An Open Letter To My Son

4 Apr


Sometimes I wonder about you.

I wonder, for instance, where you came from. I understand the dry facts, of course, the complex mechanics of ovulation and ejaculation. I understand how cells divide, and then divide again, their numbers growing exponentially as seconds tick by. I know a thing or two about gametes and zygotes and embryos.

What I don’t understand is how all of that made you.

The facts of your existence seem like they would be better explained by alchemy rather than biology. We made you out of nothing, or rather, we made you out of two randomly-selected bits of genetic code that we unintentionally sent slamming into each other deep in the darkest recesses of my body. And out of those tangled strands of DNA grew you, incredible, beautiful you, with your father’s blue eyes and my heart-shaped mouth.

It feels more like magic than science, really.

I don’t know that I believe in souls, but I do know that I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that there is now an entirely new, unique human being on this planet who has never been here before.

And I wonder how I managed to carry you for eight months inside of me without somehow fucking it up. I mean, this is me we’re talking about here – the person who is totally incompetent when it comes to the most mundane, run-of-the-mill tasks. I can’t swim or drive a car or even whistle properly, for God’s sake, but somehow I made an entire kid from scratch? How does that even work?

I’ve spent two years watching you unfold from a scrunched up, red-faced, newborn cipher into something that’s starting to bear a remarkable resemblance to a human being. You walk, you talk, you have feelings. You have preferences, even, very specific likes and dislikes that seem totally arbitrary to me. You have a sense of humour. You make jokes, on purpose, just to make me laugh.

You tell me that you love me and I wonder what you think that word means. At thirty, I’m still getting a handle on all of the possible interpretations of love, all of the implications and connotations that it might bring with it. I’ve learned to use the word cautiously, sparingly, oh-so-carefully, because those four innocent letters can be so incredibly loaded with meaning. But you, what do you know about meaning? You don’t know anything, or at least certainly not enough to overthink things the way I do; you just love me.

And oh God I love you so much. So fucking much.

And I wonder, how on earth do I protect you? How do I keep you safe?

Like some poor, naïve fairytale mother, I’m trying to help you navigate your way through a forest that’s by turns enchanted and haunted. The path is familiar, as if I walked it once years ago, but different, too; overgrown and seemingly impassable in some parts, and unexpectedly clear in others. And as we pick our way through the undergrowth, as we do our best not to trip on twisted roots and sharp stones, I try to remember the lessons I’ve learned from all folktales I used to know.

For example, I won’t make the mistake that Sleeping Beauty’s parents did when sending out invitations to her christening. Unlike them, I’ll be sure to invite the dark fairy godmothers as well as the good ones, because I know that they’ll come anyway, slipping in through back doors and lurking in corners where you least expect them. I’ll let them give you their murky gifts in broad daylight, so that I can look them in the eye while they do so. Then I’ll smile and thank them, recognizing that I have to let life give you the bad as well as the good.

And when I send you out into the world alone, as I know that I will someday have to, I’ll give you something more substantial than bread crumbs with which to find your way back home.

And I won’t make you go to your grandmother’s house alone until I can be sure that you can tell the difference between an old woman and a wolf in a nightgown.

I look at you and wonder what will happen once I’m not there to navigate this forest path with you. I wonder what trolls and goblins and clever tricksters you’ll have to face. Will your monsters look anything like mine?

I wonder what else I’ve passed on to you, along with the shape of my eyes, my love of books, and my brilliantly trenchant wit. What ticking little genetic time bombs lie dormant inside of you? My anxiety? My depression? The weird nail on my right big toe that turns black and falls off every winter?

If and when these things surface, what will I do?

Will I even be able to help you?

And how will I teach you about a world in which you, a white, middle class boy, will have more privilege than most?

And how do I teach you that it’s your job, among other things, to give a hand up to those less privileged than you, when everything else around you will seem to be telling you to grab whatever you can and run with it?

And how do I teach you that you’re allowed to cry, that you’re allowed to feel afraid or weak or inadequate?

How I do I help you decode all of the toxic messages that the world will try to shove down your throat?

What I want for you most of all is a place of safety. I want our home to be a place where you feel safe making mistakes, a place where you have a healthy respect for but never a fear of consequences. I want you to feel safe being yourself, whoever that is. And above all, when you’re out there, alone and afraid, I want you to know that you always have a safe place to come back to.

I will always love you, no matter what.

Photo by Diana Nazareth

Photo by Diana Nazareth

52 Responses to “An Open Letter To My Son”

  1. Dreamer of Dreams April 4, 2013 at 2:22 am #

    So inexpressibly beautiful! That was a lovely, lovely letter to your little boy, and it was exactly balanced in tone and saturated with love. Thank you!

  2. mariasmilios April 4, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    A gorgeous and heartfelt letter to your son; I hope that he grows up to be all the things that you hope and wish for him. He certainly will have a good foundation

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Thank you! Parenting is pretty scary, but I really hope that he grows up feeling safe and loved. If I can accomplish that, then I’ll have accomplished a lot, I think.

