It’s easy to find women who will regale you with the beauty of motherhood. They will tell you that you need to pay attention to the small things, because the saddest part of parenting is that it goes by too fast. They tell you how much you will miss having children under foot when your nest is empty, and how your house will feel like a morgue. They tell you that you will never love another human being as much as you love the one you created. You will constantly be told what a gift your children are. You will be well-versed in the gilded version of love.
All those women are absolutely right. Loving your kids is something you never fully understand until you have them. But no one tells you the whole truth. The love you have for your kids is a gift, albeit a gift with ragged edges.
The other half of the truth has less to do with lavender-scented baby wash and the super-soft comfort of fleece and more to do with the realities of love, a four-letter word that packs a mind-blowing wallop. Parenting is more than hard work, and it takes an immense amount of commitment, a level of commitment that no one is able to properly articulate.
The most difficult part of mothering is the current stage in which I find myself. My sons are both teens. Along with their hormones in flux is a distortion in their perceptions of reality. Part of their testosterone-riddled brains convinces them of the most inane ideas; they convince themselves that they are somehow grown enough to come and go as they please, with zero accountability for their poorest of choices. As teens, they can take you to some of the darkest places in an attempt to escape your tyrannical reign–even though that tyranny is so named because you dared expect your 13-year-old to know better than to set fires in the backyard. Because you dared demand that they lower their voices, stop slamming doors, and cease stomping through the house, you are the bad guy, no matter what.
Never was this most evident than the day my 15-year-old son was missing for three and a half hours. We waited at school like we normally do. He never showed up to our car. We waited longer until all the buses and every student was gone, the courtyard a veritable ghost town. We cruised the city. We called every friend. We stopped by their houses. No one had seen him or had any clue where he could be. The school staff allowed us to search the school—no small feat since it is a building that houses nearly 2,000 students daily. He had vanished.
The thoughts that raced through my mind were the worst. I worried he’d never be found. I envisioned my little boy, all 6-feet-1-inch of him, mangled, bloodied, beaten and abandoned. He was alone in a city where he had no money and no street smarts. I was beyond hysterical. I plastered his face all over social media with the help of friends and family who shared my list of fears. Then I made the one call every parent never wants to make: I phoned the police to report my child as missing.
I was a snotty, sobbing mess that prayed every time the phone rang that it would be my son on the other end of the line, asking for a ride. That call never came.
Instead, like a fresh, spring breeze, 10 minutes after I wept through the details of what he was wearing that day, he floated through the front door, sweaty and out of breath from walking all over town, meandering his way home like a character in a Bill Keane comic. I wrapped my arms around him so tightly I nearly choked him. I wailed like a woman who was being drawn and quartered.
“God,” he said, pushing me away. “I just went to Drama Club. When you weren’t there to pick me up, I went to two other friends’ houses and walked home.”
“Why didn’t you call?” I asked, feeling my eyes bulge.
“I forgot. Stop overreacting.”
I fought every instinct I had to keep from beating the piss out of him. He had no remorse for the pain and heartache he’d caused not just me, his dad and his brother, but countless relatives and friends who’d spent the last few hours trying to find him. The anger in me swelled to proportions I’m ashamed to admit. For one brief second, I hated my son.
It’s then, in that moment, that the definition of love became so clear that it was almost tangible. Sure, love has a bit to do with the stars in our eyes, the enchantment that created the bond you have with your kids. But more than that, love is standing in the face of all that rage and saying, “I love you, even though…” It’s saying, “I love you, no matter what.” Because that’s your job. That’s what you signed up for, and you do it with no guarantee that this child will grow up knowing that you gave him everything you had and then some. You do it with no promise that he will grow up and ever speak to you again. You do it despite the fact that he may never know how mangled and tattered your heart is just from raising him.
Love is standing in the face of all that should devour its strength and not backing down.
Love is giving past the point of hurt.
Love is forgiving and happy just to have him home safe.
Love is embracing your son even when you like him the least, and knowing that this, too, shall pass.
True love is unconditional that way, and it is a gift: a gift with gilded, ragged edges.