By this time next year my son will be finishing his freshman year in college. It seems like yesterday that I was doing the same. Time goes by in a flash. Seventeen years of my heart existing outside of my body; my world walking around in skinny jeans and worn out sneakers. Does he know how much he means to me? I hope so. That's all we can do as parents, right? We hope. But what if you realize you've had it wrong all this time? Is it ever too late to shift gears?
I was only nineteen years old when I had my son. Nineteen and determined to prove everyone wrong; everyone who told me I was making a huge mistake. Sean was going to be the brightest, most articulate, sweetest kid with the best manners. In my mind, if he is the best then that means I'm a great mom. I was so afraid of doing it "wrong", afraid of being judged. So I pushed and I pushed and I kept on pushing him. Stand up straight...try harder...study more. "Grow up and be something great," I would tell him. But the truth is, he already was. He was always smart and kind and loving. He just wasn't a great student. As parents, how do you know when to stop pushing? The answer is, when you see it's pushing them over the edge. Homework time became a nightmare. Lots of frustration, tears, yelling...and that was just from me. The boy who once bounced to my car at the end of a school day now skulked over, knowing full well he was about to be interrogated over the day's events. His light began to dim. I needed to make a change.
During my 18 months of treatment I had lots of time to reflect on my life. Like everyone, I've made some great decisions and I've made some crappy ones. I'm not going to try and be zen about it and say, "Well every decision I've made has brought me to where I am." Truth is, some choices were just plain bad and there is no sugar coating it. I knew they were bad when I was making them; I've had periods of terribly self destructive behavior. Others I thought were good and only in hindsight do I realize how damaging they were. I began to ask myself, "What do I really want for Sean?" I needed to put my ego aside and answer honestly. What I came up with was that I wanted him to have a happy life...whatever that meant. All this time I've had it wrong. I associated financial rewards with success and happiness. That's just window dressing. The house, the cars, the material things mean nothing if you're empty inside. And if you're fulfilled, they mean even less. I want Sean to have joy in his heart. I want him to know love; to give it and receive it. A life filled with friends and family, laughter and deep connections. I want him to be at peace.
Unfortunately, it took a cancer diagnosis for me to get it right. But, here I am finally getting it. I pray for time to teach him all I have learned in the last year and a half. For someone so young, he has endured too much trauma. I am awed by his fortitude. I want to show him this does not have to define who you are. A person can take tragedy and turn it into a beautiful life; and there is so much beauty in the world. I want him to go out and find it.
My dear, sweet boy. Whatever you do, wherever you go, hold me in your heart as I hold you in mine. Be bold. Be fearless. Be kind. Be you.