I write often in Facebook posts and blog stories about my younger son. He’s a sweet and affection boy who is prone to dramatics; accordingly, there’s a funny story waiting to be written almost each and every day. My older son, though, is different. Maybe because he’s older. Maybe because as he enters his tween years he’s quieter. Maybe because I allow myself to be distracted by the antics of my young son so often that I don’t tap into my older son’s more subtle approach to life. Maybe because this older son, the boy who made me a mother, is a little too much like me and watching him too closely would be like watching myself and sometimes that reflection is just a little too clear to bear.
While I often marvel at my young son and how it is his spirit came through me into a life we all now cherish, it is my older son I know instinctively. There is no wonder about from where he came or why he came to me. I know him, as I’m sure down to my bones I’ve known him forever. He’s funny and kind and loving and sensitive and smart and gorgeous and sweet. In short, he’s my guy.
When he was a baby his dad started graduate school and for the years following he and I really were the two amigos. My husband was always a fully present father to our son, but the day-to-day goings on of life, especially on the weekends, were really between my son and me. He adored me. His sweet little self in his navy blue sweat pants and his long sleeve onesie. His multicolored socks that had foot treads even though he didn’t walk until well past 18 months. His flailing boy parts that always managed to pee just as I took off his diaper. His soft belly that could never quite get full no matter how much milk I produced and was never quite settled no matter how often I rubbed it. His sensitive system that required a strict schedule, likely picking up on my energy that required the same. He and I were in sync and inseparable.
I look back on those early years and think about the hours I spent on the floor of his room, reading and playing and almost falling asleep when he wouldn’t stop reading and playing. The hours we spent together before bed, the way the floor creaked ever so slightly as the music played—Baby Mine, Blackbird, Over the Rainbow—and we rocked together.
I can still feel him all warm and snuggly in his fuzzy foot pajamas. I can still see his wafts of curly blond hair and giant blue eyes struggling to stay open as he fought in vain to keep sleep away. I made patchwork curtains when I was on maternity leave for this soft yellow room his dad painted when we found out I was pregnant. The sheets in his honey-colored crib were a pastel blue plaid and his favorite sleeping companion was a half-stuffed floppy grey and white kitty. Our two cats—the real ones, not the half-stuffed floppy kind–always wanted to sleep by him because he was so warm. I wonder now if they also saw themselves as my son’s protectors, guardians of my greatest gift.
When my son woke in the mornings it was with great delight. He’d laugh and roll around, banging the sides of the crib with his giant head, kicking the slats the way he used to kick me when he was in my belly, usually getting hiccups from the excitement just as he did in utero as well. Later he’d stand, hold the rail, and jump as hard as he could, screeching in joy. I knew when I heard him that it wouldn’t be long before he’d call, “Mommy!” and if I tried to eek out a few more minutes of sleep he’d call again, “Mommmmm-my!” Every time I shuffled into his room those big blue eyes would light up like the morning sky and he’d jump harder and faster as if he’d fly to me if he could only grow some wings.
Soon enough he was crawling, pounding around on the wood floors of our tiny house like a jackhammer—just as loud and just as fast—as if there was nothing more important in the world than hugging our cat or getting his soccer ball. The noise would change from a “bang-bang-bang” to a “slap-slap-slap” as he crossed the threshold from the wood floors of the dining room into the tile of the kitchen. There he’d find the one cabinet not locked and pull out all the metal bowls to clang and stack.
It wouldn’t be long before he was trying to build things like Bob the Builder. We moved to a bigger house just about the time he moved on to the Wiggles. When I was pregnant with his younger brother, trying desperately to both stay awake and not throw up every day after work, his favorite was Dora the Explorer. Later came her cousin Diego. His dad and I chose Bob and the Wiggles and Dora and Digeo to help our son navigate his preschool terrain and, as much as I dreaded them then, I almost long for them now.
As the years pass my melancholy deepens, especially as I look back to the time when my son’s brother was born and can see more clearly how something significantly shifted as a result. He sensed, I think, that his spot was taken. Innately understanding the social cues and familial expectations that he love this new brother, he was conflicted. How could he love someone who took his place?
Of course his place was never taken, nor will it ever be, but at three-years-old the concept of unconditional and undying love is not something easily understood. His dad was soon done with school and available on weekends to play; between that and this new creature attached to my body more often than not, my son naturally gravitated to his dad. Our new house was on a cul-de-sac and he couldn’t get enough of playing outside, so off he and his dad would go, just as it should have been.
I didn’t mourn our shift in family dynamics then. I had a beautiful new baby and was so grateful to have the opportunity to give my child a sibling, something I didn’t have but wanted desperately. Now, though, I can’t help but wax nostalgic. My son is so tall now, with his black and red checkered Vans and his long hairy legs and his unkept hair—his childhood is giving way to young adulthood. I’m so grateful for this. I’m so proud of this. And I’m so pained by this.
My son is growing into the finest of young men. He’s kind and thoughtful, he’s sweet and funny, he’s sensitive and smart and gorgeous. He’s the guy who made me a mother. The guy I’ve known forever and will love forever.
This guy. He’s my guy.