Both of my sons were at my house for Hanukkah this year so I was looking for something touching and happy that they had said or done in the past to write about them. I came across one of my journal entries from 2003.
Tonight, tucking Shane into bed, he asks me why Max is still awake, playing with toys on the floor. I tell him, ‘Because he’s a baby still, and doesn’t know he needs to rest.’ Shane says, ‘I’m a big boy because I know I have to rest.’ I ask, ‘Do you know why?’ He says, ‘You have to rest so you can have dreams to make them come true. And so you can get the mean dreams out of your head.’
And I tell him, ‘I hope you don’t have any mean dreams tonight.’ He tells me, brows furrowed, ‘I hope so but I must still have some because I keep being mean to my little brother Max and I wish I wouldn’t.’
A few minutes later, Max crawls up on the bed with us, and falls asleep with his head burrowed under his big brother’s arms. I look at them for a long time, knowing that tomorrow Max will steal one of Shane’s toys and Shane will whack him. Or Shane will “wrestle” his little brother and lay on top of him on the floor. And somewhere in all the yelling and fighting there is love. They are, after all, brothers.”
I wrote that 15 years ago. My, my, that time really did fly by. So very fast. My Shane turns 20 this week. Max is 17 years old. I’ve broken up a lot of brotherly love fights in 15 years. I’ve hauled my boys out of the grocery store after they got into a wrestling match in the produce section. I’ve stopped the car mid-route to a destination to get out and stand by the side of the road to take some deep breaths while my sons yelled at each other inside the car about which Power Rangers movie to watch on the portable DVD player. It hasn’t been pretty, for sure. But it’s kept them alive.
Shane moved out of state four months ago and it is the first time that my sons have been apart, really apart from each other. Even more than I miss my Shane because, well, I miss my son, I miss him for Max. I miss seeing their daily interactions when they are with me. I miss hearing the inside brother jokes that I don’t understand in substance, but I get in form, because I also have a brother.
I know this is part of the journey that my sons have been preparing for ever since they were old enough to crawl away from me. I remember once that Shane told us not to worry when he went to college because if he started to party, “I’ll just stock up on the morning after pill so I don’t have hangovers.” Obviously, that was when he was still in need of a few facts of life talks. In my oldest son’s defense, that was a long time ago. I am pretty sure he’s got that figured out now.
About seven years ago, Max and I were talking about how long it was going to be before he was able to drive. He said, “Anyway Mom, I’ll be driving in about 10 years. And I want a really cool car.” I said, “Max, you are 10. You’ll be driving in 6 years.”
“You see,” he said. “Time just flies by. First it’s 1-2-3 A-B-C. Then it’s 4×2 is 8. Then it’s ‘oh my gosh I have to get these papers done and turned into my boss.’ The next thing you know, you’re thinking, “Here I am at the retirement home.” Then you’re saying, ‘Wow, that went really fast. Was that really my life?’ I tell you, you just don’t realize how fast life can just get away from you.”
Well, my Shane is at college. And Max is driving. And we have all survived. Life does get away from you, those years do slip by mighty fast. But it is also damn amazing. It’s pretty awesome to see my little boys as young men.
I have a lot of formal education. I know this because I’m still paying off the school loans. But not once, in all those years of classes and tests did anyone ever teach me how to be a mother.
My sons – and a badass tribe of other mothers – taught me that. There are a lot of terms for moms today: helicopter, tiger, over-parenting. Well, I’m not gonna judge. I’ve done all of it. I’ve been the mom who put fruit rollups and cold chicken nuggets in a Power Rangers lunch box for her kid so I could make it to work on time. I’ve been the mom who emails every teacher and the principal about a (deserved) grade. None of us do this perfectly. Because there’s no such thing as perfect.
Our kids survive. And thrive. Because of us – or despite us. Tonight, both of my sons texted me, ‘I love you, Mom.” That alone is worth the years of being a brotherly-love-fight referee and judging myself as a parent.
And I won’t have any mean dreams tonight.