“If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.”
When you only have one child, you have no way of gauging behavior, no temperaments to compare, no clear-cut answer as to whether something this child does is the right way or the wrong way. If there is such a thing.
When I was pregnant with my son, I asked a few mothers I trusted for advice about motherhood. But more often than not, the advice I received came unsolicited from people who believed their ways were the only ways. Their forms of parenting were the best. Their ideas on nourishment, sleep patterns, and discipline were superior to others. So I quickly developed a bad taste in my mouth about it all.
Multiple people commented, “Your baby is a reflection of you and your husband.” Often, people said this to me when they met Will. They decided his good behavior, his easygoing personality, his ability to sleep through the night, his constant smiles and laughter, were somehow reflective of my husband and me. I’d love to believe it. But I’m not entirely sold.
Yes, I believe that the way we treat our children affects their senses of self-worth, their independence, and inevitably, the way they treat other people with whom they interact. However, I also firmly believe that my son teaches me quite a bit more than I teach him. And therefore, I believe his temperament and innate kindness is, for all intents and purposes, his and his alone.
One of my closest friends raised two boys. Well, they’re not raised, per se, but they’re almost teenagers, and at this point in my life, wiping your own butt and putting on your own clothes means you’re raised. When I ask her about her two boys, she tells me stories about them and how incredibly different they are—yet they were raised in the same household with the same parents.
Those of you who know my brother can attest to the fact that he is very different from me. I’m a worrier. He’s much more go with the flow. I live my life rigidly, by the rules, where he’s more… free. I tend to look at the more serious aspects of life, while he’s always cracking jokes. He marches to the beat of a different drummer. He doesn’t let people decide things for him—in that way, we’re the same. But he bottles up his anger or hurt. I let it out for the world to see. He’s quite a bit more private, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. He’s extremely athletic, and I’m a total klutz. In some ways, we’re so very different.
And we were raised in the same household with the same parents.
Know why this is? We’re individuals. Just like my son.
My friends’ boys are individuals. One is very much like her, while the other is more like his father. The younger one “was such a cuddler,” she told me. He would put his head on her shoulder and rub her back when he was just an infant. “Will’s just like that,” I answered. Then she told me the older boy was a bit more independent and rambunctious, always wanting to do his own thing. He wasn’t as affectionate as a child.
Wait. Not all babies snuggle and cuddle and hug and give open-mouthed kisses?
*cue jaw drop*
I am not the most affectionate person. But my son is a lover. He has the absolute sweetest spirit. And I don’t just say that because he’s my son. Those of you who know me know that I don’t pussyfoot around about things. If my kid was a terror, the wide world would know it. But he’s not. He’s gentle. He’s kind-hearted. And it amazes me that he can love people so deeply at just a year old.
I guess for a while, I thought that’s what all babies were like.
My husband used the video camera to record my son playing the other day, and while he played, I sat on the floor across from him. I let him play a while, then I said, “William, Mommy needs a hug” and I put my arms out. He dropped his little toy golf club and ran over to wrap his arms around me. Just like that. Dude, when I was a kid, I probably would’ve run in the other direction. But not my son. He’s a cuddler.
Tonight, he and I were playing with his toy animals, then his toy cars, then we were rolling a soccer ball back and forth. He stopped in the middle of the game and walked past me to the corner of the room. He pulled out a stuffed teddy bear we got around Christmastime for a discounted price at Toys R Us. It’s been sitting there and I’ve thought time and again that I need to give it away or throw it away. Anyway, he went into the corner and I thought he was looking for something. He grabbed the bear, leaned over, and hugged it. His head against the bear’s head, just for a minute.
Then he stood up again and commenced playing.
I’m a teacher by day and so I see the incredible spectrum of individual personalities in my classroom. Some students are so mature and are already planning their detailed futures at fourteen years old. Some admit that they want Sponge Bob on the weekends and blow stuff up for fun. They’re different.
My son is mine. My son is my husband’s. He has touches of both of our parents, our grandparents, and their grandparents. But he is him. He loves because he sees love, sure. But he also chooses to love. He chooses to hug. He chooses to laugh. He chooses to get right back up when he falls. He chooses to watch the birds in the sky and try really, really hard to say “bird” even though it comes out “buhhh.” He chases the dog because he chooses to. He calls me “Momma” and he calls my husband “Dada” because we taught him to, but also because he likes to call on us and he knows we’ll be there.
He’s very much a product of us, very much a product of his own. He is beyond compare.
Motherhood has taught me a lot, and I feel like this may be the biggest lesson yet. There are many things I love. There are many things my husband loves. My son may have similar interests to my husband and me like my brother and I had similar interests to our parents. And, he may have some interests all his own.
I can’t wait to see what they are.