Growing Together: He is Me

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growing together

I’ve always believed that each of us has more than one soul mate walking the planet at the same time. Because things change and life is fragile and souls need to find their matches.

I’ve also been delighted to find out, since beginning to write and live online as well as off, that each of us has more than one kindred spirit. More than one person who gets us in this quiet subtle way. Who seems to be walking our path and stopping at the same trees and flowers and moments so full of thought and emotion at just the same time.

Dina is one of those people. Almost without fail, I’ll be feeling or thinking something and then turn to her words, be they on Twitter or her blog, and find her pausing at the same thing. So I am delighted that she is here today, sharing a beautiful story about her and her son. If you’ve ever felt that you are parenting a smaller version of yourself, this one will speak to you. Enjoy Dina’s words here and then go visit her at her Commonplace.

~~~~~

He Is Me

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His wailing cries echoed in the hollow staircase and bounced off the closed bedroom door of his sleeping baby brother.

“It’s not faaaiiiiiirrrrr….” Over and over, he cried. No, it wasn’t. I had accidentally deleted an apparently epic recording of “Down By The Bay” that my oldest son had just sung into a discarded iPhone. Instead of helping him name the voice memo, I’d hit an errant key and it was gone.

Once, as a senior in college, I lost the majority of a lengthy take-home exam. It was a 24-hour open book thing in one of my most challenging Philosophy courses. I’d been working on it straight since picking up the prompt at 9am that morning. It was 2am the following day when it disappeared. It was due in 7 hours and it was gone. I went numb. I worked hard. I wrote brilliant words on British Empiricism never to be seen again.

It wasn’t fair.

Weeks later, from the rear of the minivan, my son asked how we can get it back. The voice recording. The finality of the ‘delete’ key was still lost on him.

He asked again. And then again.

Upon his second or third meltdown, I bristled and hardened, anger bubbling up beyond reason. I’m sure I shouted, and I’m sure it was loud—I was irritated; he needed to move on.

And just as swiftly, I collapsed, softening with a sympathy that can only come from intimate familiarity, deep understanding.

He doesn’t let go easily.

We go through erasers like candy, because “I don’t like when it’s wrong, Mommy.”

He won’t move away from the bullies on the school bus because “that’s my seat.”

He is determined. He is headstrong. He is passionate. He is fixated on fairness.

He is me.

I often wonder if it’s easier or harder to parent a child so much like you. For me, it’s eye-opening. Every day, I face a mirror that requires a reaction. As parents, we make split-second decisions; we act without forethought. We harness instincts we never knew we had. And in grasping daily at answers for my son, I find that often, we share the same questions.

As I muddle through motherhood, I’m often mystified by how little I’ve changed.

I’m still the awkward middle school girl who trips on every curb rather than sails through the hallways of preschool pickup.

I’m sentimental to a fault, saving every scrap of paper that comes home with my children from school (for now).

I get irrationally incensed at minor injustices—always the little things—like half a bag of air where there should be chips, a typo on the school newsletter, or homework over the holidays.

But now I’m the one my son turns to with searching eyes. I’m expected to stay steady, speak with reason. To believe firmly enough in the ways of the world and our place within it to teach these to him.

Back in college, after losing the bulk of my take-home exam, I pulled it together. I arranged scraps from rough drafts I’d sent to a classmate earlier in the night (this was permitted). I brewed more coffee and feverishly filled in the gaps. I raced to the printing stations in the campus center, found a stray stapler, handed it over to the professor 10 minutes before the deadline.

It wasn’t fair. Things often aren’t. But we learn to cope. With disappointment, imperfection, a life that’s all too often beyond our control.

Our children grow, and we grow right along with them. And also, we don’t. In many ways, we stay the same. We are who we are, after all. We simply get better, savvier about fitting our idiosyncratic piece into the world’s puzzle.

~

One morning, he slept late. We were all jet-lagged from a trip to California over winter break and this was the first day back to school. His bus would be here soon, so I gently tiptoed into his bedroom to wake him. I pulled him up out of bed and held him close. For a moment, his head rested on my chest, the fingers on his left hand splayed at the base of my neck. Like when he was a newborn.

“Let’s go, Mom,” he suddenly spoke. He’s always been quick to rise.

I carefully touched his feet to the floor, and he took off ahead of me. I paused to steady myself and recalled that he’s been adept at this walking thing for years.

Soon we were standing together at the front doorway looking out for the bus. I crouched down to his eye level.

“Are you ready?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Well, we haven’t had school in a while.”

“I know,” I offered, “It always feels funny in the beginning. It’ll get better once you’re there and are a few hours in.”

He dutifully trod out in the cool dark morning. I stood behind, gutted but hopeful. That he’ll find his way. That he’ll know how to respond. How to face whatever crosses his path.

We are all learning—still learning—every day, how to walk through this world that stretches out beyond and all around us. How to find our footing, steady our steps.

At least in this way, we’re walking together.

~~~~~

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Dina Relles is a lawyer, writer, and mother of three young sons. Her essays can be found in The Atlantic, Brain, Child Magazine, Literary Mama, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere, as well as on her own site, Commonplace. She loves connecting with other mother-writers, drinking coffee, and people-watching from her front stoop. You can find her on Twitter @DinaLRelles.

