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On the first day of first grade, Daniel got dressed, tied his shoes, ate breakfast, and brushed his teeth without prompting — all the things I’d nagged him to get done quickly last year. We were even early for school. Sporting a new haircut, squeaky new shoes, and stylish clothes, he walked down the hall and straight into his new classroom without me, not even looking up as I later dropped off school supplies. We spent six years readying him for the world and now he actually walks through it all by himself. And I want my little boy back.
I don’t know how you can be a mother and not feel spiritually awake. I can’t take credit for the creation, for the mother love that descends upon me, for the growing boy in front of me. The answer is right in front of my face all the time. He makes me mushy; he makes me imagine how God feels about us. I want to shout from the rooftops, and the prevalence of motherhood writing attests to this widespread feeling: “I’m in love with my son. Let me tell you about it. I’m undone.” It’s called narcissistic by some, but there’s another motive — to spread the love, to share experience, strength, and hope, to connect with like minds.
It was almost the end of the school year when Daniel became the treasured child. Every day for a week he came in from school, dumped his backpack, and showed me the treasure of the day (ostensibly for good behavior). “Treasure box again,” I said. “Wow. Three days in a row. You’re either lucky or very, very good.”
It’s the morning after Mother’s Day and here I sit, chin in hands, reeling with an emotional hangover. I check my e-mail and pick my poison. Here’s one from my husband: “The boss says to take you out to dinner on the company tab for all my hard work recently.” I guffaw, wishing someone had said that to me just yesterday. “Every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.”
Becoming a mother taught me more about how deeply I’d harmed my own mother. With Mom facing dementia, the last few years especially have been my turn to host the holidays, to give in different ways. I was once the belligerent daughter who ran away, and now I can’t run anymore. My mother needs me now and deserves all that I can give. This is how amends are lived — sometimes it’s not how we’d choose. It’s so much easier to write a check and cross another name off the list.
The A.A. program is one big amend, and step eight forces me to put my money where my mouth is. I said “I’m sorry” so often in my drinking days that it became meaningless, kind of like, “Excuse me for stealing your car.” Polite maybe, but utterly useless because my behavior never changed; the car was still stolen, and I was still the thief. Now that I have a conscience and am devoted to living sober, I have to clean up my wrong thoughts and actions. The harm I do today is more subtle than in my drinking days, but I’m immensely qualified to continue to cause emotional, mental, and spiritual damage to others, in simple ways. Step eight, like all the steps, has to be kept present tense. We not only clean up past wrongs from our drinking days, we continue to work it for our lifetime.