June 2nd marks my 7th year of becoming a mom. This past year, motherhood didn't come by as naturally to me as it has felt in the past. I could also phrase this in another way: As Jamie becomes more independent, I have struggled to adapt and understand how best to guide him and to respond to him. I write for parenting magazines and websites, and have used this gig as a way to conduct research with "parenting experts" whenever I become inspired by my own self-perceived parental downfalls. Maybe I've said No too much; yelled too much; been too moody, too distant; too affectionate and smothering; lately, even embarrassing, which is new. What I've also been though, is There. There for morning bus pick ups and afternoon drop offs. There for karate, for the playground, for family gatherings, for bedtime, for sickness and for health. Writing from home and teaching one day a week has afforded me the luxury of spending more time than I ever have with my son (after getting laid off from CosmoGirl magazine when it folded in October of 2008).
Being at home in the afternoons isn't the parental fantasy I thought it would be, back when I was unable to do so because I was working in an office. It turns out, my son comes home tired and cranky after being "on" for seven hours straight, and homework together has been a train wreck of frustration. Jamie is in a special needs program, and since he was three years old I've worn the hat of Advocate as well as Mother (here's an essay about his entrance into the Special Needs world). When I was in an office, my Advocacy was more delegated. I took care of the onslaught of evaluation appointments, school visits, the medical landscape and legal paperwork. But the after school hours were cordoned off to others. Babysitters were chosen very carefully (Could they handle his sensory needs on a playground, or walking down the street? Sounds easy, right? Try it in New York City with a 4 or 5 year old with sensory issues). Turns out, they worked their tails off. I always knew it, but taking over the bulk of the face-to-face parenting hours in this New Economy of ours has been illuminating. On the hard days, fidget toys and sugar free gum have been my personal saviors. The fidget toys allow me to do things like Run the Odd Errand; if you're in a store, he'll pull on these rubber creations instead of touch everything in sight. Likewise, on the street, sugar free gum gets him in a rhythm of movement whereby I don't need to pull him off of every wall or fire hydrant. I joke to myself that walking him is like walking a golden retriever puppy, and he's every bit as affectionate as one, which also requires peeling him from hugging acquaintances till they practically turn blue in the face (another symptom of his sensory issues).
I look at Jamie's Jack-O-Lantern smile that's emerged only in the last two weeks, and at times I see someone I barely recognize. He's growing faster than we can keep up with clothing-wise, and his features are thinning out slightly as he becomes ganglier. Once in awhile though, like tonight, he'll turn his head, and in a certain angle I see a little bit of baby fat left and he could be 4 or 5-- or 6. These fleeting visions of my little guy are fading, but in his place is this interesting big kid with his own ideas and preferences and routines, most different than mine. Giving him the structure he craves and needs has been an unexpected challenge for someone who's spent the bulk of my life living fairly spontaneously. This year has been hard. I see my faults more clearly than I ever have in my adult life, and all I can say is I'm working on them; it's really he who's teaching me day in day out. Happy birthday, sweet Jamie.