About 10 years ago, I made a life-altering decision to divorce my husband and move to another state. Being a single mom to four boys under the age of nine was not how I envisioned my future. Fear filled my days and tears filled many nights as I navigated our new paths with a brave face, hoping I was not going to ruin the lives of these little humans I had been entrusted with.
I tried to fill our home with the familiar to keep a semblance of normalcy but there were obvious changes that could not be ignored. Then one day it occurred to me that the one constant the boys needed was me. Their father was in the military, often deployed. His absence was not a shocking blow to them, especially at their young age, but what kept them grounded was me.
This realization came with its own new set of fears, but they were not insurmountable.
These brothers developed a bond as they worked together not just raising each other but raising me, too.
We created a routine with a 2-year-old toddler and the next one barely turning four, especially because I was back in school working to obtain my bachelor’s degree. I have often felt guilty for the responsibility that was placed on the shoulders of the older brothers who were only six and nine at the time.
That realization of me being their constant was a dynamic that was switching to these boys being my constant. I honestly cannot imagine how I would have made it through that first year on my own without them, especially at the unexpected death of my mother. They gave me purpose, loved me when I was broken, forgave me when I snapped, and reminded me to laugh with their silly antics.
As they got older, the solidarity between them all remained, but the sibling rivalry started to make a more regular appearance.
Being an only child, it was difficult for me to understand how they could be so mean to each other yet still so loving. They stand up for each other even if it is against another brother or even to me if they feel I am being unfair. Each boy has a favorite brother for different situations and pairs up based on their personalities. Watching them navigate their relationships with each other has opened my eyes to how I could better handle some of my encounters with people, be it professional or personal, with more compassion and grace.
In this past decade, my little boys have grown up.
The oldest is in college, two in high school, with the youngest in middle school, and they are still taking care of me and each other. These fiercely protective boys have an inner strength I am in awe of. Their courage and resilience seem to know no bounds. My life choices impacted their life, but I am hopeful that they are becoming men of integrity, they will be husbands and fathers full of sensitivity.
This hope turned reality just a few days ago for at least my oldest son. He is taking a full course load of online college classes and works part-time. Since he has been so busy, it has been obvious that he tries to still give a little quality time to each of his brothers.
The other day he received a call to see if he could pick up an early shift, and the youngest was upset because he had made plans to spend that day together. The oldest reassured him he would still have time after school, that it was an early shift. Again, the youngest was now upset that his big brother wouldn’t see him before school in the morning, so my oldest son promised to wake him before he left for work and say goodbye.
This was a very early shift—he was leaving about 4:30 a.m., so I made sure I was up in case he needed anything. Offered coffee, an egg that he barely swallowed before he ran out the door but then he came back in, and I assumed he forgot his key or something.
He went into his little brother’s room.
I heard him say his name, tell him he loved him and would see him later. As he walked back out to leave, I told him his brother wouldn’t remember.
His response was, “I would know, I made him a promise.”
It was all I could do not to burst into tears at his gentleness.
Being a mother is the best and worst of all the jobs in the world. It comes with the constant worry that we are making mistakes and screwing up our kids, and the fear of being a single mother, trying to raise boys.
There are no guarantees, but those small moments when we get to see the glimpse of the men they are destined to be, make it all worth it.