I am beginning to think that those who write a lot about parenting are mistaken for those that think they have all the answers. Since the birth of my son, a dramatic entrance of a new world entirely, all I seem to think and write about is motherhood and the ways in which my son continues to evoke transformation in me. Perhaps this sometimes can come across as if I, you know, actually know what I am talking about. But I am the first one to admit that when it comes to motherhood, my heart is humbly speckled with open, raw voids; curious abysses waiting to be filled with a certainty and knowledge that, in the end, I know only my son can provide for me. I look to him as my guide in the quest for these truths, and write my way to make sense of the lessons he bestows.
As a mother and person in general, I am absolutely terrible at flexibility. I prefer my palms to be firmly gripped around the rigidity of the schedule, expectations, and outcomes that I deem appropriate. It makes me feel powerful, in control, and oddly at ease. I am uncomfortable with the open-endedness that often comes with having a young child to keep busy and entertained every day. I feel like Aidan thrives better when we have definite plans to stick with, and when intentions are thrown off or rescheduled, I find myself a little lost in the empty space that leaves itself open for interpretation and imagination, despite my son’s immensely rich creative spirit. Going with the flow is just something I can’t seem to do well.
It is a drizzly, unseasonably cool Tuesday at the start of summer and my son’s plans for a pool playdate with his preschool class has just been cancelled. He’s missed his class buddies since school let out several weeks prior and was looking forward to seeing everybody again. As the rain steadily increases to a humid downpour, I decide to treat Aidan to a movie and popcorn. Aidan’s been fearful of the theatrics of movie theaters in the past, so we’ve waited a good year to try again. This time, he is familiar with the characters in the movie sequel, and I wait until the last minute to bring him into the actual theater to avoid intimidating previews and loud commercials. We don our crappy sandals and head into the car and down the road to our local theater, windshield wipers slushing the water away as damp hair curls around my ears from the mugginess. Driving in the rain has always felt so romantically blue to me, and it is no different with my son. I love taking Aidan on private dates, just the two of us to create sacred and private memories.
We run into the theater holding hands and dodge the pouring rain, buy our buttery popcorn, and enter into the movie. I am enjoying the start of my mother-son date so much that I don’t even realize the previews haven’t started yet. Aidan sees a friend from school and we make our way over to her and her mother. I chat, and nosh at the tip of my popcorn bag, not even noticing that the previews have begun, and that Aidan is starting to tense up at the loud sound effects. He starts to get more nervous as a big animated bear roars across the screen and, despite my hand on his tiny back, Aidan is frightened and pleading to leave. We shuffle ourselves out of the aisle immediately, spilling our snacks in bits along the way. At once, I feel bad for my young son yet embarrassed at his inability to calm down. I feel the hot flashes of others staring sympathetically for us as we step on their feet and as I accidently smack my pocketbook against them. I think back to the beginning days of Aidan’s existence as a baby and young toddler, where my husband and I would simply have to pick up and go, sweaty and frazzled. And as I sit out in the lobby with Aidan as he eats his popcorn, trying my best to be patient with his trepidation whilst encouraging him to try again, I am hit with a sudden white hot awareness of my own selfishness as a mother; for being annoyed at wasting all the money I just spent, for not getting to explain ourselves to our friends back in the theater, for feeling irritated about ruined intentions and a whole day ahead of us with nothing else lined up, and for realizing I can sometimes be so wrong about what’s right for my son.
We trudge home in the rain. With nowhere else to go, we sit at the kitchen table and finish our bags of popcorn in silence, staring at each other. I don’t know why I always struggle with changed or ruined plans when it comes to Aidan’s life. I don’t know why I always feel so deflated at their outcomes, even when my son seems perfectly content going with the flow and moving on. The rain is steady outside, and the silence at the table is thick, apart from the nibbling crunches of our stale yet yummy popcorn. “Well, I don’t know what else you want to do now,” I sigh, immediately regretting my tone. Of all the things I may do right as a mother, this icy rigidity to expectation and disappointment in plans gone awry seems to negate everything else.
Aidan licks the powdery butter off of his teeny fingers and replies. “We could play in the rain?” he casually suggests, as if he was holding out on me, saving his simple epiphany for this very appropriate moment, a moment like many others in his mother’s inflexible life. I peek outside at the endless summer downpour and realize that my son has never really played outside in the rain before, a detail that shakes me enough to surrender to my son’s modest wisdom without holding onto my hesitation. We step outside on the driveway with bare feet and already-soaked through clothes and my disappointment in the day washes from under me. In its place, I feel invigorated by submitting myself to Aidan’s leadership. I ask him what he wants to do in the rain, and he guides. He jumps into the gray, dirty puddles of the driveway’s valleys and dips, struts intensely into superhero poses, and instructs me to follow his lead in silly, elaborate dance moves. My pointless feelings of frustration or loss of control over the day and my son’s activities are behind me, and as the humid, sticky rain soaks through my clothes, make-up, and down to my bones, I feel youthful and humbled under my son’s simple joy. I feel gratitude for the simplicity that he has given to the day without much planning or fuss.
I look up at his four-year-old body and its nuanced mannerisms, and feel ashamed that it’s taken me this long to let him play unabashedly in the rain; such an archetypal image of childhood that I perhaps have robbed him of all this time. But soaking and renewed under the wet sky, I finally understand that this moment in time needed to happen exactly the way it did; and that, as always, it is my son who has brought me to this place and sacred shared moment together. My flaws as a mother have less to do with rigidity, and everything to do with my own hungry need for control. If it were not for altered plans, or scary movie previews, or the open-ended horizon of the rainy afternoon, this blessed experience would have never happened. Have more moments like this christening been wasted under my firm and irrational grip on routine? How many other times have I let my own self-interest drown out Aidan’s simplistic voice of reason?
When we finally come in from the rain, I let Aidan strip naked in the garage and wrap him in a huge bath towel. I am drenched as well, but I cradle his swaddled, big boy body on the couch so he can warm up. It’s funny, I think, that I am usually the type of parent who welcomes my child’s growing up and maturity, yet every night after bathtime, my husband and I still wrap Aidan in the same hooded towels he’s had since newbornhood; his one last vestige of infancy. Every night we swoop him up in that blanket and stare down at his black eyes shining up at us like they did so long ago, and I am transported back to Aidan’s first few moments of life – a wet and warm brand new baby, a vulnerable person looking to me for guidance and direction. And every time holding the refreshed newness of my damp boy-child baby, it feels like I have just given birth again. But on the couch, as the rain continues to beat down and as Aidan and I look at each other’s glistening, slicked skin, I think of how wrong I have been. On this day, it is me who has been rebirthed by Aidan, and perhaps it has taken me all this time to realize that every day with this boy is a new beginning for me, to try again and to follow alongside him with newly awakened, humbled eyes.