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Stories, observations, and reflections from a life of raising boys

The Artist

Jenifer DeMattia


I will never forget the day I gave birth to my first son. I was not scared like I thought I would be. My water broke and I felt ready. It was exhilarating. I was amazing. Through all the pain, unlike any I had ever felt, I achieved greatness in that room. For at least a month afterwards I thought I was the only one who could accomplish such an astounding feat. I created a human inside of me. All the nourishment he needed to survive came from my body. When he cried, he looked only to me. When he smiled at me, it was different from any other smile. We were united, bonded by our heartbeats. I was a superhero. There was no other explanation for what was occurring. My life’s work, accomplished at only 29 years of age. My masterpiece. I was complete, and proud.

And then he began to grow, quickly. He made noises, turned over on his own. He began to walk, and form sentences. He began to think freely, and question me. He was becoming his own person in spite of me. Defying me. Acting out. Telling jokes and making me laugh. Building amazing things with his own hands. This was different. I no longer felt the euphoria that came in those first months after giving birth. It’s the sad but spectacular change that only comes with their ever-growing need for independence. The love is the same, but each month seems to bring a new realization that he can do something else without my help. Some days he wants only me to read him stories at night. Other days, it’s just him and dad, and he won’t even let me in the room to say goodnight. The tiny boy I nursed as a baby now tells me he doesn’t like the food I put in front of him. We once shared something unique, a long ago connection between only him and I.

My second son was born 3 years later. The bond is exactly the same. As well as the impending reality that each day is a step towards independence for him. It has only recently occurred to me that as amazing as giving life was, in retrospect I was no different than a chicken, or even an ant. Most animals can do what I did. Maybe thinking I was a super hero was stretching it. So as I am still convinced my children will always be my greatest accomplishment, I struggle with what that means. What I’ve come to believe is that its not the act of giving birth that will be my life’s greatest achievement, it will be mastering the difficult task of letting go.

It’s letting go of the back of the bike. Watching them experience disappointment, embarrassment. Letting them win, allowing them to feel loss. Fighting back the tears as the school bus drives away. Resisting the urge to run after the car, when they turn out of our driveway for the first time. As I hope to be the kind of mom that will always be the one they go to for comfort, I know my grasp will slip. They will form other bonds, hopefully friendships that last far beyond their youth. They will fall in love.

So day after day I will continue to work on my masterwork, my children. I will build the train tracks; pull the sled up the hill. Discipline and teach them. Heal them in sickness and try my best to make their younger years magical. And most of all, as much as it pains my heart, I will encourage their inevitable journey into independence. And like an artist who completes their masterpiece, I will one day reluctantly send them into the world, letting them go to find their place within it.