Twelve years ago today, I doubled. I don't just mean that in the 'I weighed 98 pounds in June of 1997 and 205 on April 14th, 1998' way, either, though that is also true, unfortunately for all of us, mostly my vertebrae.
The day I gave birth to you, you gave life to me. And I never saw it coming.
I had no idea that the moment I'd become someone's mother, the moment I would look into the eyes that I could never imagine, no matter how hard I tried, that an entirely separate me would be formed. A me that would walk along side the old me, mending what was torn and gluing together what was shattered.
This other person, this mother of yours, she was an empty vessel soaking you in.
I drank in every drop of you, even the puke, but we'll let daddy tell you that story someday. The me that was helpless against you, that shrouded herself in your eyes and your hands, your whimpers, your growth, your words and your breaths and your movements...she absorbed you whole, and eventually, everything about her became of you.
For 12 years, I have built up this person that I am becoming on the back of your falls and scrapes, your triumphs and victories, your strengths and your weaknesses. I have become the thing I imagine you want me to be. I have grown for you, because of you, along side you. Every breath you failed to take, I couldn't take along side of you. Every drop of blood you've shed has poured out of my veins, too.
I have never felt anything in the world like I've felt you.
The old me, the one I hope you can't remember anymore, used to have to dig holes in my skin to feel. I used to have to die, just so I could remember how to live. Now, all I have to do is say your name out loud, and I am flooded with the feeling of your fingers ripping against muscle and driving out through my skin, pushing so hard for exit from me that I could trace every little finger on the outside of my stomach. I am overtaken by the physical remnants of you inside my head and my heart, your footprints quite literally stomped into my soul.
I have this statue on our mantle, a tiny plaster casting dipped in bronze, perched atop a marble pedestal, of your two week old wrinkly, clenched fist. We took that casting while you laid, milk-drunk, asleep in my arms in the early days of May, 1998. Occasionally, when the house is quiet and there is no one around, I'll take that down from the mantel and I'll trace the curve of your fist, each little wrinkle, each dimple of your flesh, and if I try very hard indeed, I can feel you again. I can hold that tiny, perfect hand that I held onto so tight, for so long, warm again in my palm. I can call you back to my heart in an instant when I need to, and believe me...I need to more now than you'll ever realize.
Today you turn 12 years old, and 12 is not so very old at all from where I'm sitting, but 12 is actually very much so grown indeed. My very first love, the boy who's pictures still clutter the very darkest corners in the bottom of the wine crate that contains the tattered remnants of my history, that boy who still can make my heart flutter at the very thought of him, he was 12 when I met him. He was the same age you are today, and the imprint he left in my heart will never diminish. 12 is a powerful thing to be, because you can be you now. You can change someone else's life. At your core, you are the person you are always going to be, no matter what mutation of you walks out of your teen years and into your adult life. The man peeking out from behind your eyes today...this is you, forever and ever amen.
I took your hand to cross a street the other day, as I will always do, and when your fingers wrapped around mine, it was unfamiliar, like grabbing your drink off a bar you've been at for entirely too long and realizing it isn't your water, but someone else's martini. The shock was jarring, and it hurt in a way I've never felt. I thought I'd felt ever pain there was, but this is indescribable frightening.
I catch a glimpse of you as I walk past your bedroom door, in your little man-cave, topless and distracted. I see you for a splinter of a second without a shirt on, and I realized that I can't recognize that torso anymore. I can scarcely remember where I think there should be a birthmark, because your body has been yours for so long now, the idea of it ever being mine is foreign and icky, like wine-soaked snails for dinner.
You were never mine. You were always yours, ferociously, independently yours, and I was merely an extension of you. I have no doubt that you've known this all along, but as is your nature, you've allowed me my wide-eyed wondrous folly all these years. Your infinite patience for everything in this life (save your little brother) has been the greatest gift ever bestowed upon me.
This is a difficult thing for a mother to grasp, the finality of childhood. I need this version of me that has spawned from you. I need this person who has no choice but to live in humble admiration and unmitigated awe at the power you hold over me. I need to be reminded that I am weak, that I once was broken, and I need to remember what it feels like to have someone come into your life and physically take it over.
This love for you, it is the most basic, physical thing I have ever felt.
And then I get up in the morning and I slip on my flip-flops and I take your brother and sister to school and I sit at my desk all day and work, and then when it's evening time, when I have all three of my gorgeous gifts back under my roof, screaming and pulling each others hair out, I slide off those flip flops and only then do I realize that I have been wearing your shoes, all day. And even though I was quite happy in them all day, the moment I take them off I realize that I am actually a little more comfortable all on my own.
You really can't ask for better allegory than that, yo.
You made me better. You've protected me from a whole lot of shit I kept trying to step in. You made a complete person out of a shell that was given to you, labeled "mother". You formed me from the ground up, and now it is time for me to stop taking from you and allow you to keep some of you for yourself. It's time to give you your shoes back and let you walk where your life will take you. It's time for me to put my own damn shoes on and walk beside you. From a distance.
It's time for us to become our own people. I know you are ready. I know you were always ready. And even though I am tethered to you in a way you will not understand until you have a child of your own and you feel what I felt 12 years ago today, I think I am ready to let the me before you and the me since you start coming together. I think it's time to soak the fiber of my being with the person that I have finally become, 2 parts me and 1 part you, shaken not stirred.
I think it's time to open the door of this life that you have spent 12 years helping me build and start living in it. But don't worry, kid, your room is right here, just like you left it.