My thirteen-year old’s brown eyes hold wisdom beyond his years. I savor the hard-won friendship between us, but, before the friendship, we battled. We battled until it broke me.
The battles started when he was two, give or take. As each day began, I braced for the unknown. I trudged up the stairs to his room with a knot of cold dread in my stomach.
I hated feeling this way. At first, I blamed him. After months of this dragged on, I blamed myself.
His tantrums melted one into the next and pummeled my soul in the process.
Wisconsin winters complicated matters. Being trapped indoors with this combustible ball of energy took its toll on me. My despair led me to join a local play group. At first, when I stumbled upon it, I rejoiced.
This jubilation crashed to a halt as I watched him leave a wake of destruction wherever he went. My dream of connecting with other moms as he played in the background evaporated as the reality of his temperament revealed itself. He bulldozed through tea parties, cups flying, hearts breaking, with laser-precision. Instead of coloring, he snapped crayons in half and tore the printed pictures to shreds. Remnants of happy barnyard animals appeared sinister as he peppered their pieces across the tables.
Exhaustion settled over me as the hour-long group crept by. Refueling my sense of self never materialized. My natural reserves of joy, gratitude, and love deserted me. I collected the shreds of my dignity at the hour’s end, grabbed my toddler’s hand and retreated to the safety of our home. There, though the walls boxed us in, the absence of the judging eyes of others filled my body with relief.
The days and weeks stretched before me. It took everything within me to keep this kid alive and occupied for 12-14 hours a day while my husband climbed the ladder of his career.
Each day I fashioned an agenda crammed with activities. If I allowed space for stillness, I paid the price. Even simple errands became action-packed. Browsing aisles at the grocery store no longer applied. With my toddler seated and locked in the cart, I sprinted up and down the rows of food as if my Olympic track and field dreams depended on it. If I slowed, even for a moment, my boy pounced. He was like an alligator and could smell the blood in the water. In an instant, his legs curled under him ready to propel him to standing. He strained against the woven fibers of the cart seatbelt, his face bright with determination. To quell this attempt at escape, I filled my lungs to capacity and once again, broke into a run. Who knew grocery store shopping counted as cardio?
This theme of desperation in motion held solid through dinnertime. To keep him in my sight and safe from harm, I strapped him in his high chair. Since toys bored him, I rummaged through drawers until I found toddler-safe objects to occupy him. He loved banging spoons on pots and salad tongs tickled his fancy. These items held his attention for spurts of time. Once he bored of them, he pushed them off his tray like a pirate walking the plank. The kitchen floor was littered with the carnage of his boredom. When all else failed, I returned to my trusted sprinting and wheeled his chair in circles. Round and round the kitchen island we would go, where we stopped, nobody knows.
I wore my failure at motherhood thick around my heart. I loved my kid, this I knew, but being a mom hurt. My child’s continual, angry meltdowns showed me he carried pain packed tight in that precious, little body of his. All the sprinting in the world could not change this.
Pain weaved us together.
Love began to make us whole.
One morning, with my mind fuzzed-over from sleep, a realization cracked through me.
I had to call a truce.
In order to mother my child, I had to accept him as he was.
I accepted he preferred wrestling to snuggles. I understood constant exploration lit a fire in him. These flames burned with a fierceness quenched by motion.
I embraced toys meant nothing to him. Toys were like a positive attitude at the DMV, overrated and useless.
He liked real-world adventures.
Truth lived there.
He was a truth-finder.
The harder I squished him into a box of conformity, the louder he screamed. He roared away my limits. He stomped his feet in the name of autonomy.
His bravery inspired me. His brashness sparked me to step out from my own shadows. He taught me to speak my mind. He granted me the permission to sing my heart out loud and true.
Over time, I replaced my morning dread with open-hearted anticipation. I imagined myself as him. If I wanted him to be kind and loving, I needed to be those things first.
Running shoes became a wardrobe staple. I double-knotted the laces to keep them tight as I ran my way through the day. Peals of laughter escaped from my son as I chased him down. He loved to play chase, but more than that, he loved to be captured. If I managed to grasp him, tickling him to near madness was mandatory. He insisted on it.
Joy spread like butter over the chasm of separation that had formed between us.
The balm that healed us was time. Time built trust. Time made everything better. Time gave me wisdom. Time, love, and patience gave me my son back.
To this day, I marvel at the ease of our relationship. This handsome, articulate young man came into my life to show me how to let go of expectations.
I no longer expect him to be anyone other than who he is.
All I have to do is get out of his way.
The rest, thank goodness, is up to him.
Diana DeVaul is a wife, mother and freelance writer. She is holding it together even though the Cubs did not make the play-offs this year. She copes by writing her way through life’s conundrums, meditating on the meaning of existence and talking to her dogs. She believes her readers have everything they need inside of them and hopes her words encourage them to see this truth. You can learn more about her motherhood journey here: WritesForAllMommies.com and her spiritual musings here: SpiritualWrites.com and on FB: @SpiritualWrites.