There was a man in my bathroom today. A grown man, studying his reflection in the mirror, massaging his stubbled chin indecisively. Was he presentable enough for church, or should he shave off his emerging beard? I sat on the bed, studying him, this grown, stubbly man who has invaded my space. This great, big, overgrown boy. And for a moment, I saw Norma's little boy, her sweet, earnest, curious, precious baby boy.
My mother-in-law was one of the most loving people I've ever had the pleasure to know, and she loved my husband unconditionally, purely, unabashedly. He was her baby, and I don't think she ever really saw him as anything else. I was resentful of that love at first, maybe a little jealous. He was perfect in her eyes; she could so easily have become Marie Barone! Norma, however, was not a conniving, jealous woman. Because her son chose me, she chose me, accepting me without reservation. And over the years, I came to understand the gift she gave me, this compassionate, loving, gentle man who loves me unconditionally. She took a little boy, lovingly raised and nurtured him, and gave me a man.
My father is also a kind, loving, compassionate, gentle man. But he wasn't raised by a mom like my mother-in-law. My father's mother, my grandmother, was a bit flighty, selfish, maybe a little narcissistic. She left him when he was but a boy, only to return a few months later to snatch his big sisters away from him, taking his childhood innocence as well, leaving him with his cold, unfeeling father. How he turned out the way he did is one of life's biggest mysteries. He and my husband are a lot alike. There is a softness in his face when he looks at my mom, affection evident in every glance. He is genuinely interested in his family's lives, always looking for ways to strengthen the ties that bind. He is one of my heroes, one of my favorite people on the planet.
I have a son who has inherited many of his father's and grandfather's best qualities. When he was born, I held him in my arms, and marveled at the sweet, gentle spirit he possessed. Here was man as God intended him to be, unspoiled by the world, pure and perfect. As a young man of fourteen, he is still a gentle soul, with a big heart like his dad's, and a love of family like his grandfather. He has a special relationship with his little sister; our plan was for him to be our last baby, but after he was born, we knew there was another child for us, and that it would be a girl. We are convinced that he invited her to join us! And his big sisters have come to value his broad shoulders and tender heart. At the viewing of a friend recently, it was to his arms that his sister turned for comfort, and he gently held her as she cried. He is a good kid, even in his worst moments.
But being his mother has not been easy. He is easily overwhelmed by anxiety, and takes out his frustrations on the person closest to him: me. As much as I see the good in him, I struggle to provide for him that unconditional love that my husband's mother so freely gave to her son. I am not the mother she was; neither am I the mother my grandmother was. I find myself somewhere in between. I've never been tempted to run, but I have found myself looking for a place to hide! He pushes my buttons like no one else ever has or probably ever could. Nevertheless, he is my son, I am his mother, and there is great power in that relationship.
Harry Potter's mother is one of my favorite fictional characters. She gave her life in an effort to protect her son, and that act gave him the power to withstand the greatest evil in Harry's world. I've always said that I'd take a bullet for my son, that I'd stand between him and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, that I would go down fighting before I'd let anyone touch him. Easy words, sitting here in my family room with my son safely beside me. What's not so easy is loving him unconditionally through the monotony of everyday life, through the ups and downs of teenage angst. Letting him have the last word. Remaining calm as his emotions escalate and his temper rages. Being Norma in the face of his Jeckel and Hyde impersonation. Giving him the protection of my love before sending him out to face the evils of the world. My husband knew such love; my father did not. And they both became kind, gentle men who bless the lives of their families and communities.
So, in the end, does it matter, this mother's love? Maybe not to my son, maybe he'll be okay regardless, like his grandfather before him. But it matters to me. I'm a better person because I got to be my son's mother, my father's daughter, my husband's wife. My three gentle, loving, compassionate men love me back, and that makes all the difference in the world.