This week I celebrate a decade in my most challenging, rewarding, exasperating, exhilarating job ever.
I’ve been a mom for 10 years.
When I gave birth to Cooper, a roly-poly chunk of cheeks and thighs and hair, there was no Facebook or even MySpace. Only three of the eventual seven Harry Potter novels had been published. The towers of the World Trade Center were still standing.
Now he’s three inches shy of me with zero detectable body fat.
He can’t imagine life without instant access to information, no matter how trivial. Nor a world without a mom who chronicles much of his life online.
He never had to wait for J.K. Rowling to finish a manuscript. By the time he caught up with the first few novels, the final books were waiting for him.
He’s traveled all over the country but has no firsthand knowledge of the days when loved ones could greet you at the gate of your arriving plane.
This first fraction of the 21st century has ushered monumental change around the world. Terrorism, economic crisis, devastating natural disasters. It’s often frightening to think of the world that Cooper and his little sister are growing up in.
Part of my on-the-job mom training has been learning when to let those scary events influence our life at home — and when to protect them from harsh reality that can wait.
Only in the past year have I explained the horror of 9/11 to Cooper. That background has helped him better understand our ongoing wars in the Middle East. (I’m still taken aback when he’ll randomly ask at the dinner table, “So, how are things going over in Afghanistan? Have many of our soldiers died lately?”)
With trial and error I’ve learned — and am still learning — when to let him go and when to hold on.
One night when he was in kindergarten, I realized that he was still washing with baby soap. No one told me when to stop buying it. I just kept returning to the same Target aisle to pick up the same bottle of gentle bath wash. In one startling moment I snapped to and realized, “Hey, he’s not a baby or even a toddler anymore.”
This week, I was driving three boys around town. Cooper was the only one who isn’t allowed to play or even watch Halo, a video game in which the player is responsible for killing aliens (I think).
“Why can’t I play Halo?” Cooper wanted to know, again, perhaps hoping that I would cave with his buddies around.
“Because it’s rated ‘Mature,’ and you’re not 17.”
Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes, thinking that I’m overprotective or naïve. That someday soon he’ll be at a friend’s house and Halo will come up and he’ll just ignore my rule. Maybe. But I’m holding on as long as I can.
He’s been bathing with “real” soap for the past few years, but I’m not willing to let go of my standards on violence (or language or sex) just yet. My job experience as mom to Cooper tells me it’s the best decision for our family.
The past decade has also altered our definition of “family.”
When Cooper was 6, his daddy was diagnosed with brain cancer. When Cooper was 8, Steve died.
We’ve broadened “family” to include folks who cared for us in crisis and still watch over us today. And to include the husband and dad who isn’t living in the house but who is very much an integral part of this home.
Being mom to Cooper grants me frequent glimpses of Steve. They share a wicked wit, love and gift for music, uncommon gentleness, endearing goofiness, wild enthusiasm, legs built for running, unassuming intelligence, poetic word choice.
Where we are today was blessedly unimaginable 10 years ago, when Steve and I were meeting our firstborn. Thank God no one gave me a detailed job description or list of heartaches to come. I can’t guarantee that I would have said yes.
Instead, we adapt every day to the changes around us and within. I’ve learned that there are no guarantees for security or stability or health. That nothing totally prepares you to be a parent, except being a parent. And that love grows exponentially over a decade.
Imagine what I’ll learn in another 10 years.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.