I sat next to my cousin as she nursed her infant daughter; my goddaughter. To this day I have not forgotten what it felt like to nurse. It was NOT easy. It was NOT natural.
But I stuck it out at the urging of my dear husband. You’re doing the best thing for our baby, he’d say as I clenched my teeth; wincing in pain as the baby latched on.
It did get easier and with my three boys I nursed the obligatory year with each. But nursing wasn’t the end-all, be-all to being a great mother. I was the live and tired, “dairy queen.”
In those young years I wondered what it would be like to get sleep, to have kids who talked to me and dreamed of what they’d become. How easy it would be when they’re older.
These days I ponder these same questions: what it would be like to get sleep, to have kids who talked to me? Who are these people who cohabit these four walls?
How easy it was when they were younger. They listened to what I had to say without question. I knew what they were eating, what they were doing. I knew their friends and their mothers. I am now the live money and laundering machine. And I still dream of what they will become.
I contemplate all this as my eldest son’s senior year comes to an end.
As an infant he was jaundiced and lived under “bili” (bilirubin) lights. When my husband deployed when he was 3 months, he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He had GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) and spit up an entire nursing session, much to my dismay, through most of his first year.
I spent many a night crying my eyes out, peering anxiously into the bassinet hoping he’d survive and be okay.
This past winter I’ve seethed in frustration after this son’s car was hit in the high school parking lot as he reversed out of his stall. The state law automatically defaults the blame on the person in reverse; not caring that the other car had sped in the almost empty high school parking lot.
The other student driver, who had his license for only ten days, thought my son saw him and so he stepped on the gas to hurry past. The kid lied to his father-in-law and placed the blame on my son. Even with multiple witnesses and accounts by staff, the other kid learned he could get away with it.
I felt the pain of my son’s rejections from his first choice schools and berated myself for not forcing him to apply to more colleges. I gave him the responsibility to choose his schools but I should have looked over his shoulder to push him to try more options. If I had made him apply to more schools, then maybe he’d have more choices.
I spent these last four weeks crying my eyes out. I awoke at 4 AM in the morning and pounded the pavement in the predawn hours in frustration. I’d return and peer anxiously into his room, wondering how he was taking it all and how I’d survive this season. I was not okay.
It was in this stressful parenting season of college admissions that it all came full circle. What was the point of all those AP classes when it all came down to numbers and statistics? With so many applicants there weren’t enough slots in his choice schools for his impacted major. Were all my parenting hopes and dreams for naught?
I’d discovered that some high school senior parents, with students who were applying to college, did NOT want to share. They claimed they “didn’t know” where their kids were applying to or what choice of major they wanted to pursue. I learned to keep my questions to myself and stayed away from people and social media.
I felt hopeless.
I had sat dejectedly at a GNO (girls night out) when one of the women observed my silence. It was the third rejection that week, in mid-March, and the text had just been sent from my son to let me know. None of these girlfriends were parents of seniors and they immediately acknowledged my feelings.
Immediately after his first text, the following one came through my cell,
“IDC tho what college I go to doesn’t matter as much as what I learn.”
I saved that text. And over the course of a few weeks, my son, instead comforted me. He handled the rejections well and with the few acceptances or wait lists, he embraced them. While I continued to berate myself as a terrible mother, he was surprisingly fine.
And finally one day, he had to sit me down and let me know that I had to get over it. That he was, really, okay.
On Easter Sunday, our church handed each family a book entitled, Beautiful HOPE: Finding Hope Every Day In a Broken World. How did they know I needed this?
To those friends who reached out to me during this time. I am grateful.
- For the transparency of other senior moms who commiserated with me at junior high open houses and private messages, on late night or weekend morning texts, and in-person.
- For those parents who don’t define themselves by their children’s successes and failures and are teaching me to do the same.
- For the hubs who goes through the pre-menopausal ups and downs with me; the one equally vested in each of our three sons.
- For the women who can dish out criticism but can also take it in return. Who chose to share their words versus walking away. Who take the time to do the work, with me, versus shutting me down.
My own words have been a long time in coming, years in fact. It took a Friday night book club to confirm everything I was feeling. I have remained silent for too long. I, the woman of words.
I sit in board meetings and read emails with those who advocate for their own children versus the organization as a whole. In a time of transition there is division and confrontation versus coordination and collaboration.
With the retirement of our leader, I am losing hope that we’ll find common ground. That the history and foundation that this organization has been built upon will fall to egos and personal legacies.
My volunteer service is a lot like our political climate and I am feeling burnt out. There are too many words thrown out and very little listening or compromising. Again, my words are lost in translation.
Finding one’s passion, on one’s own terms, is all that matters. The traditional pathways don’t define a person’s success and I have had to reprogram my way of thinking as my sophomore, middle son, considers his own path after high school.
A college acceptance letter wasn’t the end-all, be-all to being a great mother.
I celebrate my friends’ children’s successes, surprisingly with no envy. Our kids have worked hard and they are well deserved.
This morning, while sitting in hard pews, I heard the sermon of one of our beloved priests. As his words washed over me, I felt the confirmation that my anxiety and frustration will eventually come to an end.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philipians 4:6-7 NIV.
In the past four days I have sat in three different Catholic parishes and it has put things in perspective. In times of stress I am usually comforted sitting in a congregation; feeling the sense of community. It was on an Easter Sunday, at a church in Chicago at age 22, that I was able to finally reconcile the anger and grief of my father’s death to cancer; four years before.
My home parish is large, prosperous and diverse. Each week I greet the people who sit next to me in the pews by name. At the second parish I took a baptismal class; which was similar to the one I grew up with. It wasn’t diverse with many amenities, but the congregation is close knit and equally strong.
The third parish I attended was the one my extended family attends. It was here that I held my goddaughter as she was baptized. My sons hadn’t known it was in this church that I had married their father almost twenty years ago. I had, again, come full circle.
While attending college admit preview days, the answer as to where to attend, for my son, came in an unexpected way. We had randomly walked into a tour of the building where our son would spend most of his time. And he met the professor who changed his trajectory. I felt that God’s hand had something to do with it.
The hubs and I couldn’t be more proud. This son has finally arrived and I see what he has become.
I’ve survived, but just barely. I hope that, in two years, I’ll navigate this stage, the second time, with less stress and more success.
I have hope for my son’s future and am finding my own.