I can’t believe that it’s been ten years since this sweet face came into my life and changed my whole world. A decade of loving this child is more than I ever thought that I would get, and I often think about how the trajectory of my life would be so different without Little Man in it.
So in honor of his tenth birthday, here are the ten biggest things Little Man has taught me.
1) When Little Man was born, my world was completely different. It was dark and fear-filled. The thought of raising him in that place, that life was more terrifying than my own terror. Before he could even talk, Little Man made me braver than I ever thought I could be.
2) In his first and second year of life, Little Man and I lived with my parents. We had a great relationship that deepened in ways that only co-parenting can accomplish. My parents, previously my friends, advisors, and a shelter of safety, became two of my dearest companions in life. Our relationship was forged in the fires of teething and first rebellions. None of us knew how to do this life, but we discovered that the pieces of dark we worked through contained hidden diamonds. Those years taught me the joys of having a nontraditional family and the deep rewards of embracing a parenting role when it is by choice.
3) Right around the time Little Man turned three, I bought my house. It was a scary thing, to think that after so many years of turmoil I was putting down roots. And I was doing it alone. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, to be the mom I needed to be, and run a household, and, and, and…. But that little boy was right there, thrilled to be with his mama in a Special House. That year, Little Man taught me that the most important things I needed were simply trust and love.
4) In his fourth year, Little Man changed. He was still the bouncy ball of excitement and he still made me laugh every day. But he became different. He believed that there was a God who loved him and wanted to have a personal relationship with him. It happened suddenly and without much encouragement from me. I was a nonbeliever in childhood conversions, and determined that my child would never be pressured into such a decision. But on his own motivation, he asked, he understood, and he accepted. And he changed. My prideful all-knowing attitude was not a hindrance to the One who loved this boy more deeply than I could. And in His love for me, He provided the assurance that a mother-heart needed, as this was also the year I had to start sending that dear boy off for long periods of time away from me. In the nights I lay awake afraid he might not come home this time, I could always hear the peaceful whisper that I would never again need to wonder where he went. Little Man taught me what faith like a child truly meant.
5) Right before Little Man turned five, I turned 30. That was a hard year, because my life looked so different than I thought it would. I had a bit of an existential crisis, and wondered what I was doing with my life. I hadn’t written the Great American novel. I hadn’t won a Pulitzer Prize or Academy Award. I hadn’t even been successful in the “normal” things like marriage and family. And I knew that there was a hole in this house, waiting to be filled up, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. And then I looked at that little face, loving this life that was around him, safe, healthy, and happy. He started telling me more of the thoughts in his fascinating mind and what he worried over and what he dreamed about. I realized that I hadn’t done any of the things I thought I would because my path turned out to be different. And I liked different. I liked our little space and the possibility that could always be on the horizon. Little Man taught me that walking forward into the unknown is a lot easier when you aren’t always looking behind you or at the path not taken. So we decided together to run together toward that left-of-center future. It would be four more years before our house would echo with the other one who belonged here, but this is the year I started to believe that she existed and I was made for her.
6) Little Man’s fifth and sixth years brought the advent of schooling. I discovered that his energy was boundless and his learning style was not the same as my own. He grew in his personhood and determination. And listening to the input of people who cared for him but weren’t blood related gave me new insights on my job as a parent. In those years, I learned how to let go of my own goals and desires and instead become his biggest supporter to help him reach the ones he set for himself.
7) In the summer of Little Man’s sixth and seventh years, he got the acting bug. He was asked to be in some commercials for Vinegar Hill, and in the process, I was able to be a part of a film set again. I had thought that this opportunity was lost with so many others along the way, but I suddenly found myself in the midst of a group of wonderfully creative people. And not only did they ask me to start working with them, I found that Little Man wanted to continue in the industry as well. A partnership was born between the two of us, and I learned how rewarding it can be to bring the work and family spheres together. He taught me to not underestimate his ability to understand and contribute to the hardest of tasks. We still work together and log many hours as a team. His assistance makes me better at my job every time.
8) Little Man’s eighth year was emotionally challenging, as I was overcome by fear that it might be his last. It had little basis in reality, but it was still overwhelming at times. Little did I know that this was indeed the last year of our lives as we knew them. Right before his ninth birthday, we hosted for the first time, and the “only child” I knew was gone. In his place was a sibling who gave selflessly of himself over and over and over. I learned more about grace and mercy in those five weeks than I had in years. Our whole world changed, and Little Man taught me what love unconditional meant in new and beautiful ways.
9) In Little Man’s ninth year, our family grew when Sunshine joined us. It quickly became clear that this girl was a permanent member of our hearts. Little Man taught me flexibility that I would have never thought possible. He showed me what it was to accept a bigger definition of family. Sunshine was sister, plain and simple, no matter where she lived. He showed me what it means to love the way Christ does and how to come face to face with your own character flaws with grace.
10) As Little Man turned ten, Sunshine was again with us, but our future with her is uncertain. There is no question that she is family, but I don’t know if she will ever be able to be physically present with us again. Little Man doesn’t hold back on the love he has for her, and teaches me what it means to trust when staring into an uncertain future. He shows me what it looks like to die to his own desires for the sake of others. His sister just left and his mom is leaving tomorrow. Instead of sadness, he embraces his role and helps and encourages. He is my hero.
The decade of this child has been nothing like I thought it would be. It’s better. Despite all the hardships, life with this boy is beyond what I ever could have dreamed. He has become more than just my baby. He’s my companion, my teammate, my coworker, my conspirator, my friend.
I love you, Little Man.