Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Who’s Raising Who?

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 “And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”

-Elton John, Your Song

My brother died 10 days before my wedding. I was caught between suffocating despair and the happy prospect of marrying the man I love. But I didn’t think I’d ever feel pure joy again. I couldn’t imagine joy in a world without my brother.

Six months later we lost my Grandfather. My big strong Grandpa. The Purple Heart Marine with the big booming voice. I will always believe that he died of a broken heart after the loss of my brother. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant.

The sun started to peek through the darkness, just a little.

Nine months later my beautiful baby boy was born. He came into the world wailing and thrashing. “Feisty” was the word that came to mind. Barrel chested and dark hair. He was strong and vibrant and ready to take on life.

I was scared out of my mind. I had spent my high school years babysitting, but I felt like I didn’t know how to do this, being a parent. I was responsible for this other person and I felt inept and inadequate.

I was scared I wasn’t feeding him enough. I was scared that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was scared that he was in a pain and I didn’t know it. I was scared that there was something wrong with him that I was missing. I was scared that I was screwing it all up. I was scared that he knew that I had no clue.

I was scared that he would get sick and die. The impossible such a real possibility to my family.

Fear dominated the first few months of my son’s life. Every doubt about myself magnified in the face of motherhood. Every fear I had after watching my brother suffer intensified as a possible threat. Could it happen to him, my baby?

And I worried that he could sense my fear. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want him to grow up neurotic. I didn’t want my stuff to affect him, to change him. Another thing to worry about.

As the months went on, he proved me wrong. He defied all of my worries and fears. He was thriving. He was full of life and provided endless hours of entertainment for me and my husband. I would look at him in awe. He was a part of me. I couldn’t’ believe that something so beautiful and amazing came from me. I mentally attributed it all to my husband.

Now my son is fourteen years old. I’m watching him grow into an amazing young man. He’s compassionate and smart and funny and good. He’s good. He seems unscathed by those early years when his mom was fighting anxiety and fear. He’s happy and confident.

I watch him play with his little sister and I see a glimpse of the father he will be. A loving, nurturing dad. Like my husband. I see him smile and laugh with his friends and I  see the natural charisma that his father carries. I watch him run, swim, play and I see the natural athlete that is my husband. I see him crack a joke, his dry subtle wit reminiscent of the humor that made me fall in love with my husband.

I listen to my son ask questions when we’re in the car. Questions about world events. I listen as he talks about Syria. And Egypt. And North Korea. Israel and Palestine. He wants to talk about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He wants to watch the morning news and catch up on what’s going on in the world. I listen to him as he gets mad, I see his frustration and anger towards people that hate. He doesn’t understand. And I see a little bit of me.

I see the look he gives me when I’m fishing in my purse for a dollar for a man with a sign on the corner. He takes the ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hands it to me. His look says it all. He needs it more than you, mom. On another occasion I watch with overwhelming emotion and pride as he pulls a few dollars out of his own pocket when I am out of cash and a homeless veteran is standing at the stop light.

I watch as he insists on buying a small toy for his little sister. Even though I know he wants to save up for the latest video game, he’s willing to hold off a little longer to bring a smile to her face.

I watch all of this and I feel more joy than I ever thought possible. My son opened up my heart again fourteen years ago. He proved me wrong. The pain of losing my brother isn’t gone, but I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t eclipse the joy. The two can co-exist.

I watch all of this and I feel pride. My son’s a good kid. I think he’ll grow up to be an amazing person. One who works hard and who cares. Cares about those he loves and about those he doesn’t even know. I look at him and I know that I did some things right. I know that along with my husband we’re raising a good person. And I realize now that our raising him isn’t the remarkable thing.

We raised him for the last 14 years, but more importantly, he raised us.

I’ve grown in to motherhood. My husband has grown into fatherhood. All on my son’s dime. He had to endure our learning curve. His burden similar to that of many first borns. His siblings owe him a debt of gratitude for him teaching us how to be parents.

As I look back on the past fourteen years, I see how far my husband and I have come. How much we’ve gone through, how much we’ve navigated. As I look back I realize that the credit isn’t ours alone.

Thank you, my sweet beautiful boy. You’ve been patient and you’ve navigated this path with us.

Thank you for taking our lessons, for enduring our long lectures. For humoring us when we think we’re cool. Thank you for still letting me into your world. For sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to feel joy again.

Thank you for raising some pretty o.k. parents.

Thank you for being you.

Because who you are couldn’t make me any prouder.


15 Responses

  1. Great read – I was nodding along to all of it and then this: “We raised him for the last 14 years, but more importantly, he raised us.” – it’s so true isn’t it? – and I never thought of it that way until your essay, so thanks!

      1. Gretchen Kelly

        Wow. Truly a wonderful story written by you. This was an eye-popper for me and not just because it is written about your son who will soon be a man (soon to be draft-registration age) but that it was written my you.

        I believe that it gave insight to many of our male lawyers, including myself, that you are not the “tainted writer” we male attorneys thought you were. At least, I thought that (I guess I shouldn’t speak for the others). We read many of the comments in all of your articles about women’s thoughts on sexism, men, etc… to gain insight into women’s preconceived notions are about men. Although we cannot determine the location of the female commenters, your readers’ comments to your articles gives us a prospective on women as potential jurors in upcoming death penalty trials. Please don’t be offend by that.

        I apologize for any thing that I may have previously said about you. After reading this article, I was wrong about you. In addition, I can’t help but notice there are only 12 comments herein but on the “What All Women Do…” blog there is over 1800 comments. That definitely tells us something.

        PS. I think you are the “Quentin Taratino” (sp?) of the feminist world. Keep up the wonderful work.


        1. Thank you Aberrant. I appreciate you saying this. To be honest, some of your comments on my other post were very upsetting. As a writer I question and doubt every single thing I write. And my biggest fear is that I will not accurately represent what I’m truly trying to say. Especially when writing about things like sexism or equality. To think that what I wrote comes across as “man hating” or anti-men or dismissive of men… well that is the complete opposite of what I was trying to express. Men have been some of the greatest joys in my life. I’ve had so many amazing and profound relationships and friendships with men. And I’m in no way offended that you would try to gain insight from the comments on my blog.

          Thank you for the kind things you said here. My son is a special person who I look at in amazement every day. Writing this felt very self indulgent because it’s simply a snippet of how I feel about him and how he’s changed me.

          As for the disparity in the number of comments here vs my other post? This was a re-post of something I wrote a year ago and re-posts never get the amount of traffic that a new post does. And the other post about everyday sexism went crazy viral,far beyond any of my typical blog posts. I get decent traffic usually, but almost 3 million hits on my blog is a little insane. I don’t expect lightning to strike twice! Though I wouldn’t mind if it did… 🙂

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