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
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?”
“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.
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.