That’s 2-year-old “Momma” with my Auntie in the group photo at the 1982 Williams Family Reunion in Monroe, North Carolina
That’s 2-year-old “Momma” with my Auntie in the group photo at the 1982 Williams Family Reunion in Monroe, North Carolina
Growth spurts are something you become all too acquainted with as a parent. At first, they were awesome. But after two years of swiping my debit card for kiddie wardrobes, “Yay! He’s out of preemie clothes!” became “Whoa, I just bought him new shoes TWO MONTHS AGO!” Six years in, I’ve learned to anticipate the all-new-everything trips to Target, so it’s not as painful as it once was. But just when I thought I’d made peace with “the spurts”, parenthood threw me a change-up I was ill-equipped to hit.
Sometime this past year, under the guise of kindergarten, My Boy had his first real maturity spurt without my permission. What’s a maturity spurt, you wonder? Well, a maturity spurt is a growth spurt without the shopping trip, but with more interesting “conversations” about why mommy and daddy don’t live together. Jesus, take the wheel. I was just getting pretty good at parenting my child as he was, then he up and started trying to make sense of things. Who said that was ok?! He has more complicated questions and slightly more annoying opinions and I haven’t yet adjusted to this person that used to be my 5-year-old. But now that I’m less mom-motional about the whole thing, I’ll begin at the beginning.
It started during my boy’s last week of kindergarten and I was feeling like I cared a little too much that it was his last week of kindergarten. So, I asked him how he was feeling about his last week of kindergarten and he said something to the effect of “whatevs”. That was clue #1 that something was up. Here are some other things that
made me itch tipped me off that My Boy had a case of the spurts…
Clue #2 – First day of summer camp. My Boy didn’t want to hold my hand when we walked in. Say what, now?! He wanted to make an impression on the big kids. So be it. But when did he start caring about his rep?! I kissed his face so the other kids would see, got in my car and shed a tear for my child’s new rep as a boy who doesn’t hold his mom’s hand anymore. My life.
Clue #3 – The Lost Shirt Debacle. Somewhere between the locker room and the pool, My Boy lost his shirt at summer camp one day. Instead of turning circles for a half-hour, then crying shirtless to a camp counselor like my pre-kindergarten child might have done, he promptly went to the lost and found, picked out what he deemed to be a suitable t-shirt and put it on. Yuck and yay for budding problem-solving skills!
Clue #4 – Speaking of locker rooms, did you know little boys compare their weenis sizes in there?! I didn’t! Apparently, My Boy had one of the larger peni in the 5 to 6-year-old division. Yes, he told me this…in a rather matter-of-fact sort of way too, like “No, I’m serious, Mom. It was the biggest one. We checked.” What do you say to that?! Five-year-old Boy would have never pulled out his weenis. Right?
Clue #5 – The Question to End All Questions for the Next 20 Years of My Life. “Mom, why can’t you and Dad live in the same house?” Or some variation of that. Sometime this year, My Boy suddenly became aware of our ‘situation’ and he started wondering why we have a ‘situation’ at all. Sometimes confused by it (“But I thought you could only have babies if you were married.”) and sometimes enthused by it (double the rooms, double the toys), My Boy is trying to piece things together. His questions have gotten more complicated and my answers have gotten slightly more detailed, but it’s interesting to watch his process, to watch him sort things out from the answers I give him. But man, that parental guilt is a doozy, ain’t it? Despite how smoothly our co-parenting efforts have played out over the years, his father and I will have to account for our past actions through questions from Our Boy at every stage of his life. I’m drafting talking points.
Even though they make me uneasy and occasionally cause me to question my abilities as a mother, these spurts do us both some good. They challenge me to be a more aware and responsive parent, but they also reveal, with every new shoe size and awkward question, that My Boy…is obviously too damn smart and going to be over 6 ft tall. Jesus, take my car.
