Raising Richmond: Like mother, like son

The older my son gets, the more I realize that our similarities go much deeper than the massive heads, fair skin, and gingerish tendencies we have in common. I have truly met my match. In fact, I birthed him. And he’s spent his almost three years on this planet holding a metaphorical mirror up to my face.

Every Tuesday morning, my son JR and I go to story time at our neighborhood library. Each class ends with “Balls and Bubbles”, a five-minute period where the kids get to play with–you guessed it–balls and bubbles. It is completely chaotic and absolutely delightful.

During one particularly enthusiastic Balls and Bubbles session, my son pummeled another kid’s grandmother’s in the face. It wasn’t intentional, of course, but it was hard enough to make that loud PANG! sound that sent me back to elementary school dodge ball.

I walked JR up to her and asked him to apologize. He did, and she was very lovely about it, smiling and assuring him that she knew it was an accident. I thanked her for being so kind and encouraged JR to get back to playing. To the outside observer, I’m sure it looked as if it was a non-event. No big deal. Done and done.

But I knew it wasn’t over.

Instead of marching back into the fray, JR stuck close to me, chewing on his finger, and blinking hard. Before I could even get the words “Are you ok?” out of my mouth, he collapsed into my lap, his little body heaving with sobs. Sobs I recognized…and sort of expected. Sobs of mortification at even the possibility that someone might have been slightly upset with him for any period of time.

“Oh, sweet boy,” I whispered into his ear. “You are definitely my child.”

— ∮∮∮ —

The older my son gets, the more I realize that our similarities go much deeper than our massive heads, fair skin, and gingerish tendencies.

I have truly met my match. In fact, I birthed him. And he’s spent his almost three years on this planet holding a metaphorical mirror up to my face.

Often I find our similarities hilarious: JR and I share mannerisms, facial expressions, speech patterns, even sleeping positions. It’s all very heart-warming in a “look at this offspring I have brought forth to continue the family legacy of endearing weirdness” kind of way.

And yet, there are times when it’s maddening–and humbling. A few examples, if you’ll humor me for a moment…

JR fights off help on most tasks, determined to do things on his own. Meanwhile I’m snapping at my husband that I DO NOT NEED HIS HELP I CAN HANDLE THIS GET OFF MY BACK AND LET ME PARENT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

His memory is freakishly accurate, particularly when it comes to parenting mishaps (if you ever meet him, make sure you ask him about that one time at Costco). And I have a hard time not bringing up every single vaguely douche-baggish thing my husband did when we first started dating almost FIFTEEN YEARS AGO.

Many a night, I’ll chatter on endlessly to my poor, exhausted husband (a morning person if there ever was one) about how JR refused to stop talking and settle down for bedtime, and how I just don’t know why he does that.

(My kind husband usually limits his comments on these struggles to a raised eyebrow and a smile, God love him.)

— ∮∮∮ —

As frustrating as it can be to get a dose of my own medicine on a daily basis, seeing aspects of myself reflected in my child has actually been more healing than anything else. I have a new appreciation (or, at the very least a greater tolerance) for character traits that I once viewed as liabilities, now that I see them in my son.

I always saw myself as too shy. Now I just think I’m quiet. Like him.

I always considered myself to be too sensitive. Now I accept the fact that I am deeply affected by things. Like him.

I always felt held back by my tendency to be very cautious around new people and in new situations. Now I accept the fact that in order to be comfortable, I need time to size things up a bit. Like him.

I don’t want to imply that I didn’t feel like I was a good person or have a grasp of my identity before my son was born. But like anyone, I had baggage–the result of life circumstances, the opinions and influences of others, the same forces that leave us all a little battered once we reach adulthood.

What my son did was give me a new, more complete context for seeing how I fit into the world. When JR’s personality started to show itself, and I began to realize who I was dealing with (a smaller, less rational, and male version of myself), it was as if two refrains started playing softly in the back of my mind.

The first: “He’s been driving you nuts by doing XYZ since he was born, but YOU’VE been driving people nuts for 30 years. Give him a break.”

Then the second: “Hey, you know all those things that frustrate you about yourself? This kid’s got most of them, and you still love every single inch of him. Can’t you give yourself a break?”

I don’t always listen to these, mind you. But it’s comforting to know that they’re there–that I have it somewhere in me to maintain such perspectives when the occasion presents itself. Like when my child slams someone in the face with a rubber ball and he’s the one who’s inconsolable. Because, hey, he’s my kid; it’s just what we do.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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