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|