Take a good look at this picture, folks. This is me and my boy, almost six years ago, on the job. He couldn’t have been any older than five or six months. I was a lunatic in the midst of my “Every Woman” phase; energetic and naive enough to think I could do it all. Even though I tried at the time (and subsequently failed) to juggle all of the balls of my life with equal parts love and attention, I don’t remember being this tired.
It’s not like I haven’t done this before, the work-mom thing. I worked through my entire pregnancy, right up until my water broke seven weeks early. I spent a week in the hospital getting steroid shots in the rump for part of it, peeing in a bed pan for all of it and calculating how I’d make it back to the office before college basketball season (I worked at an arena). I was a bit of a workaholic. Fine, I was a lot of a workaholic. And as soon as I got the chance, I hit the ground running with a portable breast pump in tow. Yes, folks. I pumped everyday at work (twice a day) then came home and breastfed my boy for 9 1/2 months. Other positions followed over the years, but one thing was consistent, I spent more time at work than I did at home.
Until one fateful day, in a position a year and a half ago, I was told to pack my iPod docking station and go. Bummer, right? Kind of. As much as being laid-off sucked (and it did indeed suck), what didn’t suck was all the time I got to spend with my boy. I was exhibiting real SAHM (stay-at-home mom)-type behaviors. I picked him up from school. I went to the Halloween costume parade in the middle of the day. I took him to the park while the sun was still up instead of putting it off until Saturday. We ate dinner at 6! Even when I started working part-time, there was a flexibility to my schedule that allowed me to be with him in a way I would have never gotten to if I had to work five to six (sometimes seven) days a week. I enjoyed that part of my career hiatus. The other parts still sucked.
So, here I am again. Living just enough for the ci-tay. Well, I’m working in the city (New York City, that is), full-time to boot. I like what I do and my pockets like what I do too, but…there’s always a but. I’m tired. Did I say that before? And I miss my boy. Here’s the thing. I wake up at 5:30am and set foot back in my apartment at 7:30pm. We cram a lot into the hour and a half before his bedtime. After he lays down and we say our I-love-yous, I sit on the couch long enough to realize I have to do this all over again tomorrow. Why am I frustrated by that? Ask any mom with a job. Better yet, ask any mom with a job that’s going back to school or is starting a business. Being is mother is not light work, whether you have a paying job or not. I actually don’t get how SATMs with more than one child do it. Respect. But with working moms there is always this guilt of not being there and I’m still too young to be that guilt-ridden…again.
I’m a 31-year-old woman with aspirations of being useful to my job without being useless at home. Does this sound reasonable to anyone else? It can’t just be me. I want to work and I miss my boy, but I don’t want to be the mom that has to bring her kid to work in order to spend time with him (i.e. me circa 2006). The road I’ve traveled to this point in my life has made me a lot wiser about the ways of the world and I’ve learned that the world doesn’t care if I get home in time to thaw out some chicken. So, where do we go from here? I’m trying to figure it out. There is no easy answer. I HAVE to work and I AM a mom. In my world, those two are constant. In my world, those two will always be at odds. In my world, we go to the park on Saturdays, thaw the chicken on Sundays and figure out the rest as it comes.
Growing up, my mother used to say, “Momma’s baby; daddy’s maybe” as a warning of sorts for me to keep my legs closed. I got it, even as a hormone-ravaged teenager, that a man can, at anytime, on any whim, walk away. “Daddy’s maybe” was more than a question of paternity, but a more pointed question of responsibility.
See, I grew up in a single-parent home. Unfortunately, I know what the abandonment of one parent can do to the people they leave behind. My family and I developed our own coping mechanisms because of it; some good, some good and terrible. But thanks to a ton of grace and elbow grease, we’re productive and content and sane.
Although, my brother and I had our gripes as kids (curfews and grades and expectations and stuff), these three things we knew to be true: (1) We were loved. (2) We were wanted. (3) Mommy wasn’t going anywhere.