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: Growing Together: He Is Me | Commonplace

  2. What a tender and keen observation about you and your son. I always wonder too about what it would be like to have multiple children and see a gradient of myself in each one. But I ask the same question all the time: is it harder or easier to parent someone so much like yourself? My daughter is like me in many, many ways, particularly when it comes to her sense of justice and a deep, sensitive well of empathy and wonder. It’s easier in that I can understand where she’s coming from in an instant, but harder too because my reaction is not always ideal, AND because I know how hard it is to live in the world we do when you are built like she and I are. It’s hard knowing all that ahead of her while she’s still figuring it all out, you know? Glad you and Tricia are so connected–makes complete sense to me!
    Kristen recently posted..She Keeps SecretsMy Profile

    • Yes! There is definitely a tug-of-war between wanting to help guide them and avoid the mistakes/pain/struggles you went through and letting them walk their own path. I try to softly help him find his own ways of confronting a challenge — suggesting, offering, but then stepping back and seeing how he handles it. (…and then being there for the fallout) I imagine this becomes even harder as they get older and the stakes get higher!
      Dina recently posted..Growing Together: He Is MeMy Profile

  3. I love this post. I felt I was reading a post about my second born son. We struggle in our relationship at times, maybe our struggles are due to the fact we are more alike than I am willing to admit. Thank you for opening up my eyes and heart a little more this morning.

  4. Dina, I feel like I could have written this… wait, I actually started a post very much like this one, only it hasn’t yet left my brain 🙂

    My daughter, almost 7, is a mini me, and I often wonder if it’s easier or harder to have a child who is so recognizable as your own child-self. These days I feel like it’s harder, only because there is something so painful about seeing your past, especially the challenging aspects of it, repeat in your baby. I want to help her, and in helping her, I’m helping me – but it’s SO hard to remain cool and calm in the face of such… baggage.

    Thank you for putting (beautiful) words to a topic so close to my heart. I’m so glad we’re walking together on this path.
    Dana recently posted..The Power of PoetryMy Profile

  5. I think it is so much harder to parent a child like me. I struggle to separate my feelings and experience from hers. We are similar, but not the same, so I force myself to take a step back rather than impose my personal reactions on her. The older she gets, the harder this becomes, especially sending her to kindergarten, when the flood of emotions from my elementary school traumas came rushing back to me. I think about this topic a lot. Thank you for sharing.
    Justine recently posted..My Love/Hate Relationship with my BlogMy Profile

  6. First of all my heart dropped when I read that you hit that delete button (I’ve made similar mistakes) and my palms began to sweat when I read that your exam disappeared (the same thing happened to me with a lengthy freelance project last summer). But yes, the growing and changing while remaining the same and navigating parenthood with a miniature version of yourself — I’m always hyper aware of my daughter’s movements in the world. At this point, she is more like me than my boys. I’m always anticipating how she will approach things, how she will react to and digest them. So happy you shared this astute and gorgeous observation for this series.

    • Oh my gosh, I know. The unintended “delete” and lost work product are dramatically awful experiences. I’m glad (and also sorry!) that you can relate. And thank YOU for paving the way with such a thoughtful, touching contribution to “Growing Together” that inspired me as I wrote this piece. xo
      Dina recently posted..Growing Together: He Is MeMy Profile

  7. Oh Dina, I love this post so much. The world was awesome with one of you in it, and now it’s even better with two 🙂

    “Every day, I face a mirror that requires a reaction.” I love this line. It really resonates with me. I often feel stuck between wanting to prevent my daughter from inheriting personality traits that have caused me difficulty in my life and learning to accept her as she is, even if it means watching her experience some of the same challenges I’ve experienced.

    And I love that you pointed out that you weren’t breaking the rules by sending drafts to a classmate– sharing drafts without permission would have given you an unfair advantage 🙂

  8. My daughter is much more like me than my son is, and I think that’s why we butt heads so often. It’s always been more challenging to parent her, but at the same time it feels familiar. At 16, she is no longer a smaller version of me, and the road we walk together has smoothed out a bit.

    I’ve only met Dina recently in a writing course, but it doesn’t surprise me that the two of you are kindred spirits. You both have a way of telling a story that makes me think of things in a new way – and that’s a very good thing.
    Dana recently posted..Do you believe in magic?My Profile

  9. I’m late to the party, but oh Dana… I loved this so much. My older boy is so like me in so many ways. I’m not always good at responding to him in a way that I should be responding… but it’s a constantly evolving process.

    And the delete button part, I am so sorry! My stomach dropped when I read that. I can definitely relate… my last-ever voice recital – the last time I sang in a formal setting, in public, alone – was on a mini-disk that I accidently formatted. I’m still kicking myself over that one…
    Dakota Nyght recently posted..Five Years OldMy Profile

  10. I’m late, too, but loved seeing Dina here. She is such a sensitive writer with great attention to the little details that make her children who they are. I love her writing.
    Nina recently posted..Do Listen Read: Late JanuaryMy Profile

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