From the moment they were born my kids knew they were the center of my life. If you ask them now, they might say I had their backs a little too much. But through it all, I think they learned compassion and empathy.
My son was born first, when I was 33. I was over-protective to say the least. Some might call it neurotic. I wouldn’t drive with him until he was five months-old because I was sure someone would hit us and he would get hurt. I didn’t bathe him until he was two because I was sure he would drown. Don’t worry, he wasn’t full of two-years-worth of spit-up and drool, my husband bathed him nightly.
As they say, the second one is easier. I was 36 when my daughter was born. The doctors called it a “Geriatric Pregnancy.” Excuse me? I drove her to her two-week check-up myself. When she pooped, I gave her a bath.
But still as they grew I noticed differences between my mothering methods and those of other, younger mothers. The mom next door, whose kids were about the same age as mine, was more than a decade younger than me. I was closer to her mother’s age than her age. She would do things I thought were crazy. She would leave her sleeping baby in her house and go to another neighbor with the baby monitor in her hand. When my kids were sleeping I would never leave the same floor they were on, much less leave the house! She would leave her kids out in the front yard to play and stay in the house. Not me, if they were outside I was outside, after all you never know when a kidnapper might stop by. But I think the most important difference was that I treated my kids like little people, while I thought she, and other younger moms I ran into, treated their kids like robots that could be controlled. When my kids were little I would give them choices whenever possible. “Do you want to wear these pants or those pants?” I would ask. Sometimes I would even let them stay in their pajamas to go to the playground. I would give my kids a five-minute warning before leaving the playground instead of springing it on them when it was time to leave. I’m not saying I was perfect. My kids had plenty of fits leaving play-places and friends’ houses. But I still cringe when I hear the words “Get over here now!” screamed at a toddler. As the kids grew their choices became more difficult, but we always had discussions. While I would hear other parents say things along the lines of “You will never do this.” Or the popular, “Until you pay your own rent you follow my rules.”
Don’t get me wrong, I still babied them. I checked on them three or four times a night to make sure they were in their beds (no one snatched them) and they were breathing. I did that well into their teenage years. When my daughter was about 14 she asked me to stop. She said I woke her up every time I opened the door. But my son slept like a rock, so he still got his nightly checks. To this day, when my kids come home from college I check on them.
Then there are the times they would get sick. Whenever either one of them so much as sneezed I would scoop them into my bed day or night. If they weren’t sleeping we would watch their favorite movies. If their belly hurt I would rub it till the fell asleep. If they had a sore throat – Strep was big in my family – I would make them chicken noodle soup and crackers and bring it to them in bed.
I never thought twice about it. That’s just what I would do. Well, it rubbed off on them. When my daughter was three-years-old we were living in Maryland. You would think it would be warmer there because it’s south, but those winters were some of the worst I ever encountered. One day I was running ragged. I buckled my daughter into her car-seat and I slammed the car door on my hand. I started crying. My little girl kept saying, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” Frustrated, through tears, I turned to her and said, “What?!” And she sweetly said, “Do you need a hug?” I melted.
As the years went on we moved to New York, to be with my family.
The first time I left my son alone in the house he was 12. This was after everyone in my family kept badgering me that he was “old enough.” I left the house for 10 minutes and called him twice. The amount of time I would leave him increased but I always called and checked. Both my kids were trained to take the phone into the bathroom with them so that if I called, I wouldn’t have to worry why they didn’t pick up.
When my son was old enough to go out with his friends and roam the neighborhood on their bikes, I made him call every time they changed locations. And he would! “Mom, we’re at the armory.” “Mom we’re going to 7/11.” “Mom we’re going to Pete’s house.” I was impressed he was such a good kid.
Other people were too. At every parent-teacher conference teachers would always tell me that my kids were kind to everyone. I thought that was a bigger accomplishment than any of their grades.
My daughter has always been compassionate, but it really came to light when we got a dog when she was 14. She coddles him. When he’s sleeping she checks to see if he’s breathing, but she usually doesn’t have to because he snores. She’s the first one to know when he’s sick, whether it’s Pink Eye, which for some strange reason he gets frequently, or allergies, or his stomach is bothering him.
She’s great with kids too. In High School she volunteered to bring school supplies to needy kids. She was also vice-president of the Thespian club. Through the club she was involved in the “Best Buddies” program where she and her club would do Improv and other acting games with Special Needs kids. She is now in college studying to be a Pediatric Occupational Therapist so she can continue to help kids with special needs thrive.
When my son was in High School his Computer Science teacher told my husband and I we should write a parenting book. She said my son was so smart (4.49 GPA when he graduated High School) but he was also humble. She said he was always the first person to help someone else.
When he got to college he volunteered to help Spanish speaking immigrants practice their English. He also became a computer science tutor, to help his peers.
I’m not saying I’m an expert. Far from it. I didn’t do any of it on purpose. I only did what came naturally. And, I don’t take full credit for their personalities. But I can’t help thinking that treating them with respect and modeling the urge to be caring affected them deeply. I don’t think I would have been able to pull it off if I had been in my 20s because I would have always been wondering about what I was missing out on. I think being an older mom gave me a perspective that I just wouldn’t have had when I was younger.