We were raised to believe that you are responsible to the people you are responsible for. So, when I saw the story about Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, I found myself trying to understand what I believed to be unforgivable and trying not to judge behavior I abhor.
Ten years ago, Ms. Rizzuto, while on a fellowship in Japan, had an “epiphany” when her children came to visit her. She didn’t want to be a full-time mother anymore. Hell, she didn’t want children in the first place. After 20 years of marriage, she didn’t want that either. She just wanted to be…her.
I can understand that. As mothers, we all have moments when the sheer weight of mothering is crushing, like an elephant on your chest. It is enormously difficult to not let parenthood, marriage and domesticity overtake you. It’s a struggle to remember to take care of you while you take care of everyone else. In that sense, I get her because I’ve been there. But, the group hug ends there.
I’m all for self-fulfillment and finding the “U” in human, but at what point does that righteousness become self-righteous? Ms. Rizzuto seems to be worshipping at the altar of Ms. Rizzuto and I can’t applaud that kind of idiolatry. I can’t nod my head in agreement and somehow rationalize how parenting at your convenience (or part-time parenting, as she calls it) is ok. It’s not. She didn’t have an addiction or a mental disability or walking pneumonia. You know, something that would actually render her incapable. She. Just. Quit. Admittedly, I don’t have the mental breadth to fully take that in and appreciate it. I’m just not that sophisticated, I guess. Please excuse my naivety, but I’m not impressed by the ability of a mother to sacrifice her children for the sake of her ego, regardless of how eloquently her book is written (ahem, Meredith Viera).
Ms. Rizzuto claims her children are “fine” and, for her sake, I hope they are. No child benefits from knowing they weren’t wanted. No child benefits from the whole country knowing it either. And there’s the rub. Why the book? It feels like insult to injury to me. Where is her sense of responsibility to her boys? Can’t a part-time parent, part-time care? In her case, the answer is always maybe.
Extracurricular activities were a HUGE part of my growing up. I played piano for 10 years and competed in pageants for seven. I did gymnastics for six months, I think. Then there was the drum and bugle corp where I was a baton twirler. I was in a couple of plays through a theatrical group based in Newark, N.J. Oh, I took karate for a little bit. I walked in a few fashion shows. I was a member of a performance choir that sang classical hymns (five-part harmonies are dope!). At 14, I joined a youth symphonic ensemble (yes, I said that) where we played the english handbells (yes, I said that too), among other things. By the time I got to high school, I was a member of the basketball and track teams and I traveled with the volleyball team my junior and senior years as a statman of sorts on top of doing four of the other things I mentioned earlier.
“Idle time is the devil’s time”, so sayeth my mother. And now that I’m a mother, so sayeth me too.
It’s very important to me that my boy be well-rounded; to have learning experiences outside of the classroom. He needs skills in something other than Wii Resort is what I’m trying to say. Maybe we’ll find something he loves and is good at. Maybe we’ll find something he hates and I’ll make him do anyway. Who knows. Point is, how am I supposed to know if I have the next Bruce Leroy on my hands if I don’t get him some lessons?
So, his daddy and I started him in taekwondo two months ago. Note to self, I do NOT have the next Bruce Leroy on my hands. My boy has the killer instinct of Steven Segal with the physical ability of Steve Urkel. It’s hilarious to watch. He’s getting better though. After he earned his green tape last Saturday, you couldn’t have found a kid with a bigger toothless grin in that dojang. We were high-fiving all over the place!
And so that begins my boy’s journey to something else. Piano is next, with his parents as his teachers. I pray for our collective strength.
Parents, what are some of the activities you have your child involved with?
I wanted to write you something you might read one day when you’re older on a Valentine’s Day far into our futures. I imagine while you read it, you’ll laugh, and maybe shed a tear and say, “That’s my Momma.” I picture your mind flooding with some of your favorite memories of me. Maybe you’ll sing our morning song to yourself or reminisce on our nightly routine. I hope you will chuckle at the first time I put you on punishment or how we’d fall asleep on the couch on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Wait. I think I’m dead in this picture I’m painting. Scratch that. While you read this letter and remember my quirky motherly ways, I’m alive and wrinkled and cussing about how to work the phone.
