When I was a brash young thing, I told my mother that I never wanted to have children. I wasn’t good with them, children didn’t like me, and I claimed a moral superiority based on the overpopulation problem. Mom didn’t mince words. She told me that was the most selfish thing she’d ever heard me say and that I was exactly the type of person who should be having children because I was bright, loving, and kind. I was quite surprised by the vehemence of her reaction, but now that I have reached the same age as she was when she shared that opinion (read: blasted the hell out of me), I get it. I really get it.
As it turns out, I did have kids. I waited until I was 30 to start, but I have 3 wonderful children and wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything. It is the one thing I feel best about and is an ongoing source of pride and challenge for me. However, I have more than 3 kids now. I have gathered others along the way. I carry their pictures in my wallet and phone and their love in my heart. I can count 4 more right away.
Alicia came into our life when she was 13. She was a friend of my daughter’s in 7th grade and seemed to be both a privileged and troubled girl. Through a series of events, she came back in to my daughter’s life 5 years later, a graduate of rehab, a daughter in tow, and in an unstable living environment. She and Camryn came to live with us for a few months while they got back on their feet. My daughter was a sophomore in college by then and living at school. I found myself back to life with a 2 year old in the house and all the fun and chaos that comes with it. I saw in Ali a stern resolve to put the past behind her and forge a future that would give her daughter a more solid home life. I didn’t mean to, but I ended up adopting them both in my heart.
My daughter also brought us my 3rd son, Josh. She and Josh started dating when they were in 8th and 9th grade. I assumed it would run the course like all junior high romances and last a couple of months, tops. They dated until just last summer. Josh spent a lot of time with our family from the age of 14 on, and I love him like one of my own. He is a wonderful young man who has had to be self-reliant and the man of his house for way too much of his young life. Now at the age of 22, he is living in his own place, working full time and finishing his second to last year of college. I am so proud of him I can almost burst. He has done well for himself.
My final child is also my oldest. Graham is 27 years old. He is my sister’s son and clearly doesn’t need day to day parenting. I still plan to be his surrogate mom whenever he needs me to be. Losing one’s mother doesn’t mean you stop needing a mom. I know that all too well. I often think of asking my mom about something only to remember I can’t and it hurts again. I made a promise to Jan that I would be there for Graham however he needed me – a listening ear, an advice giver, a butt kicker – and that promise won’t waver. He is my 4th son, my slug baby and a part of my heart.
I found out I was pretty good at this mom thing. It came fairly naturally to me, and for that, I credit my own mom. She was good at it too – not perfect, not by any stretch – but really, really good. Mostly, she loved us and showed us that love through her words, her actions, her cooking, and her rules. She kept us in line if needed – and with five kids, it was often needed. I also had a great father to model after and from him I learned patience and hearing the whole story before jumping to conclusions. Both of those skills have served me well over the years.
I think I am enjoying this phase of parenting the most. Yesterday, I looked around the Easter table and saw 4 of my 7 kids sitting there. Ali and Cam were with her dad’s family and Graham was in his new home in Chicago. I had just heard from them both and knew they were well and happy. I felt blessed beyond measure to see what wonderful people these kids have become. I wanted to bottle that moment to save for when I am old and grey(er) because I know that it’s just a fleeting thing. But even fleeting, it is what I have been working toward since that first day they told me I had a son and I was a mom. It’s all been worth it – every bit of it. Thanks, Mom, for saying to me what I needed to hear when I was a young know-it-all. Once again, you were right. I get it now.