“Hey Mom, can you make me a cup of coffee?” my 14-year-old freshman in high school asked me, and my heart started racing.
It was the first time he had ever asked me for coffee, and I stood in place frozen, feeling my heart jump and dance in my chest as a vision of the two of us sitting together in a cozy little coffee shop flashed before my eyes.
Only in the vision, he was not a 14-year-old boy, but an adult in his early twenties… and I had some grown out gray roots and quite a few more crow’s feet. And oh, we were not sitting in sunny Los Angeles where we currently live, but in a little cafe in Paris where I was visiting my son during his semester abroad. And as this vision flashed before my eyes, once again, I realized how far I have come in my evolution as a mother of a son.
You see, I never wanted boys. I myself was the middle child in a family of 3 girls, and of the 3 of us, I was and continue to be the most attention seeking and the most girly-girl. I grew up with tutus and Barbies. When my closest male cousin wanted to play with me, his G-I-Joe dolls had to be stand-ins for Ken dolls that I didn’t have, even if they only came up to Barbie’s chest. My favorite game to play: house. My favorite cartoon: Cinderella. And the question “What do you want to be when you grow up little girl?”: a mother…what else is there. What I didn’t say was a mother of girls… that was assumed….who would want to have boys?
Well, on the path to becoming mother, I did end up going to college, followed by medical school. And when my husband and I started dating, it wasn’t long before I told him that we might as well stop wasting our time if he wasn’t going to agree to a future of at least 4 kids and a wife who is a part-time pediatrician because her primary role would always be mother. He was young and smitten; he agreed to my conditions.
I announced my pregnancy fairly early on to everyone. “Are you going to find out what you’re having?” friends would ask. “Yes, I’ll find out. But I know it’s a girl. This body only makes girls.” Mind you I did have a medical degree and knew all about X’s and Y’s and where they come from when I made these ridiculous proclamations that I truly believed about my particular body.
“WHAT? Are you sure?” I asked in disbelief when the ultrasound technician cheerfully announced, “You’re having a boy!” Meanwhile, my husband and mom looked at each other with panic as their eyes seemed to have their own non-verbal conversation. The technician outlined the genitalia, “Oh, yes, 100%! Congratulations.” I put on my best fake smile and claimed to be happy and excited for the next 2 days as I carried around the little printed black and white paper photo that I was given in 2001. On Mother’s Day morning, my mom gave me a card from my younger sister that said “Your baby-to-be is the luckiest baby in the world to have picked you for a mom.” I burst into tears. My husband and mom conversed through eye contact again…here was the moment they had been anticipating since the word “boy” had been uttered by the technician. “This baby is not lucky at all!” I cried. “I don’t know anything about boys. I don’t know how to raise one. I feel terrible for him. I’ve never played baseball.”
Of course when he was born, it was love at first sight. Two years later, the announcement of “Congratulations, it’s a boy” came with some disappointment but not utter shock and denial the second time around. And truth be told, I was a great mom to those boys even if I didn’t know what I was doing. I nursed them, took them to the zoo, dressed them in matching soccer outfits. I learned to tell Thomas apart from Gordon, Percy apart from Henry. We were going along our merry way when one day while picking up Sheep in a Jeep, I stopped at the best seller section when the Kite Runner caught my eye. I’d heard so much about it, and it had been years since I’d read anything for pleasure. I was engrossed from the first page. I parked my kids in front of the TV and read for 2 days straight. It was the first time they had watched TV for more than an hour at a time. It was the first time I read a book with all male characters. Here was the story of two Afghani boys of different backgrounds, both growing up without a mother, and the impact of that absence in their adult lives. I wept for those boys and was shocked at their complexity of character. I was raising two boys myself, and for the first time, I realized the importance of my role in raising men. I became aware that beyond nurturing and tending to their every need in childhood, I’d be putting two men out into the world one day, and that on the inside, men are just as complex and emotional as women. For the first time, I saw a future adult mother-son relationship for myself, and I hadn’t wanted girls just to dress them in pink tutus. I had wanted girls because I only really knew adult mother-daughter relationships. I turned off the TV and started really raising my boys.
Of course, even if I hadn’t picked up that book when my sons were toddlers, it would not have been that much longer before I would come to my awakening. My firstborn showed himself to be a pretty intuitive, emotional, empathetic boy before kindergarten. Over the years, our open lines of communications have led to many conversations that have been more deep and intimate than any ones I had with my mother at the corresponding ages.
Overtime, he has repeatedly shown me just how special a mother-son relationship can be. There have been countless times when he has sensed that I’m not having a great day and asked, “Is something wrong, is everything ok?” Every time he shows his insight by asking me that question, suddenly everything is ok. When on my past birthday he wrote and performed a rap song for me in which he said that I was “as pretty as a pearl” and would “always be his number one girl”, I told him that I’d remind him of this day in the future. I’m not a mother who holds on to most of her kids’ home-made cards and art projects, but this rap poem, I locked up inside the cover of our Will and Trust packet. As I’ve watched my son command the stage as Mr. Darling in Peter Pan or sing as Rolf in the Sound of Music at school plays, I’ve been overwhelmed with relief that despite not knowing “how to raise a boy” and teaching him to pee sitting down, I’ve clearly done something right. I’ve raised a boy with the confidence to walk on a stage and completely inhabit the persona of someone else. I can’t imagine being filled with more pride. I can’t imagine not being a mother of boys.
As he asks me for his first cup of coffee, my imagination runs wild with all the different scenarios of our potential future mother-son coffee dates. While one moment we are in Paris during his semester abroad, the next moment we are back at the kitchen table on one of his home visits. Then we are sitting in a coffee shop in the West Village a few years later, and he is telling me all about someone who confirms that I may not continue to be his “number one girl.” Suddenly it’s a few years later, I’ve got more white hair, and we are in his Seattle kitchen. He is pouring my coffee because I spent the night up with his baby, to give them a break. He gives me a hug as he hands me my mug. I take a big inhale and sneak in smelling the scent of my boy along with my steaming coffee. He thanks me for giving them one night of sleep…for everything….for being his mom.
“Mom, Mom…” he jolts me back to our present day kitchen. “So can you make me a cup of coffee? I’m trying to study for my final and I keep falling asleep.”
“Yes, honey,” in as casual a tone as I can muster. “I’d love to.”
*This post was originally published on 9/29/16.