My Son Turns 27, and I’m Twice His Age (Again)!

The worst advice I ever received about becoming a parent–a response to my worries at never having cared for a newborn or toddler–was that I would always be one step ahead of my children. When my eldest son, Conor, arrived, he immediately proved this advice to be wrong.

Happy Birthday, Conor! (Your hair looks great!)

His father and I knew nothing about babies,  and we definitely did not believe Dr. Spock, when he wrote to listen to ourselves, that we were the experts: We did not know how to put on the cloth diapers delivered by a service my great-aunt had given us. (The diaper delivery man was perplexed when there were only 7 dirty diapers after Week One, and just a few the following week…for a colicky baby, cloth diapers were perfect burping cloths, floor cleaners, shoe polishers, and more. When hundreds of diapers fell from a closet, my grandmother nearly choked on laughter).

St. Joseph’s Day Baby

Tony and I did not know whether the tape on disposable diapers went in front or back. We were unprepared for the fact that babies do not sleep all night, or that a colicky baby would test our sanity and our patience. Thanks to the family who were present almost daily–my Irish twin, Michele, and her then-fiance, Andy; my mom and grandmothers, the three Marys, and my great aunt Anna–we survived. In fact, my dining room became a lunchtime gathering place, replacing the HoJo on Route 1, where we’d met for lunch forever.

At the time, I had just left a writing job because when the baby arrived early, I was a few weeks shy of maternity leave. (It galls me that this issue is still an issue, and that most working parents do not have paid leave, and cannot afford the unpaid leave of the Family & Medical Leave Act. Thanks to tireless advocates like my friend, Valerie Young, of the Caring Economy Campaign.

Dad, flummoxed by my resignation, said, “Motherhood is the one job you’ll never be able to quit.” He was right: 27 years later, and I am still at it.

Still going….

As a new mother, I jealously guarded time spent with Conor, who was the most beautiful, precious, wonderful creature ever made. His red hair was a great surprise–as was colic, which set in after a week at home.

Grandmom Hourihan, Easter 1990 (no doubt telling me even then that I was just right)

When exhaustion struck me, my Grandmom Hourihan (Gram) would let herself in before breakfast, take the baby from my bed, then sit with him for hours
in a wicker chair. How she loved him! She taught him to talk at 9 months, then looked after him for a few years. His favorite book was What Do People Do All Day, which he was happy to read over and over again. It drove me nuts–but not my Gram.

My Grandmom Lynch (Meme to my children) came on her days off from the nursing home where she worked, bundling him up for long walks through the neighborhood, or holding him and singing, The Tennessee Waltz, while he took a rare nap.

Meme was visiting one day and agreed to watch my batch of kids; Conor was 12 or 13, and I knew he would help out. A few hours later, I came home to find Meme on the couch with an ice pack on her knee, and Conor sitting anxiously beside her. He was wearing a skateboard helmet, and a lacrosse stick was on the floor. I looked at Meme and asked what had happened.

“He asked me to come play ball with him, but I shouldn’t have tried to run,” she said. I pointed out that perhaps her helmet-wearing days were a thing of the past.

The point of these memories is this: Becoming a mother did not mean I’d receive, as if from the stars, instructions for the job. Any notion that I’d stay one-step ahead of him began to unravel the day his young cousins taught him to climb the stairs. He’s a bright person, with a quick mind and sharp wit. By the time he was four, he was lengths ahead of me.

Just for today, I am twice his age, just as I was when he was born. That will not happen again. And at last I know the only advice for anyone is this: Trust your heart. And be kind. For all that I expected to teach him about this life, he was my first teacher in what it means to love unconditionally, opening my heart until I sometimes thought it would break. He taught me all kinds of things I’d never heard of: the Navajo Codetalkers and geography, that I should read David Foster Wallace and–most of all–stop worrying about him and his  siblings.

Conor is in his second year as a volunteer for a literacy program, which matches community volunteers with elementary-school children who are unable to read, or read at grade level. Through his role as a coordinator at one school, he has forged his way to work with meaning and compassion. It is a great way to travel in this world.

Keywords: first-time mother, new parents, parenting, birthday, aging

What Are Mothers For?: Ready to purchase on Amazon!

If you have ever loved a child, been a beloved child, or remembered happy moments shared with adults you loved, What Are Mothers For? will speak to your heart. With whimsical drawings accompanied by simple text, the book shows and tells the story of my memories of my childhood–some inspired by my grandmothers, my mother, and my sisters. The book follows the life cycle, from when we first come from the stars, to when we have children of our own.

Thanks to the expert design and layout support of Min Enghauser of The Torpedo Factor, the book LOOKS fantastic–and I hope you love reading it as much as I loved writing and drawing it. Here is a short link:

www.amazon.com/dp/0692562370

And an early image: We arrive on a wing and a prayer:

on a wing and a prayer, 1

We have so much to learn and absorb, to do and become.

interior book spread

In the end, we create our own beauty, and the beautiful lives that follow us.

It would make a beautiful gift for the holidays, a new mom, a mom-to-be, a grandmother. Many women are mothers by virtue of birth and adoption, and many more by virtue of the love they give to children.  Please consider a copy, the first in a series about all kinds of people (and  maybe a few animals, too).

tags: mothers, motherhood, parenting, children, love, aging, giftbook, picturebook, Janice Lynch Schuster, What Are Mothers For?, growing up, learning,

Frozen

I no longer remember why I hated
My mother, such strong words
For pass-a-day disputes. She was a girl
Herself, and I, hers. What she knew
Of love and safety, to me, a long list
Of should-nots built on her mistakes.

On the coldest days, in snow,
She would wrap my hands and feet
In baggies under mittens,
Hoping to keep me dry with what she had.
We made do, so long,
Frozen in joy, snowflakes on our tongues.

I could not wear go-go boots
Or make up, and she warned me
About boys. I believed nothing
Of what she said, so learned
It on my own, she held
My broken heart, and stood me up
My own two feet all any woman
Needed, or could trust.

Now we are both old women.
The numbered years slip by,
like ice on plastic-wrapped hands.

It sears you, then melts.
You try to grab things,
Change them or just hold tight…
And they are gone.

 

key words: mother-daughter relationships, love, childhood, memory, regret, aging