Monday, June 18, 2012

To become a mother

When I got engaged, there were two men on the other side of the ring box. Two men asking for my hand. Two men asking me to join their life.

When I accepted that ring, I accepted both of them. One as my husband and the other as my son. 

It took me a while before I was comfortable calling Gabriel my son. I spent several months calling him "my kid" or "my little boy" until one day I was recounting something adorable he'd done to a coworker and the words "my son" spilled out. And, goodness, it felt really good.  

I hadn't wanted to take what wasn't mine and somehow calling a child I hadn't birthed "son" seemed doing just that. It's funny, having a biological child automatically gives you ownership over the words "son" or "daughter" forevermore. But for those of us who parent others' children, we really have to earn it. I could easily use the safer word "stepson," a word I automatically own by virtue of my marriage, but it's never been my intention to treat Gabriel like a stepson. In this family, he is a son. No prefix necessary.

I read a lot of books and articles about blended families and stepparenting before I moved out to New York. I had plenty of plans and theories and expectations when I arrived. Now that I've been here for a while, I have no plans or theories or expectations. I'm just white-knuckling this thing nowadays. And it's tough sometimes. But, oh, it is so magically, beautifully good.

This precious babe I get to snuggle, cuddle, kiss, cry over, lose my patience with, teach, read to, learn from, feed, clothe, bathe, tickle, put in time out, giggle with, wrestle with, love. This little boy I get to love.

I fall in love with this kiddo seventeen times a day and my heart breaks seventeen more times. Once we drove down to Maryland to visit my family and Gabriel had a blast and a half trailing after my four younger brothers doing all the things little boys love to do. As the boys were running together off to another grand adventure, my sweet son stumbled and fell. He picked himself up and paused, wanting to keep running with the big boys but also wanting ever so much to be comforted and fussed over. He stood on the precipice between babyhood and boyhood while I, watching from the porch, teetered between overprotective mommyhood and cool momhood. Oh, my heart broke three times watching him and wanting so much to rush over and bathe him in kisses and promise that nothing in the world would ever harm my baby ever again. I couldn't help myself and scooped him into my arms for a quick hug before he ran off once again, shooting a grin at me over his shoulder. And I fell in love with him all over again. How a mom's heart can break and heal so many times a day I'll never understand.

I doubt myself over and over, of course. Am I patient enough? Do I give enough cuddles? Do I tell him enough that I love him? Should I do more? Should I do less? Am I a good enough mom? Am I?

And, you know, some days the answer is no. But a lot of days the answer is yes. I'm still learning how to be a mom and this kid is teaching me how to do it. I stumble sometimes, but we get through it on kisses and hugs and try-agains.

My mom told me recently, "If ever someone was meant to be a mother, it was you." I know I was meant to love this boy. It took me a few years to find him, but for the rest of my life I'll be loving him.

My little boy.

My kid.

My son.