During the months of waiting for my second child to be born, I spent some time getting to know “it.” I worked the night shift on the Mother/Baby Unit, and almost every night I would take our doppler and slip into one of the rooms and listen to his heart beat. The dimly lit room would be filled with the steady thump-thump-thump of his heart; the sound was so reassuring and beautiful! Each time I heard it, I fell a little more in love with “it”; boy or girl--this baby was filling my heart with love!
Scott was three years old and I ached to hold a baby again. I wanted a warm, soft, snuggly little one to hold in my arms and God heard the longing of my heart, giving me just what I needed! In the first moments that I held Ian, he snuggled in against my shoulder, peaceful and content. Motherhood was beginning to feel like a role I could embrace and know that I could be good enough for my sweet boys.
From the very beginning everything about Ian was easy: easy pregnancy, (comparatively) easy delivery, and easy-going baby. He rarely cried and he went to sleep easily--and he slept a lot! At first, I worried that something was wrong with him--it was too easy! My inclination to worry kicked in, and I wondered if he had some sort of neurological problem! When I mentioned my concern to Mom, I could hear the smile in her voice as she reassured me that Ian was just fine and I was blessed to have such an easy baby. Her reassurance was just what I needed to hear, and I began to let Ian teach me a new song--just relax.
Ian had other things to teach me, too. Like how to laugh more at the mothering experiences that came my way. He brought lizards and frogs into my life and into our home; he made silly faces, flashed huge dimples with his smiles, and shared hilarious impersonations of everyone from Donald Duck to his teachers. Ian adored his older brother and they quickly became very close. He taught me to chill out and had Dave laughing so hard that sometimes discipline was just hard to follow through with!
This boy of mine did love an audience, but he also loved to help people in need. I realized how important this was to him as I was putting him to bed one night and he asked about a song he had heard on the radio that afternoon. I had noticed how quiet he was earlier, as he listened to Craig Morgan sing "Almost Home", but I had no idea how deeply it had affected Ian until he asked me why some people didn’t have homes to live in. It was a profound moment, as I tried to explain to my 10 year old son how choices could take people down different paths; sometimes those paths were determined by our own choices and sometimes by choices that others made for us. I tried to explain veterans whose bodies and souls were wounded by war and the struggle some people had with mental illness. We discussed runaways and women who fled abusive marriages. It was the most sobering conversation I’d ever had with any of my children. With big tears in his eyes, Ian asked questions and listened and then told me he thought everyone should have a bed to sleep in at night. From that point forward he looked for people to help. He always wanted to have money for the Salvation Army buckets at Christmas time, and he would shop so carefully to be sure he would have a few dollars left over to share. If we passed someone begging on the sidewalk, and Ian had even a dollar in his pocket, he would have to stop and talk for a moment and share what he had. As a teen, he chose a mission trip to Portland to work with a Mission that cared for the homeless, and seemed fueled by his opportunity to learn more about people who didn’t have that bed to sleep in at night. At the heart of Ian was a belief that we should all take care of each other.
Yes, Ian had a big heart and loved animals and people alike, but my sweet boy had another side, one that taught me something else about motherhood and myself. Ian had a temper with a very low flash-point; it was like the yin to the yang of his humor. If something really frustrated him, he would almost explode with anger. When he was about two, I began to worry even more, as he took to hitting his head when he got mad at himself, and then hit Scott a few times when he became frustrated about something they were doing together. Soon he escalated to yelling and screaming when he was angry. I was becoming very concerned and I knew that discipline would have to be different with him. We couldn’t raise our voice with him and, other than in the most extreme circumstances, spanking was out of the question.
One day, as one of these “storms” brewed in his soul, I sat down on the floor and pulled him onto my lap, facing him away from me and wrapping my arms firmly around him. He yelled and tried to squirm out of my grip, but this hug was the perfect way to secure my little Tasmanian Devil until the storm passed. While he tried to leave my arms, I held on and then began speaking softly in his ear, telling him that I loved him and he was safe--he could let the storm out and when it passed I would be right there with him. After 5 or 10 minutes, he was back to being my sweet, smiling boy. In time he and I would work on ways for him to calm himself when I wasn’t with him. I reminded him that, at his core, he was a loving boy and I explained that he had to learn to control his anger or it would control him. Today he is one of the calmest people I know and while his feelings run very deep, they don’t control him. He loves as intentionally as he feels anger. Ian learned to listen to his heart, but to never let it control him.
As I helped Ian to learn that we control the expression of our emotions, not the other way around, he taught me something just as powerful--that loving your child well isn’t measured by all the things you do to be good enough. You love them well when you listen to your heart and realize that you don’t always have to be doing things for them. Sometimes you just need to sit still with your child in the midst of the storm and hold them until it passes.
Last year Ian had a health scare with his heart and we went to several doctor appointments together. I sat there with him while the EKGs were done and couldn’t help but be reminded of all the times I’d listened to his heart as he grew beneath mine. Talk about coming full circle! After trips to the cardiologist and a myriad of tests, we had a diagnosis and Ian had a plan. And just like he conquered his anger issues, he learned what he needed to do and followed through with all of the doctor’s instructions.
And I was reminded that Ian’s heart has always been strong. He has a calm heart in the face of disappointment and a loving heart in the defense of others. He has a loyal heart--caring for his grandmother in a way that would make his Pap so very proud.
As I looked back at the years before this moment, I realized that once again I was both the teacher and the student, as Ian taught my soul some beautiful new songs.
Ian taught me to just relax and laugh at life a little more often.
He taught me that we can make the world a better place if we just take care of each other.
And while I taught him that the storm would pass, and that I wouldn't leave him until it did, he taught me to stop worrying about being good enough and just listen to my heart.