Big Son turned eighteen the other day. I cried. (Of course.) He rejoiced. Of course. As we helped him celebrate the occasion with a social gathering of his friends (aka a party), I reflected on the journey I’ve taken with this first born child of my heart. There are pro’s and con’s about being the first. You get your parent’s undivided attention and all their enthusiastic energy as they discover the joys of caring for a puke-poop-tears machine. But you also are the guinea pig for their mistakes, their earnest yet misguided devotion and the full suffocation of alllllll the advice of those fifty-something birthing and parenting handbooks your mother ruthlessly ingested while growing you.
I was twenty one when I got pregnant and I had no experience with little people whatsoever. (My mother had three housekeepers and a revolving team of caregivers to help look after my three little siblings so I never had to pay attention to them at all. Not until they were old enough to be useful – do chores and play Little House on the Prairie with me.) I thought the baby would pop out and I would take him to lectures with me in a fashionably accessorized backpack. No problem. (true story) The Hot Man and I were students in Wellington at the time, so every day in between lectures, I would sit in the library and read every single book on pregnancy, infants, nutrition, breastfeeding, immunizations and more. I knew every single thing that could possibly go wrong with my unborn baby. Every single neural defect he could possibly be born with. Every single infection he could possibly get. All before he was even an emergency C-section delivery at 30 weeks. I was so busy with research and mental preparation that all we had ready for that premature mewling baby, was a bottle of Napisan for soaking nappies.
It took awhile for my heart to catch up with my research. I fell in love with my first born slowly, over many nights painfully shuffling to stand over his glass box incubator and watch him sleep. Watching nurses feed him through a tube in his nose. Watching them cut his tiny foot every day and squeeze out tiny droplets of blood while he screamed, so they could check his jaundice levels. The feel of his precious paper-thin skin against mine as they let me hold him. They said, ‘Lay him on your chest so he can hear your heart beat, feel you breathing. That will help him breathe on his own.’
Are you sure? I’m so big compared to him. My heart beats too loud. My breathing’s too panicked. I held him close, terrified I would hurt him. But slowly, slowly that tiny child felt right. Slowly slowly, our hearts beat in time and we breathed in unison. And slowly, slowly, a spoilt self-obsessed clueless 21 yr old found inside herself – a mother’s heart. By the time he grew big enough and healthy enough for us to take him home, I was fierce formidable Mother-Extraordinaire. (And Fiapoko Supermother as well.) Ready to take on the universe to protect, teach and nurture my son.
Big Son has endured much as our firstborn. Here’s only a few of the “Things I know Now which Big Son wishes I Knew THEN…”
1. Don’t spend many hundreds of dollars trying to organize a momentous 1st birthday party for your kid that is so stressful you and your poor husband almost get divorced. Because your kid wont remember any of it and he will go to sleep twenty minutes into the massive party anyway. (Hugging his new teddy bear from Uncle Cam.) And its a good thing he wont remember because you will be so stressed and on the edge that you’re mean, nasty and awful anyway.
2. When your 5 yr old kid gets invited to a fancy dress party, don’t slave over a historically accurate, authentic Hercules costume complete with battle regalia and then force him to wear it even when he cries. Because you’ll get to the party and discover all the other kids are just wearing raggedy old Superman t.shirts. Or a pair of fairy wings. And your poor kid will be miserable and feel totally out of place and cry harder.
3. Yes you should teach your kid all about the sanctity of their physical bodies and even use all the correct terminology for their bits’n’pieces, very important with helping them to stay safe and confident. But you shouldn’t forget to also tell them there are appropriate times and places for shouting out such information. Otherwise, your 4yr old will be at the extended family gathering after your grandfather’s funeral and inform his cousin in a very loud voice, during the quiet of a prayer to bless the food – “See that? Its the pig’s penis. Wow, thats a really big penis!”
4. When your 11yr old son has a Christmas present exchange in his class at school and you are to busy to take him to buy a gift for his classmate…don’t assure him, ‘don’t worry, I’ll bring the present to the class party already wrapped for you. Trust me!’ And then you buy a lovely sparkly ring and matching bracelet and gift purse from your mother’s shop Plantation House (because you don’t want to drive all the way into town) and your mother giftwraps it in organza bows and ribbons. And you both sigh over the perfect loveliness of such a gift. DON’T DO THAT. Because your unsuspecting son will give his classmate the aforementioned gift and she will unwrap it IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE CLASS and everyone will start teasing him about giving her an engagement ring. ‘ooooh, he loooooves you!’ And the girl will try not to cry. And your kid will try to macho through it while dying inside. And be very mad at you for a long time after.
Yes, these are only a few of the horrors my son has endured with me as his mother. To protect the guilty, I wont share any others… Let me just say, Big Son announced the night before his birthday, “Mum, this is the last day I’ll be a child. Tomorrow I will be a man!” And I said, “Oh yeah? You planning on moving out tomorrow and getting a job?”
I tease him but I know all too well the clock is ticking. My days with this child are numbered. Next year, he will be at University and we will be many miles away living in Samoa. He will do all those things young people do when they first leave home. Rejoice. Eat a lot of junk. Stay up late. Skip class. Party a little. Experience what being ‘broke’ really feels like.
And I will be far away, doing what most parents do when their kid first leaves home.
Missing him. Wondering if he’s getting enough to eat. Worrying if he’s warm enough. Chastising myself for not preparing him better to be on his own. Praying for his safety. Sending him money when I already agreed with the Hot Man that we shouldn’t spoil him, ‘You need to learn how to budget son…’ Ha. Calling him every so often and striving to sound casual and happy, ‘Just wondering how you’re doing son?’ (Instead of bawling my eyes and heart out on the phone and begging him to please come home.)
So each day I have left with him in my
control care, I will celebrate all that this First Born of my Heart is to me. The baby that he was, the child that he sometimes still is, and the young man he has become.
Yes you’re ‘a man’, Big Son. I’m proud of you. Thank you for teaching me how to be a mother.
But it doesn’t matter how old you get – to me – you’ll always be that little boy who needs the beating of my heart to help you find your way, to help you breathe on your own, to help you stand alone.