Before I had kids I had this charming notion they would be little half-people. You know, half me and half my husband. My two favorite people in the whole world! What’s not to love?
What I’ve realized since having kids – and especially since seeing them start developing their personalities – is that while, yes, they get their genes from their parents, they are 100% their own little dudes.
Watching my older son walk into his classroom and be greeted by his friends of all different colors and backgrounds makes my heart swell with pride. They love him simply because he’s so fun to be around. He approaches every game, every song, every dance with a joie de vivre that is so natural you can’t help but want in on it. Even if his clothes don’t match (sometimes) or his hair is matted and sticking up crazily on the back of his head (usually), these kids greet him with excitement and open arms. That’s all him. But the corollary of this passionate approach to life is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. Now that – that’s all me.
The other day, my son got his feelings hurt. No, let’s not downplay it. He got his heart broken. A friend didn’t want to play with him anymore, and he cried bitter, bitter tears. I held him and tried to say what a parent should in that moment, without knowing the whole story: “he’ll want to play with you tomorrow” (it’s amazing how often these deferred promises work for my kid), “next time let’s make sure we share” (just in case it was his fault), and “do you want to watch something on TV?” (don’t judge, I was desperate). As I sat on the couch with him and the sobs slowed down, his friend showed up at the front door. He’d had a change of heart. They happily picked up where they’d left off, and the drama was forgotten. At one point, my son broke away to grab another toy and detoured to the kitchen on his way back to his friend. He whispered loudly, happily: “I’m having so much fun!”
That experience instantly transported me back to my own childhood. I felt the ache in my chest, the hopelessness of a friend’s rejection, like it was my own heart breaking. And it was. To watch this happen to my son, knowing exactly how he felt, was to experience it myself. The most well-written book or brilliantly acted drama could not elicit the feelings that consumed me while sitting on that couch with my first-born. Because there it was, there was the part of me in him. More than his eyes or his white-blond hair, he inherited this vulnerability from me.
I remember when I realized my husband was the last person I would ever kiss. Part of me felt just a little sad that I would never again experience that glorious, free-falling sensation of new love. The delirious, heady tingling right before a first kiss. Even the all-consuming break-up when you know for a fact you will never love again… Of course, it’s a good trade-off. It’s the point all those first kisses and heartbreaks are designed to get you to. But it’s still a little bittersweet.
Now I know I was wrong about all that. I will experience the ecstasy of a first kiss again. I will ride the roller coaster of new love. I will be crippled by a broken heart. It just won’t be my own.
“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” –Elizabeth Stone