Ten Years

Eden Atwood essays

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Today I woke up to a fall morning. It was cold in the house like it can be this time of year. Today is your tenth birthday. Ten years ago my life changed direction…gained direction.

You can’t understand this now but someday you might. I wanted you selfishly. I wanted you to love me and need me and give my life meaning. More than anything I wanted you to make the loneliness of my life go away.

In the loneliness of my own childhood, I dreamt about what becoming a mother would be like. How I would do things differently. How I would love you and how we would laugh together. All the wrongs would be made right and life would be healed and I would feel complete. I didn’t really think about what you would need. I just figured you would be the happy beneficiary of me getting what I needed.

You were born ten years ago today in Kansas to a woman I met only one time. She could not keep you. She was deep in the throes of battling her own demons. But I was ready. Ready to be your mother. I believed, in one purely granted achievement of being a good mom, I would be able to heal my past and give you a present of future possibilities.

You weren’t even 6-months-old when the lonely came back full strength. Mothering an infant is work. A baby demands unrelenting selflessness. A mother is often alone. And, for me, being in the company of women who went on and on about how great mothering was and how fulfilling it was…well, I didn’t relate. It felt false. Or at the very least, superficial.

By the time you started preschool, your Dad and I were divorced. Somehow I think we knew we were going to really need each other in this parenting experience and we managed to eek out a friendship. War buddies.

You have always been and continue to be the kid with the highest activity level. Play dates routinely included another kid getting knocked down…bulldozed…by your sheer force of nature. Calls from school an every day occurrence. “Ben bit a classmate today!” “Ben took scissors and cut up several children’s coats!” “Ben can’t keep his hands to himself!”

You have seen therapists and doctors and specialists and they all agree on a few key points. Ben is a handful! Ben has some special needs. But he is also happy. And your father and I know you have gifts that are yours alone.

We don’t get many birthday party invitations. The phone doesn’t ring with play date requests. My dearest friends, whose children I know and have relationships with, don’t really know you. You require more effort. Concerted effort.

I gotta tell you, kid, it’s hard sometimes, being your mom. My dream of parenting…of teaching you little songs and putting on plays with you and righting the wrongs of my childhood have been replaced with bike races, meetings at your school, doctor visits and near constant worry for you.

But, oh Benjamin, my son, my sweet baby. I love you. You are truth serum. There is no hiding with you. I can’t pretend that you are anything other than everything you are. And because of that, I have had to grow and stretch. It’s painful to confront my shortcomings and to push to be better. It’s what I wanted most to avoid…it’s lonely. But when I make a friend now…it’s real. It goes to the very heart of hearts. I don’t have time for the wafer thin, the insubstantial. I am doing something important. I am being your mother, the best I can. And I fail all the time. And sometimes I think…I know that if I had known how hard this was going to be…I wouldn’t have done it. But in order to be the mom you need, I have to be better. I have to do everything and be everything I want you to be. So it’s real. So you believe it. So you believe me.

You little monkey! My chicken! You force choices. Real, hard, difficult choices. You require parents with character and perseverance and balance. Ten years ago you would have been hard pressed to find a single person who would describe me that way. But it’s ten years later and I am your mother. And every day I become a person with character and perseverance and balance. Nothing else would have prompted… necessitated…that change in me. You did that. We are doing that together.

I always wanted a life with meaning. This life, with you, means something. So happy birthday, Son!

Here’s to you! Here’s to us!

Thank you.

About the Author

Eden Atwood

Eden has now recorded 13 CDs, the last two, on Japanese label SSJ won critics choice awards for best jazz vocal recordings in Japan. JazzTimes magazine heralded Eden as “one of the most undersung heroes of modern jazz singing.” For more on Eden Atwood, visit her Wikipedia page .

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