Of me, but not mine.

Today is my son's 4th birthday. He was born on 4-14-07 at 4:07. I recite that sequence of numbers to myself like a mantra, trying to make sense of the miracle that is this child. Eliot's favorite television show is Blue's Clues. He loves tractors and all types of farm machinery, from hay mowers to fertilizer sprayers to manure spreaders. He sings along to songs on the radio and likes to recite lines from his favorite picture books in quiet, private moments when he thinks no one is listening. If you ask him, he will tell you that his favorite colors are green and red and blue and purple and yellow, and no, he does NOT want a haircut.

Eliot can be stubborn and even rude at times, demanding "JUICE!" without even looking up from his video games. Sometimes reminders to be polite are met with exasperated yelling: "I SAID please!" As his mother, I tend to praise his strengths and file away his shortcomings as faults of my own, or failures in my parenting. After four years, I still feel as though I have no clue what I'm doing, although I strongly suspect most parents don't.

I see a lot of myself in my son. Like me, Eliot is tender-hearted and free with his emotions. In the middle of playing a game, reading a book, or watching TV, he will often pause for a moment, look at me and sigh, "Mommy, I love you. I just love you one thousand! Is that the biggest number? Because I love you the biggest number." Also like me, Eliot gets frustrated easily. He's a perfectionist. He doesn't want to draw a tractor unless he can draw the PERFECT tractor, and since he can't draw the perfect tractor, he just won't draw at all. He throws down his crayon and crosses his arms defiantly over his chest. If he's struggling with a puzzle piece, he'll take one and smash it into place, like Imma MAKE that sucker fit! Or he'll throw the piece on the floor and stomp away. I have no illusions about this behavior. This he gets straight from me.

Likewise, there are traits of Eliot's that seem to spring directly from his father. I catch him looking in the mirror and admiring his reflection. He knows how to turn on the charm to get exactly what he wants. "Oh Mommy, if you buy me a toy, it will make me so happy!" On a more positive side, like his dad, he loves to be outdoors. He loves animals. He has a lot of energy and he always wants to be doing something.   

I also see elements of his personality that are entirely his own, 100% Eliot. He is so much more than just the sum of Rachel + Eli. He is a whole other human being, with thoughts and emotions and characteristics that belong to him alone. It has been a struggle for me in the past few years to make peace with the fact that though I carried him in my womb and gave birth to this person, Eliot does not belong to me. He may be my son, but he is not my possession. His paths in life will not be mine to determine. They never were.

I suppose all parents must reach a point where they realize this, when they have to let their child go to be whomever he or she is meant to be. Maybe being a divorced parent has just hastened this realization for me. I cannot control what Eliot does when he is in his dad's care. Whether and at what age he learns to shoot a gun, to hunt, I no longer have any say in that. I don't know the shape and tone of his days and weekends spent in a household that is not mine. I don't get to make or enforce the rules there.

This morning, on his 4th birthday, Eliot did not come and crawl in bed with me, and I did not get to whisper "Happy Birthday" to him in a voice hoarse with sleep. He woke at his father's house, with his dad, his step-mom and his half brother. I don't know what time he got up, or what he had for breakfast. I don't know what he's doing right now, as I type these words. This feels like a loss, a loss that wells up in my throat and makes it hard for me to swallow. But I have to remind myself that these moments were never a guarantee. Being Eliot's mom does not entitle me to anything. He is a human being, not a possession to be owned or shared or fought over.

I try to focus on the many moments I do get to share with Eliot, the presence I get to have in his life, the ways in which I get to guide and shape him into the adult he will someday be. All of this is a gift. Nothing has been taken away from me. Everything has been given.

Happy Birthday, little buddy. I feel privileged to be your mom.

Eliot and Mommy 2007

 (Yes, that is an umbrella behind us, and yes, if I had any Photoshop skillz whatsoever, I could have edited it out. Sadly, I do not and can not.)

Eliot, Mommy, and Steven 2011    
 (photo by Alex Kuhn Photography)


nancy said...

Beautifully written. I love it. One of the reasons I've never wanted kids was because I didn't want to become absorbed in them like my parents were with me. Seems like you have found a rare balance that makes me think it's possible to not disappear into your child. Awesome.

June said...

You made tears come to my eyes. I am sad that you were not the first to wish him a happy birthday but I bet he thought about you and wished it were you he saw first thing on his big day.
But you know what is the best thing? You gave birth to him. What a beautiful picture, umbrella and all!!

Anonymous said...

I am glad you wrote this and it's very well written. I totally understand where you are coming from but this made me think a little deeper. It is so hard not to be the first one to say happy birthday when you know he is with is dad, but always know that he loves each of you unconditionally no matter what the circumstances are and you will always be his loving mother.There are many more birthday for you to celebrate with him too. It has and still is very hard on me too so I totally understand where you are coming from. Rachel, you are a wonderful writter and yes, I had several tears in my eyes because I know exactly how you feel. I know with time, it will get better and always know that you ARE the better person and God loves you so very much! Love ya Rachel!

chksngr said...

Proverbs 22:6 says "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not part from it." Everyone always thinks that means we are supposed to raise them to love Jesus. To be clear, I completely agree. However, I believe this scripture has a deeper meaning. I believe it means that we are to know our children, how they work, what makes them tick, and what their unique gifts are. We are to know where their weaknesses are to help them navigate and mitigate. We are to know their strengths to help them maximize. We are to understand them to help them see the way they should go, so that they find the deepest meaning of their lives, the most rewarding path, the way to navigate decisions and relationships and their own marvelous uniqueness. As you say, it means knowing WHO they are, as individuals, and being their most valuable coach. And, in turn, we share with them who we are as individuals, and let them see us as people who love them, and in whom they can trust - trust to be their guides, cheif supporter as they venture into the personhood that God created them to be. Its a marvelous thing to get in touch with the fact that you don't own him...you OWE him - you owe him the very best guidance you can offer. You have put it so beautifully here. He is a very blessed little man, indeed, to have somebody like you who is in touch with the most joyous and most painful part of being a parent - letting go. Happy Birthday, Little Man! and Happy Anniversary on being a mom, Rachel! You both have something to celebrate!

Gwen said...

This is wonderful. I've been lurking your blog for awhile (sorry...I don't mean to be creepy!), and just had to comment on this entry. So well said. :)

Suzanne said...

i have some (very limited) photoshop skillz... check your email shortly :)

Elecia said...

I happen to like the umbrella in the background. It reminds me of when he was born. It was such an icky icey day outside. It brings me back to being in the hallway with mom after they decided you would have a c-section. There are few times in life that I have cried into our mother's shoulder (I love her, dont get me wrong, she just isnt the cry into her shoulder type)but this was one of those days. As you struggled to give birth to Eliot, mother and I held tight to each other and cried for you and him and prayed for your safety.
It just goes to show that no matter how old you are, you always need mom to hold onto sometimes!

Elecia said...

btw, as i read this title I thought of Kaitlyn and our title.
Not of me, but still mine.
there are days, that I wish she had come from my womb, but I know that wasnt meant to be. I hold her tight as she cries because of harsh words said by the womb she actually came from, but I can't fix it, I can't make it any better. I can just hold her and know that I can love her as if she is mine.
Sometimes the grass just isnt any greener on the other side.