I read something a few years ago that had two effects on me: first, it made me laugh. Second, it stuck with me. Ready?
"Raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken."
Think about that for a minute. If you're a parent, you get it. Oh, it's not like that all the time, or even most of the time. But by the time you've raised your young adult to the age of 21 or 22 – whatever his graduation age is – I know you get it.
I sit here in this big, empty house, quiet except for the sound of my tap-tap-typing and an occasional snore from one of our dogs, and I close my eyes and fool myself, if just for a minute. I hear the front door or back door slam, punctuated by a loud cry for, "Mom!" Most of the time, they didn't need a thing from me; it was just their way of coming home and checking to make sure I was there. It was their way of making sure that all was as it should be.
Through elementary school and most of middle school, that slam would be followed by a ritualistic piling of book bags in the kitchen floor, then a quick run-down of the day's events. With my son, I'd ask, "How was school today? What do you learn that was new to you? The answers were always the same: "fine, and not much."
With my daughter, on the other hand, I got the whole nine yards. Mostly, she'd share the latest developments with her circle of friends, then tell me something about this class or that teacher, always with expression, complete with re-enactments and gestures.
In high school, however, all I got was the slam and a "Hi, mom!" Then, it was off to their rooms or, more likely, off to sports practice. I guess it was during those high school years that I started missing my kids, or at least I started missing the way they used to tell me pretty much everything and come to me for pretty much anything. I pursued them, but I'd also remind myself that we had to be doing something right, because they are supposed to grow up, become their own people, and make their own choices. I'd remind myself, but that didn't always keep me from feeling a twinge of sadness as I watched them grow up (seems now, anyway) lightning fast.
Our children are out of college and have embarked on their careers, and I have to say that I can't help feeling pride when I look at them. They are self-sufficient. They make good and smart decisions most of the time. They are kind and generous, loving and adventurous. They're responsible. They've become amazing young people, and I don't mind saying that I am more than happy to take my share of the credit for all that.
Have there been tears? You bet. A not-so-amicable divorce when they were young made things quite difficult for a while. It was difficult to shield them from the awful things a divorce stirs up. I fought hard to keep that divorce out of our home, and I wasn't always successful. A child just doesn't understand the D-word. A child can't comprehend why Mommy and Daddy can't just be together, be a family. But it's sometimes inevitable, and I believed it to be my job to protect them from it.
Many of us are faced with the challenges that having a child with special needs brings with it. In our case, it took several years and several doctors to get no diagnosis and a collective "good luck" from each of them. But my son has grown up to be a kind, loving, hard-working man, and I give the credit for that to my husband, his stepdad. He loves my son, believes in him and perhaps most important, he expected things of him. My son rose to the challenge beautifully.
Then, of course, we face the challenges and changes of the high school years. We see and feel our children growing up and pulling away. We remind ourselves again that it's a good thing. It's the way things are supposed to be; still, there's that thing inside us that wants to draw them close, keep them near, and protect them from the world.
When our baby left for college, that may have been the closest I've ever come to having a nervous breakdown. I felt it building during her senior year of high school, and when we moved her into her dormitory that fall, I sobbed on my husband's strong shoulder all the way home. As cliché as I know this sounds, I really felt that I had left a piece of me there with her, but it wasn't a big enough piece to shield her from all the awful things in the world. The best I could do was help her decorate her room exactly as she wanted it, and sneak 15 jars of Jif Peanut Butter into her footlocker when she wasn't looking. If I couldn't be there to protect her, I sure wasn't going to let her starve.
In fact, that same year was they year I decided to write a book about a suburban wife's discovery of NASCAR. I knew I had to do something that would completely involve me, and boy did I pick a good subject.
Everybody's stories and experiences are different. We have friends who will celebrate their very first Mother's Day this year, and we have friends our ages, who will likely celebrate the day by spending it with their grown children; time with our adult children is indeed a wonderful gift, perhaps the best. We have friends whose children are our ages. We have friends who have buried children. No matter where we are in the process, we will stop this Sunday and say "thank you" to all the moms out there who have given, and continue to give, their all to their children.
I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only mom of grown children who will sit back at some point this week, close her eyes, and imagine that she is younger, and so are her children. She will imagine last-minute homework marathons, spending every evening at the ball field, hugging her baby when his or heart was broken for the first time. She'll imagine slamming front doors and that familiar cry of, "Mom!" She might smile. She might wipe a tear. She might do both, but she will most assuredly miss being "pecked to death" by her chickens.
Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there who have given everything they had (and then some) to raise good people. I thank you, and the rest of the world thanks you.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published in 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her previous three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and life in her beloved South.