Courtesy of Michelle Horton

Dear Kid, You're Raising Me, Too

To the little boy who changed my life:

I met you when I was 22 years old, but we’d been acquainted longer. I may not have known the color of your eyes or even your name, but I sensed the weight of your body pressing into my hips; I grew accustomed to the rhythm of your heartbeat; I memorized your sleep cycle. I felt your hiccups. I carried you with me, everywhere I went, even a few months before I realized you were living inside me.

You didn’t know it at the time, but I was terrified. I knew nothing. I had nothing.

Yet in your brand-new eyes, I was perfect. I had no age; you didn’t ask for my credentials. When you cried out, I was the one who scooped you up, inexplicably knowing how to soothe you. When you were hungry, I offered food straight from my body, and what’s more magical than that? My voice is the first you ever heard, echoing through my womb, your home.

I was your home. Your compass. From the first time we met — you, slippery and new; me, scared and really sweaty — our roles were set. The mother, the child. The giver, the receiver. The teacher, the learner.

And yet.

Courtesy of Michelle Horton

We’ve since spent 2,369 days together, and despite those nagging fears of being unworthy and unprepared (“You’re barely a grown-up yourself,” my mind whispered. ”What can you teach this boy?”), you’re doing just fine. We both are. Your teachers say you’re bright and kind; you’re healthy and smart and independent. You rattle off facts about honey bees and ants; you ask important questions like, “What’s the purpose of being alive?” Strangers smile at our conversations, as if to say, You’re raising him right.

But in my quietest moments — when it’s just the two of us in your twin-sized bed, and your face has settled into a familiar calm, and all I feel is a gentle hum of something vibrating between us, I know the truth:

You’re raising me, too.

Courtesy of Michelle Horton

In many ways I grew up for you. I’m not sure I would have consciously and purposefully grown up if I didn’t have a reason to. If I didn’t have such heavy responsibilities. If I didn’t have your eyes looking up to me as a life guide. The stakes were suddenly high, and I’d be damned if I let you down.

But more than that, I grew up because of you.

Courtesy of Michelle Horton

You gave me a new perspective — unfiltered, unconditioned, raw. I’ve watched you, a brand new human, come into the world knowing nothing about social norms or language or money; you just needed comfort and nourishment. (Turns out, that’s all anyone has ever needed.) That perspective realigned my priorities, it widened my viewpoint. It deepened my compassion, knowing all people were once babies themselves. It changed me.

Through you, I found untapped strength — a warrior spirit that can push past exhaustion, and sacrifice time, and make hard choices for something bigger than myself. I’ve carried more than I thought possible in my body, in my arms, in my heart. You taught me things I never could have learned without you — like human beings’ innate interconnectedness, the fragility of life, our fleeting impermanence that waits for no one, not even a love as big as ours.

Courtesy of Michelle Horton

In you, I have a mirror to see myself in vivid detail (even things I didn’t ask to see). I see myself through your hands-on-hips attitude and exasperated tone, which is basically a reenactment of my own crappy behavior in miniature form. I’m confronted head-on with my impatient nature when you stop every two feet to pick a dandelion, or lag behind to find a lost shoe, or brush your teeth. Every time you’ve collapsed in sobs because you can’t have exactly what you want the minute you want it, I’m reminded of all the times I’ve fallen apart because I couldn’t have things exactly as I wanted them.

Courtesy of Michelle Horton

For some reason it’s easier to see your own behaviors when they’re reflected in another person, and you, my dear, taught me more about myself than you ever intended.

You changed me in all the ways I wanted to change.

Courtesy of Michelle Horton

So yes, I felt terrified on the day we met. I thought I knew nothing, I thought I had nothing. But it turns out I did have something: you — my teacher, my muse. I assumed this relationship would be a one-way flow of knowledge and guidance, from me to you, but that’s not how relationships work. We bounce reflections back and forth, we teach without lecturing or preaching. We teach by being. And sometimes it’s the smallest people who offer the biggest lessons.

I’m a better mother for you, because of you.

Courtesy of Michelle Horton

I can’t promise I’ll always admit it; I have a charade to keep up, here. I am the mother and you are the child, and when strangers compliment how well I’m raising you, I’ll say thank you. That’s part of the gig.

But between you and me, we’ve been raising each other all along.

I love you more than you could ever know,