Jen's World: An open letter to my son on his 14th birthday
You are horrified, no doubt, that I am writing about you on your birthday. Perhaps if I were a better mother, I'd save this letter, give it to you privately.
Christian: You are horrified, no doubt, that I am writing about you on your birthday. Perhaps if I were a better mother, I'd save this letter, give it to you privately. But I'm your mother, some days better than other days, and today, while you sleep upstairs and your dad and I wrap your gifts — headphones, running clothes, a pull-up bar for your doorway — I think about all the things I want to say to you and they come spilling out of my fingertips onto the keyboard.
Did you know that when you were two years old, you clapped liked a crazy man on my birthday? Every candle I blew out, every gift I opened, you clapped and clapped in excitement. I don't remember what the cake looked like. I don't remember what gifts I received. I just remember your smiling face, your happy eyes, your blonde hair. It was my best birthday ever. My gosh, I loved you then.
When you were three, you hugged me and asked me if I missed my mommy, because she lived so far away. And I said, yes, I missed her very much. And it was the most thoughtful, insightful thing anyone had said to me in a very long time, and my heart filled with wonder that you'd produce that sentiment at such a young age.
When you were five, we ran through the sprinkler in the backyard, drenching our clothes, and afterward, I heard you tell your friend that you had a "fun mom." And in that moment, I felt that if I could make you that proud of me for the rest of your life, that's all I'd ever need to do.
When you were seven, we walked home from the school bus and you talked, so fast, about your teacher and your class and your first-grade reading log. About how, if you read lots and lots and lots, your school could read a million minutes. And my heart filled to share that excitement about reading and learning. And I hoped, in that moment, that maybe I was doing something right.
When you were eight, I parked across the street from the playground on the first day of school and watched you walk your little brother to his kindergarten line when the bell rang. Watched you make sure he found his class, his teacher, before you found yours. And I was in awe of your compassion and sense of responsibility.
When you were nine, we had a fight and, frustrated, I went to my room and closed my door and told you that I wanted to be alone. And I laid on my bed, trying to figure out how to mother a growing boy with ideas and opinions of his own, how to make everything all right. And when you walked into my room, I asked you what you were doing, and I wasn't kind. And I said, "I don't know what to do about this." And you said, "Maybe we could forgive each other." And that remains the most humbling moment of my life. My gosh, I loved you then — and felt unworthy of being the mother of this boy.
When you were 11, you made a difficult decision, on your own, to start middle school at a school where none of your friends were going, where you'd know no one — because it felt like the right school for you. And I knew that I would never have been brave enough to do that at your age. That I wasn't even brave enough to do it when I was choosing a college at 18. My respect for you has never been greater.
Tonight, your last day of 13, I sat beside your bed, and told you the story of when we brought you home from the hospital. And how, until then, I was just a girl married to a boy. And that you made me a mom. And that you made being a mom easy.
And you laid, your body taller than mine now, your arms stronger than mine now, the shoes at the foot of your bed bigger than mine now, your head in your pillow, and you said nothing. As is so often the case now. You, quiet, learning how to be a man while still being a boy. Sometimes needing me and sometimes not.
And now, tomorrow, at 3:13 p.m., you will be 14. And we're going to figure this out, you and me. You're going to figure out how to grow up. And I'm going to figure out how to parent you as you do. Just as we have for these 14 years.
And we're going to mess up, you and me. We're going to make mistakes. Sometimes, when I should ruffle your hair, I'm going to swallow you in a hug and not let go. And sometimes, when you should say the kind thing, you're going to make a joke or hold your words.
And we're going to forgive each other. And we are going to survive this. Because, my gosh, I love you in this moment.
Jennifer Koski is assistant editor at Rochester Magazine. Her column appears Wednesdays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.