To My Firstborn

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock

Dear Kid,

First, a warning. I’m going to sound a little dramatic here. If you read these words now, you’ll probably roll your eyes, make your fake-barf sound, and change the subject to video games.

But sometimes a mom needs to write a letter to her son, to be read at some later date—a much later date, years or decades from now—when you might want to know the thoughts that tugged at her heart as she stood over the counter making you another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

So here goes.

I will start by telling you about love, a mother’s love. When you were first placed in my arms, I felt a love more powerful than I’d ever felt before. I was overwhelmed by your beauty, your utter perfection, and also by the enormous responsibility to keep you safe. The weight of my love for you crushed me at the same time that it made me impossibly whole.

But now you are 8, almost 9. Before I know it, a decade will have passed. That crazy hormonal-postpartum-sleep-deprived love I felt for you is less all-consuming now. And yet, everything about how I feel about you is still intense. I think it always will be.

Everything about you is a first. First child. First latch. First tooth. First tantrum. First day of school. Each time something happens to you for the first time, it’s my first time too.

I can see the difference between how I parent you and your little brother. With your brother, I have done it all before. I knew that no matter how much he woke as an infant, he would sleep through the night someday. No matter how much he clung to nursing, he would wean. No matter how obstinate he was about staying in diapers, he would potty train.

With you, everything is still a question. I have never parented an 8-years-9-months-13-days-old child before.

Today you spit on my cheek when I tried to kiss you goodnight. I didn’t know whether I should laugh (I did) or give you a serious talk about respect. Last fall, when you told me you wanted to drop sports and just do nothing after school, I didn’t know whether I should make you do something else or listen to your wishes (I listened).

I want you to know that there have been many times with you that I was filled with doubt and fear. Even recently—that afternoon that you lay on the floor crying about having to do your homework before TV—I was certain there was something terribly wrong with you (or me) because you were a big kid having a 2-year-old-style temper tantrum.

I see you moving in and out of phases, and I have to remember that most of the stuff that worries me is simply a sign of you growing and changing. When you push my buttons, you are testing the boundaries of your childhood. You are experimenting with the depth of your own evolving feelings—feelings that you sometimes barely understand yourself.

If there is one thing on earth I want to teach you, it’s that no matter how scary and twisted and angry your feelings seem sometimes, you can express them to me. I want you to know that I love you when you’re upset, when you are acting out. Sometimes I have to set limits, but I hope I have never shamed you for your feelings.

I’m sure I’ve made mistakes. Big ones. But I want you to know that I tried, that everything I did, I did out of love.

As my firstborn, you are my great experiment. Can I guide you without smothering you? Am I making the kind of mistakes that will be forgiven? Do I have the courage to let you be yourself, whoever that is, and however it changes over the years?

Little by little, I am letting you go. You can’t see it yet, and neither can I, really. But this time we have together is finite. These nights we lie together in your little bed at the end of the day and you tell me what happened in school, your hopes, your fears—even those nights will end someday.

When I think that you are almost halfway to 18 years old, I want to cry. Yes, part of it is the obvious terror about the prospect of you leaving home someday. But part of what is welling up in me is joy. I still look at you with awe—I can’t believe I made you, that you emerged from my body, that you are mine. And I have no idea how you’ve gone from little child to big child to soon-to-be-tween.

I feel so blessed to have you and to know you.

Okay, I think that’s it, kid. You’re off the hook. Thanks for listening. And I promise I will be all ears for your next lecture about Minecraft or Super Mario Bros. or at least I’ll try my best. I love you.



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