Musings on Motherhood as He Turns Three

Yesterday we had a birthday party in a nearby park for my little boy. Each year around his birthday I've taken to writing my thoughts on motherhood here on my blog. There is a heart line that runs so parallel between my mothering and artmaking experiences. I wonder if parenting is actually creative work, if tending to our creative lives is more like parenting, or if the matters that penetrate our lives most deeply have a way of nesting together regardless of their categories. Perhaps all of the above.

So yesterday we had a party in the park for my little guy. I made cupcakes, built a paper crown, assembled party favors, and found the tallest candles around. My mother flew in from NY. We gathered a handful of friends with toddlers at a picnic site up in the Oakland hills. My son mostly wanted cupcakes with sprinkles and a bouquet of balloons. I joked that he might always be this easy to please. My little boy is almost three. I am getting the sense that before I know it my little guy will be eight, thirteen, twenty two. It's impossible how time is charging ahead regardless of the choices we make.

Three. I feel simultaneously bewildered and relieved that he is turning three. Bewildered because I cannot believe I've been parenting this tiny human for three years now. And, truthfully, I still have moments of looking into his beautiful little face and not fully comprehending that he is my son. Or that we are all still alive three years later. Or that we are not merely surviving but somehow thriving in our new roles as a family.

The relief is tied directly into the bewilderment. It's like that first moment in accomplishing any new feat that previously seemed completely unattainable. Relief. There are so many unbelievable, and in the moment incredibly trying, milestones in this third year. He sleeps through the night. He takes long naps. He's potty trained. He uses flatware (most of the time). He says please and thank you (most of the time). He takes his shoes off when he comes inside (most of the time).

His first haircut. His first bike ride. His first jump off the curb. The first time he had his own seat on a plane ride. Recognizing the letters of his own name. Memorizing books. Making the first recognizable shapes with crayons, paints, and clay. Singing songs. Making up dance moves. Making up stories. Oh, making up stories might be my favorite.

But I think one of the most amazing realizations in watching him turn three is that he is no longer a toddler. No longer a baby. No longer fully and completely dependent on us for his survival. I watch him calculate his decisions and recognize danger and entertain himself in ways I could not predict. There is a relief in parenting a three-year-old. A knowing. A release. A witnessing of watching this formerly chubby baby grow into a thin and lean three-year-old little boy. He makes his own friends at preschool, chooses his own ridiculous outfits, and decides what he will and won't eat at meals.

Of course, I sometimes wish he'd choose differently. I wish he'd side with me. I wish he'd understand what I think to be my very good logic and obvious best choices. But he doesn't. Well, sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't. Just like any other relationship in my adult life. There are so many values and ideals we share in common but there are moments of true opposition. And, of course, the fierce independence and illogical tantrum of a two or three-year-old are perhaps the most humbling yet. Okay, not as humbling as waking up the third, fourth, or fifth time each night with an infant but still humbling in the waking hours.

Yet he still wants to cuddle. To be carried. To be read stories. To be fed when he's too tired to lift the last few bites to mouth. Or when he's sick. Or when he's had a particularly tiring day that I might not completely understand. He wants me to watch. To listen. To witness. To applaud. To approve. To guide. To give. But he also wants me to receive. To receive his gifts, his affection, his drawings, his worries, his successes. I have to remind myself that he is only three. Not yet three, still days away from turning three. He is still only three-years-old.

And while we've come so far from those magical and heartbreaking and life-changing moments of coming home with a newborn just three years ago, we also have a long journey ahead of us. Truthfully, I feel respite in this long journey. Seeing how quickly the months now turn to years. How furiously his mind and understanding, his physical and emotional development expand and readjust, seeing just how rapidly this now occurs I feel some respite in the years ahead.

My husband and I have been together for 16 years. That too seems impossible, but it's true. So using this logic to imagine parenting my son also gives me respite. I have a sense of what 16 years in a home with another human can actually look like. And to imagine that he might graduate from high school and go off to college in just 15 years from today? Well, that feels too soon if I'm honest. But knowing that my relationship with him and my relationship to him will continue for the rest of our lives here together? That brings me great joy. The complete and total love I have experienced as a mother is like nothing else I've ever known. I also know somewhere in my logic-driven mind that he cannot love me with the totality and selflessness with which I love him. It's impossible. And that's okay.

He's my son, I'm his mother. And yet I think this might be why the role of parenting is so profound. Because is not reciprocal. Because it is not equal. Because it is not just. And because we cannot expect it to be nor demand it. I cannot have the same expectations of my son that I have of my husband, colleagues, or friends. Not only is not healthy, it's simply not even possible. I have to love my son as a mother, as a guide, as a mentor, as a parent. And I have to accept the love he offers in return, no matter the shape.

I often imagine I'm creating pathways for him to meander. That it isn't my job to actually make him walk the pathway it's just my job to create the pathway so that he has avenues, so that he has choices, so that he has a road to travel. He might skip, run, walk, crawl, tumble, or dance his way down that pathway. He might just sit down for a very long time. He might run ahead. But he's going to decide. It's my job to help carve the adventure. In the most trying and humbling and frustrating and aggravating moments of parenting I just try to remember this image. I try to remember that it's not my job to make him walk the pathway it's just my job to create it. And once the moment passes it is my job to truly let it go. To forgive. To make amends. To move forward. To walk with him.

And when he next crawls up on my lap or takes my face into his sticky little hands and presses his nose to my nose and stares into my eyes and expresses his three-year-old version of affection it penetrates so deeply that I know I am forever changed. In that moment I am altered. And as these moments collect and gain momentum and shape and structure I am changed again. And, of course, as much as I guide his way forward he guides mine too. Perhaps, more deeply than he will ever understand. Perhaps, more poignantly than I could ever imagine. Perhaps, more precisely in the direction I needed to grow than I could ever admit.

Dear Maxwell Forest, Happy Birthday my beautiful three-year-old boy. I am honored to be your mama. Honored to imagine your many birthdays ahead. Honored to hold your post-cupcake, played-in-the-dirt, climbed-the-picnic-tables, sugary, sticky, tender, and beautiful little hand. I raise one sprinkle covered cupcake to the many shared journeys ahead.



  1. oh boy, did I cry reading this. sigh. and i think parenting and creative work are both just subsets of Soul Work and therefore very much alike. xoxo

    1. I love your thoughts on the similarities between parenting and creative work. "Subsets of soul work and therefore very much alike". Well said.

  2. Very sweet post and such a wonderful tribute to your little guy. It's a blink, those years. The best thing about them growing up though (speaking from experience) is the friendship you will have with him when he's an adult - it is amazing the comfort that comes from that. Outside of my marriage, there is no friendship I value more than the ones I have with my grown children. It is the gift that comes after 18 years of parenting! And I'm so thankful every day for the treasure that it is. - Dori -

    1. Dori, what a beautiful sentiment. I love imagining that my tiny son might one day be one of my nearest friends and closest alliances. That brings a tear or two. Thank you for these comforting thoughts. xo

  3. I have raised 4 'big' kids (mostly on my own) and like Dori they are my most valued relationships and the people with whom, still, I have the most fun. I heard someone say once that a parent's job is to love our children with all our hearts; their job will be to give that same sort of love to someone else.

    1. Oh my goodness. What a beautiful sentiment. I love this image of our unconditional love passing through our children to someone else. That's gorgeous. Thank you for sharing, Kaja.

  4. Carving pathways!! I absolutely love that. :)

  5. Congratulations on all of these lovely things; your family, an upcoming book, and the creativity that abounds in you and in your voice. Your words made me cry, too! Wishing all the best and cheers.


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