But whenever or if ever you read this, no matter where life takes you, you should know that Mommy wants you to be a doctor. No seriously, it’s hilarious how uncoordinated you are. There’s an advanced degree in your future Boop, and I can’t wait to go to all of your graduations!
All kidding aside, hun, you should know that the Almighty did me one hell of a favor by giving me you. Almost immediately after pushing you out, I had two revelations. The first was, “Oh shiz, I make people!” The second was, “I have to be better.” I didn’t know what better was or what it looked like, but I wanted it for you and because of you. I needed you to know what a physically and emotionally healthy, semi-sane mother with good self-esteem looked like. And I needed to know what it felt like to be that woman for myself. Just by showing up, you opened me up. I’d say thank you, but like I said, all you did was show up. 🙂
This was supposed to be a love letter and it kind of is. Kind of. It’s the sort of love letter that comes from the type of mother God stuck you with. I’m not good at mushy, honey, but I’m good at sincere. So with a few minutes officially left in Valentine’s Day 2011, I’ll say this. I couldn’t love you any less if I wanted to. You’ve altered me; you’ve improved me; you’ve given me reason and I hope you don’t know that until you’re 35.
Happy Valentine’s Day, my boy. I hope you’re dreaming about good things like dinosaurs and Indiana Jones.
If he knows enough to kung-fu grip the testes and call them ‘nuts’ to my face, then he should know enough to take care of them on his own. I mean, they are his and he is in kindergarten now and he doesn’t even call me mommy anymore. So, he’s basically a man. And men don’t let their momma’s wash their balls. There you go…reasoning. Flawed, yet sensible. I kid, but I’m serious.
So, How To Wash Your Weenis 101 commenced. I won’t go into specifics, but just like any other little kid fascinated by his genitals, my boy got a kick out of me saying “testicles” and took pride in being able to wash his parts on his own. I was fine for the most part, but let me tell you, I took no pleasure in saying, “Make sure you get the shaft real good.”
However, in some weird way, that moment provided me with some motherly perspective. And this being a blog and all, I’ll share it with you. My Oprah ah-ha moment was this: My son is not my property, he is my responsibility. It’s easy to want to claim ownership of someone when you’ve given them half of their chromosomes, but parenthood is not about the possession of your creation. It is the science of learning to let go…everyday. It is living the mantra that when he can, he should and it is my job to make sure he does. As milestones pass in his life and he accomplishes feats that will certainly be his own, he should have the confidence in his own ability, intellegence and common sense to take care of himself without asking (or needing) the help or opinion of others…even mine (I mean, not now, but at some point :)). That is my responsibility…that is my charge.
As mothers, our hearts sometimes break as much as they spill with pride as our child(ren) become more independent. I had no such inclination to emote about this one. I only felt relief and a little bit of satifaction. I won’t have my boy grow up to be an able-bodied, right-minded burden on his family, friends and whatever woman he decides to make his wife. It may seem to be a big leap to make from something so small, but I often say, “small leaks sink big ships”. And if something is going to sink his ‘ship’, it won’t be the fact that he can’t clean his own cajones.
I wish I could wrap this up nicely and tell you he’s an expert at the fine art of washing, but I’m a terrible liar. He’s five and a boy, so he thinks one wipe and no soap will do the trick. I supervise or end up just taking over all together if time doesn’t permit the former. But I’m committed to the cause because I have to be and because I don’t want to be known as the woman with the grown-man-of-a-son that can’t wash himself. Take the cloth, my boy. Just take the cloth.
So tell me mommas (and poppas), when did you decide it was time for your boy(s) to start taking the reigns on caring for his wang?