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My Son Is Graduating: Looking Back at a Happy Childhood

My youngest child has just one more semester of high school and then my day-to-day active parenting will come to a close. Until then, I’m taking advantage of an extremely cold weather snap to hunker down and organize my photo albums. This way, I’ll have all his pictures ready for the big graduation party this summer.

As I’ve sifted through the year he was born to the present, I’ve discovered a few things. First of all, what was with high-waisted AND pleated jeans? What a completely hideous style for my body.

But to the project— looking at photos from when my boys were really young took me by surprise. I had to step back and re-enter that time of life. In the pictures, they are giggling, squinting from sunshine, running, playing with Matchbox cars. They are gorgeous, healthy, and rosy-cheeked. Hugging one another, showing off their Cozy Coupe skills. They look so happy, so well tended to. So loved. It was a happy childhood.

I did appreciate this at the time, but I was very fixated on the details. When I was in those trenches, those day-to-day scrambles to keep everyone alive and relatively content, I felt very focused on survival. Things were always looming, big things—expenses and decisions.

To be clear, I loved raising my boys and I am quite proud of my role as mom, but I was concentrating so hard on making sure everything on my list got accomplished, I didn’t realize how much of the routine I was blowing past.

What Makes a Happy Childhood?

As I sift through the pictures, I see that my boys did have a happy childhood. Now, it wasn’t perfect. There wasn’t much money; I struggled to make ends meet; I was deeply bruised by my divorce. But we had a fantastic daycare, a safe neighborhood, access to libraries and parks and more family and friends to love on us than I can count. My boys were always well fed, properly clothed, prepared for the first day of school with all their supplies. Their permission slips were always signed on time, they were registered for sports and other activities, they practiced their instruments, and they went to Sunday school. They didn’t know I often cried on the way to work after dropping them off at daycare. They only knew they were loved. We made lemonade out of lemons for sure.

All those years, my head was worrying about giving my boys everything they needed, but now I see crystal clear that I was wildly wrong. While their childhood was a deep walk from perfect, it was absolutely just as it was supposed to be.

Renee Brown lives in Minneapolis with her two tall sons—Sam, 20, and Zachary, 18—and three obstinate felines. She is a senior account executive working in advertising and an avid reader, wine drinker, creative writer, and yoga enthusiast.

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