lead? To the fact that since we’re not perfect, that must mean that we make mistakes. That’s another truism in life: we all make mistakes.

Michelle Obama makes mistakes. Ellen DeGeneres makes mistakes. Even Kate Middleton makes mistakes. Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or where you’re at now, you’re always going to make mistakes. I’m about to reveal one of mine that has been slightly harder to reconcile than a run-of-the-mill daily mistake like burning the toast or tripping up the steps.

Since we’ve already come to a consensus that every person makes mistakes, then that must mean that even parents err. Having a child doesn’t make us godly (even though we now have a tiny human looking at us as if we do hold all the answers). I would say that I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made mistakes raising both my kids, but in reality, it’s something I stress over constantly. Probably more so as it pertains to my son. He’s the older of the two and kinda like the guinea pig to my attempt at what a mom should do. I’ll tell you what, steep learning curve with that one. Really, nothing prepares you to be a parent. You non-parents may think “oh yeah, we’ll I’ve raised dogs before” or “my garden is constantly thriving” and at this I laugh a big hearty cackle to your obliviousness. There is nothing like parenting.

So if there’s no other thing to really draw upon, how good should a first time mom or dad truly expect to be? Imagine that you’re really good at balancing on one foot in yoga class and then you’re supposed to walk a tightrope. Or you play a mean game of Duck Hunt and then someone hands you a double gauged Winchester. It’s sort of like that. Except with guilt.

My son is 22 today and he reigns as the absolute love of my life. I am more proud of him than I am ever able to adequately express, but man, what I wouldn’t give for a couple of redo cards for when he was growing up. Not redoing anything about him, but me…all me.  There never seems like there’s enough time, does there? With a wave of my magic redo card I would conjure up more time spent playing games and less time spent stressing over homework. I’d use another redo card to sit back and marvel at his amazing Lego talent (the kid was a freakin’ savant and could build virtually anything using just a picture in his head) and not fuss so much over the messy aftermath of his architectural achievements. There’d be more bedtime stories and laughter and less stringent time management to make sure he hit his curfew.

I feel like these are common complaints. I wish for more good times and less frustrating oversight, but would there ever be enough good? Probably not. I’d probably be greedy for more carefree times no matter how chocked full of them his youth had been… but I’ll never know and I can’t shake the fact that maybe there weren’t enough. I was too worried about maintaining the perfect house and the perfect family and having him get perfect grades when I should’ve been paying more attention to the perfect little boy that I had right in front of me.

Luckily, no matter what stumbles in my first experiment at parenting yielded, he’s still perfect in my eyes. And he’s a damn good man to boot.

Jake as baby

My Baby

Jake as a teen

Handsome Teen

Jake

His Paul Bunyan Impression

Feed Me

The overwrought parent. It’s an ageless and timeless trope that has been milked for easy jokes on dozens if not hundreds of sitcoms for decades now. The kids come home from college and the mom immediately rushes up to her son or daughter, clawing at their clothing while wailing about how they’re nothing but skin and bones. The mom then makes it her duty to whip up a hearty dinner of meat stew and potatoes to try to fatten her kids up before sending them back off to that barren wasteland known as University.

How many times have I rolled my eyes whenever I saw a mother portrayed that way? I’d think to myself, The kids are fine. Settle down. They’re 20 years old; they know how to find food for the love of God! Little did I know that I was bound for the same fate; my course having been set even before I was born, and now I have finally arrived at that echelon of motherhood teeming with irrational anxiety that for some reason my kids have lost any ability to live independently and will die without my assistance.  Whew. Okay. Breathe.

My grandmother used to always push food on us like we had been locked in the Oliver Twist orphanage for decades on end. The funny thing is that she didn’t do this to us when we were kids, only when we were full-fledged grown-ups coming to visit. I guess that as a child she figured my mom would ensure we were fed. Maybe she thought the older I got, the less likely I would be lucky enough to find someone willing to give me food (because for some reason I don’t have the ability to do it myself). So, me as an adult, I’d come by to say hello and she’d cook for me (always) and even insist that I take food home with me.

I remember she did the same thing to my mother.   A sandwich for the road…biscuits for later…a piece of that fine ham she had for dinner.  It was simply impossible to leave the house without something wrapped in foil or stuffed in Tupperware.

Then it was my mom’s turn. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but she hit a certain age and boom, she fell right in step. Sometimes when I leave her house after a visit it’s like I was just at the Whole Foods store. Balanced in my arms are loaves of bread, canned goods, sweets, and frozen meat (yes, frozen meat). Bless her heart.

Ridiculous, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought.  But the virus has taken over my brain too! My poor son. He’s 22 — a man in the eyes of the law—and has moved into his own place, but he’s still in that “new adult” stage; scraping for cash, trying to get on his own two feet. When he comes to visit I feel that it is my maternal obligation to fill his belly with as much food as I can. I constantly tell him to ransack the place, rummage through the cupboards, take anything. I’m pushing food on him like the generations of mad women before me.

Except now I understand that it’s not that we don’t have faith that our kids can live on their own…it’s just that if we know they’re fed…if we can do that one small thing for them… then we figure they can handle the rest of life on their own. And really, money does play a part in it. I would rather my son ransack my cabinets than live on only Ramen for the week. I know my mom feels the same way about me and that’s why she lets me grocery shop in her cupboards.

We can’t solve all of their problems and we can’t “fix” everything no matter how much we want to. But we can feed them. We can make sure that one primary need is filled. So we can worry about them a little less. Knowing that makes me feel a little less crazy. A little.