Surprised by Sorrow

Book celebrating all you have become -things no one may have imagined - and how you are ready to Move Out, Move Up, and Move On. Who writes these tragedies and calls them kids books?

Zach insisted this fall that we sign him up for the more competitive, traveling soccer team. He lives to play soccer, and I assumed that he wanted to challenge himself against the best players. Halfway through the season, though, he lamented that the travel team wasn’t as great as he thought it would be.

“But you love your team, you’re getting so much better, and you’re in first place.  What’s the problem?” I asked.

“I thought there was carpooling.”


“I thought that if you were on a traveling team, you got to carpool to the games.  And we haven’t carpooled even once.”

My son’s dreams surprise me.

Two days ago, I glared at Ezra for his lack of focus and effort. We were in the middle of making a poster for Thanksgiving (or ‘The 1621 Harvest Celebration’ as we call it here in Cambridge).  Ezra was copying down a Wamponoag riddle off the internet and it was taking an interminably long time.  He spent more time staring into space than writing letters on the paper. And when he did bother to write, it was illegible, off the line, scribbled out, and squished together.  I yelled. I accused.  I threatened:  “This is not your best work!  You’re not trying and you think it’s funny.  If you don’t stay focused and work harder, we’re not going to the park this afternoon.”

He eventually finished, but I felt terrible for being impatient and nasty.  I apologized and we headed for the park.

When we got there, I told the other mothers how I had lost it with Ez.  Then Lisa told me that dyslexic kids have an impossible time copying text from a computer to a paper.  I felt worse than I did when I was just a raging mother who repays her child’s laziness with disdain.  Now I was the mother who takes her child’s vulnerabilities and rubs his face in them.

I went home and apologized a second time.  “Hey buddy, I was talking to Lisa about how much trouble you were having copying the words from the computer, and she said that people with dyslexia often have that problem.  I’m sorry that I accused you of being lazy.  I know you were trying your hardest.”

“I already knew that, Mom.  I always try hard.”

My son’s sense of who he is surprises me.

These moments are almost trivial; they might pass unnoticed.  What parent hasn’t overreacted, or overreacted to the wrong thing, or been unaware of her children’s fantasies?  But these moments stop me short every time.

I used to think that I knew everything about my boys.  I took pride in knowing their every facial expression, their every thought.  I knew when they were lying, when they were afraid, when they thought a girl was beautiful,  when they had to go to the bathroom, and when they were about to throw up.  I knew how much longer we could stay in our loud church service before Zach would break down, and I knew how long it would be before Ezra told the man in the store just how fat he was.  I knew every story by heart that they knew by heart.  And I knew which owies needed booboo smooches and which needed magic booboo smooches.

Maybe was I was kidding myself back then.  Maybe I never knew as much about the boys as I thought I did.

Either way, with each passing year, I know less and less.  They lie better.  Their emotional lives are more complex.  They stay up at night telling each other secrets and making plans I know nothing about.    As someone who homeschools primarily because I like being with my kids, it’s hard to reconcile myself to the fact that they are already leaving.  They’re not apt to leave our house anytime soon – they are seven and eight – but I am surely watching them leave, little by little.

I have no wise words to add about letting go, or whatever it is we are supposed to do with these little people who used to live inside our bodies and continue to live in our hearts.  I don’t believe my friends when they say it will be wonderful when my sons are grown and on their own. I don’t know how to do this well – this preparing my children to leave, preparing myself to be left.  I just know that it’s harder than I expected.  To watch them grow up and become, if we do our job well, people who will leave and have entire lives about which we know little.  It’s harder than I expected.

And the sorrow of it continues to surprise me.

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About Tara Edelschick

Right now, Tara is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. She is sleeping more, and exercising and flossing every day for the first time in her life. She is enjoying her husband, her boys, and Nafisa (the daughter she never had) more than she ever has. And she is learning to rest in the arms of the one who doesn't rank you based on how many things you can cross off your list at the end of the day. Follow her on Twitter@TaraWonders.

  • Rebecca Cusey

    The only thing worse than them growing up and moving on is them not growing up and moving on. Sigh.

  • dorothy greco

    Another pithy insightful piece. Thank you.

  • Cheryl

    Motherhood is about learning to let go. When I realized that painful fact it became easier to see the end goal of a happy, productive, God-fearing adult. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day obsessions. I had four children under six at one point, so I am an expert at day-to-day obsessions.

    It is also about living with your choices. I envy your choice of homeschooling. I had been drawn to it but couldn’t make the leap. We are at a private school my children love very much, so homeschooling would be incredibly disruptive to them. (My older two are in middle school now.) Windows close, but others open. I have to turn from the closed ones to see the open ones.

  • Ginger

    Bah. Go and make me cry on my Saturday night, why don’t you!?

    I have a thought for you too, but I’m too tired to type, so ask me next time we see you.

  • Andrea Ferrell

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Will do.

  • Ann Boyd

    I can already see this “distancing” in my children (ages 3 & 5). In fact, I distinctly remembering having a cry-fest (and a visit with my therapist) when my oldest was 2 and in a “defiant” stage — my first experience of that real sense of separate-ness. My hope and prayer is that, even as they grow older and become their individual selves, that we’ll still be close. But it is terrifying!

  • Jackie F.

    My baby girl will be 12 on Thanksgiving Day…. I cry on her birthday every year and she always reminds me that she will always be my baby. What a sweet, sweet girl – I wish I knew who her mother was, because somedays I’m certain it’s not me… :) Thank you for the beautiful story – they are always full of surprises.

  • Casey

    I really enjoyed this article. My son is 7 and see this happening. Not with the copying part, but with changes in him. The quote “My son’s sense of who he is surprises me.” really caught my attention. It seems at 7 years old, my son has knows who he is. Or has a grasp. He struggles with it though because he doesn’t understand other children that don’t. It is very hard to explain, but the quote caught my attention…you are so right.

    Thank you for sharing your article. I think all moms and dads for that matter go through this.