If I had a dollar for every time someone said my oldest son is the spitting image of my husband, I’d use it to pay a really expensive lawyer to legislate a ban on the phrase “spitting image.” I mean, spitting image, what?
So even though this child has been basically glued to my side for nearly six years, somehow his genetic programming means what he says and does and, most of all, the way he reasons means I am living with a junior version of his father.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I have never had the expectation that my children be just like me. I highly value encouraging their interests and individualism. When my son was just under 2, he decided that purple was indeed the royal colour. So, we embraced purple. We tracked down as many purple shirts for boys as we could; he has probably every purple Hot Wheels car ever made. I painted my toenails purple for about 3 solid years just to keep him happy. Except for one time I painted them teal to match a bridesmaid dress. You would have thought I committed a crime.
Yet, while I work hard to accommodate passing interests and phases that range from koalas to firefighters, I find the odd bit of sadness and the occasional chafing when people say, “He is just like his dad!” It is great of course to be like his dad, reasoned and logical, just, detailed, passionate and focused. But there are days when you wonder if the nurture shows through or if it is all just all nature, all the time. On those days I wonder if the apparent absence in my son of characteristics that mirror me means I’m invisible.
But, to the sadness and chafing I say, “It is my role as mother to nurture him within his nature.” I teach him sound reasoning, I teach him that logic is good but needs to be balanced by compassion. I teach him that justice isn’t always about equality. I jump into his passions with him and encourage him there; I teach him that passion needs persistence and perspective. I do these things because I love him, just for who he is. That is how we must parent. Otherwise we try to force our children to be who we’ve always wanted to be, chaining them to our narcissism or lack of contentment with our own lives.
I can read I Love You Forever forwards and backwards and never shed a tear but there is one book I can’t read without getting choked up every time. The things that move us reveal the things we care about, don’t they? The book is The Oak Inside The Acorn by Max Lucado. It is the story of a little acorn’s journey as he grows into a large oak tree. In the book is a single line that is repeated, “Little Acorn, within you is a great Oak. Be the tree you were made to be.” Every time I read this, I get an acorn sized lump in my throat. Because I don’t want my kids to live out my life for me. I want them to live their life fully and freely, knowing that their Mommy is cheering them on unconditionally.
So when my son just about backed out of a race after being sick, a race that he’d been talking about for months, I told him he could make his own decision. Just because I like to race doesn’t mean he has to. I just asked him to come out for a run with me first to see how it felt and then make his decision from there. A quarter mile in, face beaming, he declared he wanted to run and that he was going to do it fast! The last quarter mile, he asked me if we could hold hands to finish together. I said sure and we ran along together, focusing on the pole in the distance that marked the end, arms swinging, hands linked.
I, too, had just about backed out of my own race that day but decided that maybe this time, more than any, he needed to see his Mommy model what motivates her. I don’t run to win, I run to finish, to push myself, to remind myself that I can do things that are hard. We both signed up.
The night before the race, after we’d carefully laid out his race clothes with his numbered bib on top, and I’d laid out mine, we sat on his bed together. “Mommy, if I get tired when I’m running, I’m going to think about holding your hand.”
I grinned at him. “Absolutely Buddy. You just know that I’m cheering you on and I’m so proud of you.”
“And Mommy,” he said to me, eyes earnest, “when you get tired in your race, you just think about holding my hand.”
Maybe that’s why I got all choked up standing next to him at the start line, asking if his socks were on comfortably, adjusting his race bib. He was buzzing with excitement. Kindergarten came and went with nary a tear shed on my part. We laugh and celebrate birthdays but I rarely am emotional. I pack away clothes and drawings with nostalgia but little more. But as I left him there with the pack of kids and walked to the sidelines, I couldn’t even speak. That acorn-sized lump again. My little boy–so small and so big all at once, so excited and so nervous.
In this case, we were both running, both racing, sharing a love and passion for the same thing. In many things it won’t be that way. We’ll run different directions; we’ll chase different things. But he knows and I know that when the going gets tough and we want to quit, when we get tired and want to give up on something that we’ve wanted for a long time, we’ll look down and realize we’ve got each other’s hand. What more could a Mommy ask for–for him or for me?