This morning, after my Mother’s Day breakfast in bed, I came downstairs and told Steve I really wanted to go for a bike ride. The weather here in Western Washington is unseasonably hot, and after seven months of rehabbing my shoulder post-surgery, I am taking every opportunity to get on my bike. Plus, it’s Mother’s Day, and what I say goes.
Evan was lying on his floor, eyes glued to his iPad. His reaction to the bike ride suggestion was that of vociferous dissent, which is how he reacts to most things these days. Meanwhile, Steve summoned Bini from somewhere, and he agreed to go without complaint. I came downstairs after unsuccessfully trying to pry Evan off his floor to find Bini sitting on the stairs with his shoes on, waiting for me.
This is notable for several reasons, the biggest one being that Bini and I have had a difficult relationship in the last few years. Since we adopted Evan, now that I think about it. So, I guess it’s been five years. Add in adolescent hormones and you’ve got a recipe for lots of eye-rolling, plenty of defiance, and endless arguments. To see him suited up and ready to go on a bike ride with me? That was something.
Steve’s bike is busted, and Evan was still buried under his blanket fort watching “Naruto,” so Bini and I set off for our mid-morning ride. We pedaled through the neighborhood and caught the trail that runs across our city. We turned north, and I, happy to see the sun-dappled gravel road so empty, picked up my pace.
“Mom?” Bini called from behind me. “Can you slow down? You always go so fast.”
A simple request, about biking. But it’s not just about biking. It’s about everything.
I move too fast. I am brisk, efficient, and I do not suffer fools. I was a deadline journalist for years, and I still have that mindset: There is work to be done, boxes to be checked, goals to be met. There are always crumbs to be wiped from the counter, there is always laundry to be done. I’m like a great white shark: I’m afraid that if I stop moving, I’ll die.
When I became a mom 11 years ago (Bini was just a year old when we adopted him), I kept waiting for that switch to flip. The one that would transform me from a fast-moving great white shark into the type of person lionized on Mother’s Day cards. Moms like Carol Brady, and Mrs. Cunningham, from “Happy Days.” Moms like my own mom, who are kind, and patient, selfless and gentle. That transformation never really happened for me. I’ve softened my hard edges, relaxed some of my sky-high standards. But my kids still have to remind me not to leave them behind on bike rides.
This morning, I got all kinds of lovely text messages from fellow mom friends. From my own mom, from my mother-in-law. My husband got me flowers, and there’s gifts and what I’m sure will be a sweet card later. I appreciate people telling me I “deserve” to be spoiled by my boys. But I don’t believe it.
Can I be real? Raising kids from hard places is HARD. During my best times, I’m still prone to yelling. Sometimes, I criticize the person, rather than the behavior. I don’t always count to 10 before responding. I have said things I regret. And during these quarantine times? I’m trying, I’m really trying, so, so hard. And there have been bonding opportunities that I’ve seized, nights where I went to bed scared about the economy, and the front-line workers, but also, with a full heart because I connected with my kids. Still, there are just as many nights when I feel like an abject failure, like I’m not the mom that they both need — right now, or ever.
Bini and I cycled about three miles, and then hit an intersection. “Can we turn around here?” he asked. I fought the urge to prod him further — just another mile, buddy! Come on, you can do it! I swallowed that urge to do more because the voice in my heart overrode the voice in my head. We stopped, we sipped some water. And Bini led the way home.