  3. Elle April 4, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    This is so unbelievably beautiful. Give this to him one day!

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      I will! Once he’s old enough to read swears, I guess 🙂

  4. Ryan Elliott April 4, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    I grew up without a mother, personally. From what you’ve written here to your son, it makes me wonder if she felt the same thing. Sometimes I wonder how we manage to live in this fucked up, ridiculous world we inhabit. I think we manage it because there are people like you; and there are people around like the person that your son will undoubtedly grow into — people that care, people that want to make things better.

    You mentioned that you’re not sure how you can educate him on the natural privilege that comes with being a white, middle-class male. I’ve followed your blog a bit. I’m pretty sure that growing up with a mother like you, who understands what’s happening in the world so intrinsically, and who can write about it with profundity and passion in equal measures, that there’s no way he’d be unable to comprehend that his place in the world is to ignore privilege and class and status based on gender and race. Obviously I don’t know you, and this is an observation from the things I’ve read, but I can’t imagine a situation where he doesn’t grow up with a deep knowledge of the need for equality.

    Besides that, this is a very beautiful letter. It felt nostalgic, but I’m not sure why. Thank you for writing it.

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      Oh man, thank you for your comment, and for sharing your story. I wanted to write a super-smart response to this, because it’s a wonderful, amazing comment, but the best I can come up with is “oh man”, but in the best way possible.

      Thank you ❤

      • Arcee E April 5, 2013 at 2:52 am #

        You’re welcome! There’s no need to have a super-smart response; just keep writing!

      • Arcee E April 5, 2013 at 2:52 am #

        Also, I somehow logged into Facebook for the first one, not WordPress. >.> This is actually the original poster.

  5. annesquared April 4, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    A beautiful, wonderful letter. You are doing a wonderful thing for your son. And for moms everywhere. Thanks for writing!

  6. physicsandwhiskey April 4, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    My son is just now 3 months old. This was beautiful.

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

      Oh congrats! It only gets more fun from there. Especially once you hit 12 months or so 🙂

  7. physicsandwhiskey April 4, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    Reblogged this on Science and Other Drugs and commented:
    What a poignant, hauntingly beautiful reflection on the challenges every parent faces.

  8. richard April 4, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    I now have a new favorite blog.

    Someone shared the same thing I thought: I can’t imagine my mother ever wondering about such thing when it came to me. My 49 year old mind understands. She had a rough row to hoe being pregnant at 18 in 1964 Texas. She liked to party hard and I kind of rearranged her plans.

    I get that. And it is not so much that I feel bitter or even hurt. I think it is more of an a strange emptiness that I cannot fully understand. It is like being born blind and wanting to understand the beauty of a rainbow but knowing that no amount of words or smells or touch will ever make that possible.

    At the same time, because I CAN see, I will never have a frame of reference to TRULY appreciate how lucky I am to be able to see a rainbow.

    I hope that makes sense. These are things that are difficult for me to find words for.

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      Yes, this makes perfect sense. Thank you so much for your comment, and for sharing your story. Seriously, so much.

      This is so incredibly moving:

      “I think it is more of an a strange emptiness that I cannot fully understand. It is like being born blind and wanting to understand the beauty of a rainbow but knowing that no amount of words or smells or touch will ever make that possible.”

      Thank you ❤

  9. angelacbartlett April 4, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    This was so lovely. My mother died when I was young. She’s a big question mark to me. Now I’m a mother to two young boys, and I often feel the same way you do–in awe of the fact that my husband and I made two amazing human beings. There’s that line from Neutral Milk Hotel, “How strange it is to be anything at all.”

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

      Ohhhh that Neutral Milk Hotel lyric is perfect! Thank you!

      I have a friend whose mother died when she was young, and now that she has a daughter she’s struggling to be something that she never knew in her own life. Or maybe struggling is the wrong word, but hopefully you know what I mean. And she’s realizing just how much she missed out on with her own mom.

      Thank you ❤

  10. DizzyDirtySweet April 4, 2013 at 5:39 am #

    That is beautiful. You perfectly sum up my fears about possibly having a child someday and bringing them into this world that I know so much and so little about at the same time. Thank you for sharing it!

  11. crunch April 4, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    I almost cried! Beautiful. I just dropped my little girl off at her first day of school and I’ve been wheeping hearing her screams and cries. This post is timely!

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      Aw oh man, that must have been rough! I can’t even imagine ❤

      And thank you 🙂

  12. Abigail April 4, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    Love it. Beautiful. Can’t wait until my baby, four months old today, begins making jokes. If his shits are any indication, he will have great comedic timing.

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

      Haaaaaaah the other week my kid pooped in the bath. I was like, seriously? There are 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day during which I freely encourage you to poop, AND YET YOU CHOSE THE FIFTEEN MINUTES OF BATH TIME, WHYYYYYY.

