Twenty years ago today, you alone forever altered the framework of my life, transformed the tapestry of my very core.

You made me a mom.

As you pushed your way into this world after 12 hours of labor, it wasn’t just the cord and the placenta that expelled from my body; it was my heart, as well. Never would it return to the same shape again. Instead, it would be perpetually larger, softer, so much more tender and vulnerable than I ever could have imagined.

I loved you from the very beginning, from the moment I saw the two faint blue lines etched across the tiny display window of the home pregnancy test.

I loved you when you were the size of a lima bean, and then a tangerine, and then a grapefruit, even as I wondered why every pregnancy book insisted on comparing your growth to a fruit or a vegetable. I loved you as my womb became increasingly cramped and you would thrust your feet between my ribs so forcefully that it stung. The first sting of motherhood, a raw twinge I would experience a thousand times more, and counting.

I loved you when you made your much-anticipated debut at 6:01 p.m., blue eyes and peach fuzz head, 10 perfect fingers and toes. I loved you while you nursed effortlessly in my arms, even as I had to fight back the piercing pain of the first few weeks postpartum. I loved you through those hazy newborn months, when you weren’t able to distinguish between daytime and nighttime, when the magnitude of my new role weighed heavily on me, ensnaring with the pervasiveness of sleep deprivation and forcing me to worry incessantly. There was so much to worry about. Would I be a good mom? Could I keep you safe? How was I supposed to mold and shape you into a kind and happy and well-adjusted human being? Where was the playbook?

I loved you so much that I couldn’t leave you. When my three-month maternity leave expired, I quit a job I was passionate about — without a single lead on how the mortgage would subsequently be paid — guided only by the unmistakable wrenching in my heart.

I loved you as a toddler, sharing your passion for Elmo and Thomas the Tank Engine, delighting alongside you as we poured through an endless supply of pop-up picture books, as we staged elaborate arrangements, first of blocks, and later Legos, trucks, Super Heroes.

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I loved you through elementary school, accompanying you on whale watching field trips and chauffeuring you to the orthodontist, relishing all of the afternoons we played catch at the park — you always begging me to “throw it farther!” so you could lay out and dive for the baseball.

I loved you as a teenager, even as you forged your independence and stretched away from me, even when it sometimes felt like you were incapable of conversing with me, the words coming as sparingly as when you were a baby. I loved you when you crashed my Volvo at the beach on the 4th of July, after insisting you could navigate the holiday crowds. I loved you in the high school stadium, where I spotted you in the procession line just as the graduation march reached a feverish crescendo, your stark white Honors gown igniting tears of pure pride that burned my eyes.

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I loved you when, after 18 excruciatingly short years, I finally had to leave you. Six states and 1,800 miles away, to be exact. Dreading the 84 long, drawn out days until I would see you again. I loved you with my heart stuck in my throat and hot tears streaming down my face as I was forced to say goodbye on the steps of your new college dorm. I tried so hard to squelch the heaving of my chest as your strong arms wrapped around me, comforting me, telling me it would be okay. But I failed. I couldn’t stop it. Just as it had on the evening of your birth, my heart refused to be contained.

So then I loved you while tallying in my head — and on my chalkboard — the passing of each 24-hour span until the arrival of Thanksgiving break, counting down with the same precision and excitement I had embraced during the final weeks of my pregnancy.

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I loved you with a sprinkle of tough love when, halfway through your first year of college, you wanted to come home. And then, teeming with a newfound respect, I loved you from a distance, standing back as you mapped out a new course for yourself, watching as you completed all the legwork required to transfer to a different university much closer to home, one where you are so much happier.

I loved you when your brother joined the family and much later, your sister, both of them cashing in on the subsidies that you, as the firstborn, had cultivated. They reaped the benefit of traversing the path of experience that you and I, intertwined, had carved out, trudging together through uncharted corridors, finding our way and leaving behind a trail of bread crumbs for them to follow.

And I love you today, on your 20th birthday, on this hearty milestone that officially marks your passage from teenager to adult. I love the young man you have become. I love your determination and your work ethic, even if I sometimes wish you weren’t so hard on yourself. I love your sense of humor, and the way our eyes can lock across a room and invariably share the same thought, with not a single word exchanged. I love the way you always text me right after your games, whether to share the details of your hot hitting streak or bemoan the hitch in your swing. I love how you call me to celebrate the A on your test, or when your truck battery won’t start, or when you lose your ATM card.

I love the way our relationship has developed and evolved and matured, and I love the promise of how it will continue to unfold in the years to come.

But perhaps most of all, I love you, quite simply, for making me a mom.

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2 thoughts on “A Letter To My Son On His 20th Birthday

  1. Oh how I love this love letter! You so beautifully map out all the stages of motherhood – some I’ve yet to get to so thank you for the head’s up. What I really connect to here is your honesty and openness about what it feels like to love and let go of a child. How true that our oldest one is the one who truly makes us “mom.” Sweet.

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