Sweet 16

At 9:50 am today, my baby boy turned 16. Although he has grown way taller than me, runs way faster than me, and will soon cook better than me, over the last year, as he's grown a year older, he's also become my baby again. Last year, I barely ever hugged him. Last year I didn't say I love you as often as I felt it. Last year I didn't kiss him every time he left for school or I left for work. It wasn't always like this and I never consciously wanted it to be that way, but I guess that's what happens when you let "other stuff" get in the way of love. 

Because of a huge oversight on my part, I put Keahi in potential danger when he was 2 years old.  To this day I still can't talk about it without crying and don't feel comfortable sharing it with many people. I just thank God for watching over him that day. Since then, I've lived with that guilt. Although he wasn't physically harmed that day, I always wondered whether that scarred him emotionally. As he started school, his teachers kept bringing up concerns over his behavior at school. Every year we worked closely with his teachers to help manage his energy level which they said was a disruption in class. This eventually affected his grades and we worked even harder to make sure he was paying attention and staying on top of his school work. Every year started out the same- we'd give him space and hold our breaths, hoping that this year's teacher wouldn't make any comments about his behavior, but they eventually did. And it was never really anything "bad". He was just fidgety, very friendly and liked to talk. Once his teacher would talk to us, we'd go into hyper-vigilant mode and micro manage every single thing about his school work. It was stressful for him and for us. 

Before School/ After

People kept suggesting we try different things and we tried them all. We tried a reward system, took away privileges, spanked him... None of it truly worked and often just made everybody feel crappy and frustrated. Although I wanted for him to be quiet, sit still, and be a perfect student, so we all wouldn't have to deal with this, I always wondered, well, what if that's just his personality? Am I punishing him just for being himself? And if not, did I do this to him? 

So over the years, my perception of our failures(mine as a parent and his as a student) drove us further and further apart. I got tired of yelling and being mad that, hard as it is to admit, I just didn't want to be around him anymore. So the hugs got less frequent and less words were spoken but became more condescending in tone. I still loved him, knew how much he meant to me and could expound on that love to other people, but the business of conforming to others' standards and being right got in the way of me expressing my love to whom it really mattered most- him.

So this past year, as part of my growth, I just decided not to care- not about Keahi, but about the other stuff. I didn't want to waste my energy and sanity worrying about things that didn't really change anything. I gave up trying to micro-manage his school work because he'll never learn how to manage it himself. It doesn't matter how much I care about his grades if he doesn't care about them himself. It's his life to live, his choices to make, and the results of his choices are his to live with. I can share all the things I've learned, give all the advice I feel will help him, but whatever he does with it is completely up to him. I'm here to help, but only if he asks. All I care about is whether the dishes are clean and that he's not bickering with his sister.  I'll ask about his homework once in a while, give him a look when I see a bad test grade, but I don't get worked up like I used to. His grades still aren't perfect, but I'm letting him figure out the true consequences of not putting in effort. And I've let go of most of the guilt from that mishap long, long ago (but I still won't talk about it unless I need to). It's in the past and I'm ready to move on. I've apologized to him many, many times and I'm trying to make it better with hugs and kisses. 

Letting go of all that "other stuff" has let love flow easier. Babies are the perfect symbol for unconditional love and that's how it feels like again. Expressing my love for him doesn't depend on his grades. Loving him is more important than controlling him or being right. And so the hugs feel warm again and come freely whether he wants them or not. Kissing him before one of us leaves isn't awkward anymore (and I hope it never is again). Genuinely laughing at his jokes comes naturally. Just being in each others presence feels right again without the tension or the weight of the "other stuff" coming between us. I know my baby never really went away, but I'm glad I put myself in check and reclaimed him at the sweet age of 16.

Happy Birthday, Baby Boy!