Here’s what I remember best:
His small hand reaching up for mine in the bright sunshine. The scent of the baby sweat in his bright blond hair. His trusting eyes looking at me like I am the most important thing his universe will ever offer. His willingness to be my best friend and cohort.
I blew it. I did that.
This is about my regrets as a mother. Not Life Regrets, because what came after prepped me for both homeschooling and blogging (and gave me the best friend I’ve ever had), and I’m not sad about that part of it. What breaks my heart when I think of it is how he grew away from me. And continues to do so. Littlest was my baby, and even though at different times his older brothers had been the same, he was my Last Baby, and I wish I had been able to pay more attention. See, I was a SAHM when we first moved to the farm. And we were giddily happy. But one week I saw an ad in the paper for a part-time children’s librarian at the local library. And it was my dream job. So after discussing it with Martin, I applied for it. I figured, what, 20 hours a week is a part-time job, and it wouldn’t take me away from my only baby too much but would satisfy my need to contribute to my community. And, let’s face it, get out of the house for a minute and do something For Me. I got the call for the interview with the library board. I went to the interview. I knew the interview was going extremely well. Then they told me the job was for 32 hours a week. Mm hmm. I know why companies do That. So, since I didn’t Need the job, I was honest with them. I told them I couldn’t take a job with that many hours because I had a little one at home; that I was under the impression it was part-time job and I couldn’t accept it. Imagine my shock when they called me the next day and asked if two of the board members could meet with me at my house. I agreed to do so. They came over, offered to hire in another person to work 8 of my hours, and let me bring Littlest to work with me 1 day a week. What an offer! I was so flattered. They must have Really Wanted me to go to those lengths. I did not consider that the job was still going to take me away from my Littlest for a lot of hours. I accepted.
Working in that library was wonderful. I got to know the people in my rural area, met a lot of homeschoolers, and met my best friend (who happened to be the woman they hired along with me). But I have to admit, I got so caught up in having a life of my own I forgot the reasons I originally turned down the job. A lot of work and a lot of politics went into that job, and it took my focus. Away from my baby. Less and less did he reach for my hand. He stayed with a wonderful homeschool family while I was working, and I’m truly glad he got that experience. His dad drove him to his little league games and practices while I was working evenings and Saturdays. He began to depend on other people. I kept telling myself I had plenty of time to make it up to him. I didn’t.
We never do.
I only worked three days a week. But the schedule was basically 10-6 all 3 days. I was missing most of his day for 3 days every week. Then I went back to school because it occurred to me that I loved working with kids so much I could be a school librarian and reach them even better. So for the 4 days I wasn’t working, I was dealing with online classes, not my Little. I thought I was doing it for him. I was wrong.
Not all mothers feel that way. Some mothers have that same experience and at the end are proud of what they’ve accomplished, what they’ve done for their kids. Thing is, after a year of working in the public school system, I was completely disillusioned by it and had no desire to continue on. So now I look back on those years when Littlest still needed me and I wasn’t there as a huge mistake. Because he’s still closer to his dad than he is to me. And I’m under no illusions that when these boys all grow up and find mates I will be as important to them as I am now. And I’m not as important now as I was then. Since I made the plunge to homeschool, I have tried to re-establish that early relationship with Littlest, but I feel like I am the one constantly chasing him for attention now. I have never told him I feel this way, and I doubt I ever will. But it breaks my heart every single day. I would give quite a bit to see that little hand reaching for me in the sunlight again.
The other thing I remember well is my excitement when Big was accepted at IU. In fact, I was so excited that I may not have been paying attention to His Reaction. I imagined his world broadening while he stayed in his dorm–the friends he would make, the responsibilities he would take, the Life that would blow Wide Open. What I did not imagine was how much he would hate it. How lonely he would be. How his innate shyness would prevent him from making a ton of friends. How homesick he would be, every day, for the entire year he was there.
He came home for the weekend often. Usually he left again with a hug and a sad smile. But there was one time he came home for a couple of days with his girlfriend of the moment. As they were pulling out of the driveway (me crying on the front porch. I always did), he turned to me from the passenger seat, and He Was Bawling. It tore my heart out. Right in front of his girlfriend, no shame, no hiding it. My beautiful son was crying harder than I was. I wanted to run after the car, tell them to stop, tell him he didn’t have to go. But he was halfway through a semester, and that would ruin both his college career and his scholarship. So I gave him a bright smile and waved and let him leave.
Ugh. Being a mother is hard. It is equally joyful and heartrending. As his mommy, with no other consequences but proving I love him more than the moon loves the stars, I should have stopped him. I should not have made him go back. The look on his face is etched on my brain and I recall it occasionally for no reason at all and cry Every Time. I don’t think there’s a lot worse in the world than seeing your grown son cry like he did when he was a baby. I’ve only seen him cry like that one other time, and I’ll never forgive the person who caused it. So how can I forgive myself for encouraging him to go away to college and being the cause of that sob session?
As mothers, we all have those moments, big and small, that tear us to shreds forever. That one thing we shouldn’t have said, that other thing we shouldn’t have done. I have a lot more than these two examples–I am human and I make mistakes. But I don’t regret most of my mistakes as much as I do those I make as a mother. I want to be perfect for all of my boys. I want them to know only love and compassion and laughter. I want to protect them from the dark, from the bad guys, from the heartbreak. When I act in a way that is opposite of that wish, I want to don a hair shirt and self-flagellate because nothing is more important in the multiverse than my boys’ smiles. So even though I make those mistakes, I keep trying and learning and hoping I can be better for them.
Because if I have to have regrets as a mother, I want them to be as few as possible. For the boys’ sakes, not my own.
Now, I think you’ll forgive me if I go ask Littlest to play a game of Sorry. Yeah, I’m noting the irony.