My son told me he hated me tonight. My oldest child– the child who split my soul wide open and cut a chasm into the wilderness of motherhood, the child who introduced me to God and allowed my bright tears to fall on his fiery copper hair while he was still wet and folded and trailing the scent of heaven– told me he hated me.
It doesn’t matter why– it was trivial and meaningless– and it was selfish the way only a child secure in the love of his mother can express. Even as part of me recoiled at his vehemence, I could recognize what was happening. I leaned on the doorjamb as he glowered over his scowled brow at me, using his stocking feet to shove the messy piles of Legos and dog-eared Calvin & Hobbes paperbacks littering the floor around his bed.
Motherhood teaches us lots of inimitable lessons and this one was about the removal of yourself– the you who is unique and hurts and hopes and wants– when your child needs something precious and specific from you. In that moment, watching him kick tiny plastic pieces and throw all his anger at me, it was my job to understand, to actually see him, and help him have what he needed- my own feelings were inconsequential comparatively.
He trusts me. The stresses of his life, though they seem simple and childlike from an adult perspective, are all new to him. In the last year, he has lost the only home he remembered, the freedom and security of having a stay-at-home mom, and most devastatingly, he has lost his father. The shadow of a man who occasionally shows up and looks vaguely like the guy who used to function as his father is fragile, untrustworthy, and must be handled with care. My children cling to what they can eek out from the three hours a week he might show up, watching themselves and exercising protective care over the repository of their ideas of what “father” means. They cannot, at this parting of paths in the road, tell their father they hate him- it would blow apart any fragile dream they have cobbled together.
It is for me they reserve their expressions of pain, anger and sorrow. It is for me they are safe enough to throw themselves on the bed and wail about the breaking of their hearts- and this is what I thought of as I sat down next to my angry son and laid my hand on his back in love. He folded his arms and harrumphed, scowling at me deeper. Taking his face in my hands, I told him how much I love him, and how proud I am of the vastness of his heart, the courage of his convictions and the soul contained within his growing strong body. I reassured him life would not always be this way, and that we can do hard things- we have, we will, and we will continue…
His face softened and he leaned over into me, now flushed and a little embarrassed, trying to hide a chagrinned smile. “I’m still mad at you..” he mumbled into his folded arms, brows still drawn down, but eyes brighter. “Yes, I know. It’s okay. You can be mad at me- I’ll still love you forever. I may not always like you- but will love you forever.” His head popped up- surprised and indignant that I would say some like that. “Well, you do have the power to hurt my feelings. I’m a person, doing the best I can, just like you.” Contemplation rolled across his stormy eyes, and I could see him processing the idea of mom as someone besides just “mom”, filler of bellies, laundry baskets, backpacks, bathtubs.
He’s nine years old. It’s young for the load placed upon his shoulders– oldest child, absent father, grad-school mother, courageous boy with a heart of gold– but I see those shoulders broadening already, and I suspect he will someday be quite the man.