Remember when Zane turned 18? That was a relief. Remember when he turned 19? That was hard. Then he turned 20 and it felt very...manly. Well, today he is 21 and I bet you think I'm gonna talk about drinking. Nope.
(Zane's been drinking for a long time now, let's be real. If anything I'm relieved that he is now able to engage with all kinds of drinking, not just illegal, clandestine, risky, and most likely just straight up gross drinking)
No, today I am thinking, of course, about how the nature of my love for him has evolved over the course of his lifetime. Every one says that once you have a baby your understanding of what love is changes, and that's true for me like crazy. He was born and I fucking loved him like nothing else. For the first 4 or 5 years of his life my love was very biologically based and driven; his body and its safety were my primal and primary concern. Being nonverbal (for the first two years at least), our connection was not about the sharing of ideas or the richness of his innermost thoughts, it was about warmth and milk and softness - good lord how soft everything was in those first few years! The feathery, gravity-defying hairs on his head, his non-calloused feet and hands, the clothes he wore and the blankets he slept in. I loved his bodily aliveness and would do anything to keep him that way. What hurt his body hurt all of me deeply. This is when I felt good at being his mother. I don't feel good about those glasses, but so it goes.
At around 5 my love shifted to a concern for his mind; his body became more of a house for a complicated, feeling, cognitively complex mind, and his emotional well being stole my attention. If he was teased or felt rejected or hurt by words or confused by the logic of the world it stung my heart and lungs to the point of having to catch my breath. It was excruciating watching the concepts of betrayal, embarrassment, and humiliation creep into his reality. Shame, regret - awful things to watch your kid grapple with. At the same time, it was completely heartening and joyful to witness the concepts of hope, self, universality, empathy, compassion, and ambition take over his worldview. This is when the responsibility of being his mother became intimidating in a way it hadn't been before and I began to question my abilities and capacity. My glasses got slightly better.
Some time around 12 things drastically moved into the love/hate camp. We felt like we were being held hostage in our home most days, by our ineptitude and by his puberty. I articulated for the first time, to myself and friends, that I loved my son beyond infinity and he was the best thing that ever happened to me and I hated being a parent. No matter how much practice I had I never seemed to get better at it. No matter how many times we thought ahead and tried to anticipate every possible scenario he would throw us a curveball that left us completely flustered and flabbergasted. Our power dynamic was constantly being pushed to its limits and we were exhausted all of the time. For his 14th birthday we made him a cake and wrote "Get Well Soon" on it. This is the time when I became aware that I was probably doing irreparable harm, this was going to be the time we would need to hash out later, when he was an adult, possibly with a therapist. This is when I was failing.
I don't have pictures of this phase readily available, and that's probably for the best.
At 16 or 17 I felt a return to the first and second phases, the bodily protective and emotional armor phases, as I sensed his bodily and emotional vulnerability in the world; cars, drugs, sex, right wing media, conspiracy theories, cigarettes, restaurant jobs, nocturnal sleep patterns, inertia, were all rushing towards him like they had being cooped up in a cage for his whole life and they couldn't wait to smother him in their harm. I felt a tenderness and empathy that I hadn't been able to tap into for several years, probably because we weren't under constant siege from his hormones anymore. This is when it dawned on me that while I had been in survival mode for the last few years I now had to prepare myself for that last push, the one where you help your child thrive and become big and whole and ready for the enormous world waiting for him, where you aren't directly battling the potential harm coming his way but hopefully equipping him to do battle with it, on his own. While you watch and see. Gulp.
The last couple years have been...fuck, I don't know how to describe it. There isn't a word (in English at least) for the mixture of mourning and awe his adulthood brings but there are many cultural metaphors for this phase and they are all profoundly accurate in my experience. I do feel like a mother bird watching her chick fly for the first time, hoping his wings work, realizing that if they don't it's all my fault. Fuck. I thought I would feel this way until he was at least 30 and that I would just be holding my breath for a decade, but I find myself slightly relieved and grateful to being moving into a new phase, one where I just simply trust him. I trust the strength of his body and his mind, I have faith that he'll live, and live well. I know that I did my best, but that it wasn't always the best for him, and that we will have a reckoning some day and I will have questions to answer. But I also know that we fucking love each other and since day one, that's all that's mattered.
Happy Birthday Zane Reid! I miss you like hell and think you're the best thing ever.