      And thanks 🙂

      • Writer / Mummy April 5, 2013 at 8:04 am #

        What is it about pooping in the bath? That and when we’re all sat at breakfast. Lovely

        This is a beautiful post. I don’t have anything more to add than what has been written here, and to agree that you’re an amazing mother.

  13. Amanda Wood April 4, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    This was lovely. I am going to share it via Google +, even though you don’t have that button above…perhaps think of adding it and other share buttons? Keep writing. Keep loving.

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      Oh! Good idea, thank you! I will do my best to figure out how to do that, hah 🙂

  14. zeudytigre April 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Reblogged this on neverimitate and commented:
    I enjoy reading many of the posts from The Belle Jar but this is just so beautiful that I had to reblog.

  15. vjstracener April 4, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    That is absolutely perfectly beautiful. I hope when I have a son to be able to have as much perspective as you seem to have.

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

      To be fair, it’s easy to have perspective at 10 pm with a glass of scotch in my hand 🙂

      It’s all a process, you know? You fuck up, but you keep going, and try to learn from your mistakes. The hardest thing for me was realizing that I was going to make mistakes, and there was nothing I could do to change that.

      • vjstracener April 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

        I have a hard time with that in every day life, I can’t imagine what I would be like with kids. And yes, scotch always helps. 😉

  16. nurseplummer April 4, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    You make me want to be a better grandmother, as this heart felt blog reminds me of everything important when loving a child. Thank You!!!

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

      Thank you! I’ll bet you are an absolutely wonderful grandmother 🙂

  17. Louise April 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    The dark fairies – yes. It took a few years of motherhood to understand the value of inviting them. Thank you for this beautiful letter – what a gift for your child.

    • bellejarblog April 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

      Thank you. And yeah, it took me a while before I realized that I couldn’t keep them away, so I may as well invite them ❤

  18. Kevin April 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    I feel like the other commenters have sufficiently discussed the greatness in this post. But still I feel compelled to tell you that I found this letter to be personally touching and inspirational.

    I have been thinking a lot lately about the special love a parent has for a child. A love that is described as indescribable. Well, this letter made me feel a bit closer to understanding that love without having experienced it first hand. Were I not in a public library, I would be wiping tears from my cheeks.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  19. Sweet Thing April 4, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    What a beautiful letter. My son is 22, and I want to say all of those things to him even now. Actually even more so now, as he is soon to graduate from uni and make his own way in the world. I hope that I too have left a trail more substantial than breadcrumbs.

    With the passion and love expressed so eloquently here, I think you should have no fears about your parenting skills and the love and security your darling boy will grow up experiencing. There is no greater gift a child can receive.

    Thank you for sharing. x

  20. Rebecca Knight Hutchens April 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    I’m a relatively new reader; I came to your blog through the Sister/Wife/Daughter thing, and then voraciously read as many of the previous posts as I could in one day. I have two young boys (one is almost 5, and the other is 2 1/2), and I feel your feels every step of the way on this one. The wonderment…I remember holding my older son shortly after his birth and saying, “This can’t only be biology. There is something amazing at work here.” I, too, worry about the issues of depression and diabetes. I see them model my way of being angry and cringe, but I also see them model my way of being spontaneously loving and my heart bursts.
    If you have another child, you’ll be even more amazed to see how they compare and contrast, from the very same genetic material!
    Anyways, mostly I wanted to echo everyone else’s beautifuls and amazings, and I am so glad I found your blog!

  21. AmazingSusan April 5, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    I hope you teach him to be a feminist. We need the parents of today’s boys to teach their sons differently than they way boys have been taught in the past. Great post as usual BTW 🙂

  22. revellingsjoy April 5, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    Thank you so much for writing that. He will love to read that when he is older and will really appreciate what a wonderful mother he has. As the mother of a severely autistic boy who is as sweet as sweet can be and brings joy to people just by his smile and sweet ways, I have been blessed. Loving a child, wanting to protect them from all the scary parts of the world is one of the greatest gifts a mother can give. Teaching him to be a kind, compassionate individual who does not take but gives will be the one the greatest gifts a mother can give to the world 🙂

  23. revellingsjoy April 5, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    Reblogged this on crystalharrison76 and commented:
    This was just beautiful!

  24. malarid April 5, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    this is so beautiful. thank you.

  25. lilykingtaylor April 11, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    One of the most beautiful blog entries I’ve ever read! So heartfelt and absolutely real. The photo below matches perfectly, I hope one day I feel this!

  26. the old jaw jaw (@oldjawjaw) May 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    I really, really, really love your blog. x

    • bellejarblog May 2, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      Awww thanks! 🙂

      • Marjie Eriksdottir May 29, 2013 at 2:14 am #

        Oh my god this made me cry. You have a knack for putting the words in writing.

        You took the words right out of my mouth.


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