Now that my eldest child is firmly planted in his 30s with a good job, good friends and a reasoned approach to love, money and the pursuit of happiness, I can look with greater clarity at the ways I almost annihilated him.
There was the time when he was a baby and I let him roll off the front porch, luckily into a thick pile of soft leaves.
There was the afternoon when he was 4 and I shooed him away while I was on the phone. He shooed away all right. He took the keys to the car, got in the vehicle, put it into gear and started backing out of the driveway. Luckily I heard the car before he got too far.
There was the time when he was 6, and I agreed to let him pump gas for the car for the first time.
I apparently wasn’t paying enough attention as he released the trigger on the gas gun mid-stream, which forced a violent expulsion into his nose, eyes and mouth, which caused him to scream and cry for 20 minutes while an alert passerby found a hose to douse him with water, which left me to feel like a Bad Mother in Public and later to sit up on my elbow all night watching for symptoms the poison control hotline said might occur, but luckily, didn’t.
He survived emotional affronts at my hand, too, like when he was in sixth grade, and I lowered myself to the lowest of the low, slithering up the stairs on my belly to listen outside his slightly ajar bedroom door while he talked on the phone to his first girlfriend. I was convinced they were doing something salacious, when, as it turns out, they were playing musical tunes back and forth to each other on their phone keypads.
He caught his mother being a snake that afternoon.
And he survived that, too.
He survived my other human falterings, my forgetting to always apply sunscreen, my sometimes leaving him to sit too long in a wet diaper, my leading by example how to consume Moose Tracks out of the carton and pickles out of the jar without a fork. He survived my failure to teach him enough about mending clothes, about balancing a budget and how evil the world really can be.
He survived the bad amidst, yes, the good, the time I taught him how to face responsibility head-on by making him go directly to his second-grade teacher, look her in the eyes and apologize for misbehaving in class. I instilled in him the value of truth above all when I got down at eye level with him when he was 9 and thanked him, rather than punishing him, for telling me he broke a lamp. He lived through flu and midnight croups, surgeries and painful ear infections and once, after a trip to Senegal when he was 23, typhoid fever, his mother by his side.
While at the time I singled out the signature moments of my parenting as good or bad, leading me to either a) pat myself on the back at the end of the day or b) browbeat myself to a pulp, the incidents are not so important to categorize anymore.
It took his growing into a young man for me to see the triumphs and failures of my ways as one in the same, the steps of a fierce mother bear determined to guide her children to their greatest potential, armed with enough information to write her own “What to Expect” and presented with a dozen decisions and morality plays every day that had to be sifted through sometimes instantaneously.
Handing over that gas nozzle to Chris was me attempting to give him the responsibility he wanted so badly at the age of 6. Listening to his phone call at the top of the stairs was me getting information in case there was something I needed to do to protect him.
Such justifications don’t let me off the hook. I should have been watching closer. I should have asked him what he was doing upstairs and then trusted him to tell me the truth.
But now, at the end of the day, at the end of these 31 years, as I allow myself to see clearly, what I see staring back with every event, is intention. It’s a bit of a buzzword this days, and for good reason: With more questions than answers in this age of information, sometimes all we know for sure is what we mean to be.
“I want to be a vast shore her emotional waves can break against anytime, anywhere,” mother, family physician and mindfulness coach Kaveri Patel writes of her daughter in her blog post “Motherly Intentions.” “I know that this won’t always be possible, that I will sometimes meet her waves with my own, causing a larger tidal wave than necessary. During these times, I ask for forgiveness, and the remembrance that other mothers experience this, too.”
What I mean to be this week, as I wish my son a happy birthday, is just the right mom for my adult son, no overkill on the presents, the confections or the praise.
Failing this, I will remember my intent.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.