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You wait for months and you labor for hours. You skip coffee and wine and fatty snacks for his benefit. Finally, you receive this baby, who, in a blink of an eye or rather a single final push, changes your world forever — this baby whose every move you chart, feel, assess, watch and hover over. You spend nights rocking him through goodness-knows-what-kind of colic or fussiness. You sleep lightly and check on him 100 times a night, just to make sure he’s breathing because after you give birth to him he is the breath of life itself to you.

You give up sleep, hobbies, time and peace of mind for him. You pray, worry, plead with God for only the best for him. You sit up nights to figure out how to afford the best education for him and how to teach him all he needs to know to love God and do his will. You wonder, ponder and strain your brain to figure out if vaccinating is the right thing or not. You question whether you feed him too much or not enough, indulge him too much or not enough, discipline him too much or not enough, spend time with him too much or not enough. You want to buy him all the cutest outfits you see and all the toys they make. You cannot, and it’s a good thing, because you would. There are not enough hours in a day to love this child.

He stretches towards his independence and you try to be patient. It is painful for him because he can’t stretch far enough for his tastes. It’s painful for you because he stretches too far for yours. He extends. He comes back, and you no sooner relax then he stretches forward again, each time pressing a little bit further away from you. Both of your elasticity grows.

When he gets his driver’s license you keep one eye on the clock, figure out how much time it should take him to each destination, and worry and pray when his return is a minute too long. When he gets his first job you are so proud that your heart swells to almost bursting. He is growing into a responsible human being, and Mozart’s mother could not have felt more satisfaction at hearing her son’s first concerto. When he leaves for college you feel your heart will break with loneliness, even though your house is full of others who fill your heart, ironically, equally.

He hurries in and out, not meaning to rush past you to his dizzying scheduled events. He doesn’t know why you stop your work and sit at the stool when he comes in and don’t resume until he is up and out the door again. He doesn’t see your struggle to hold your tongue in offering advice or direction unless asked, knowing he is capable now and not wanting to annoy. He doesn’t know you worry he’ll move far away forever and you will be left with his 20-year-old worn, nursery teddy bear as consolation. He doesn’t realize that when he stops momentarily for a quick hug before rushing out the door, that you treasure that gesture and recall it again and again, or that you’ve bargained with God a thousand times, “If you have to, take anything from me, but please protect him and keep him safe.

No, he doesn’t know these things, and won’t know, perhaps for another twenty years. It will dawn on him in the dusk of an evening perhaps after his own child leaves for a movie with his friend with a promise to be home ‘some time later.‘ He will suddenly understand. It will become clear like grey, parting clouds revealing an eternal blue sky in a high but gentle wind that comes seemingly out of nowhere but has been imminent all along.

In this swift revelation of the obvious he will call his mother and he will say, “I love you and thank you for everything you have done. I never realized.” And he won’t have, at least not until then. Paradoxically, he will not ever be able to repay that love to the one who loved first and most, but can only honor it truly and fittingly by bestowing it devotedly upon another unsuspecting progeny. For a parent’s love is mostly paid forward, not backward, and the recipient is unaware for years of the tenderness and care and severe, deep devotion his parent has had for him. Upon discovering this simple fact, when the light has finally been shone on the steadfast love, the secret circle will be complete — apparent and yet unknown for another generation.

In that one defining moment, which took much effort and many years to bring to fruition and awareness, he, the son, discovers personally and profoundly how sacrifice and love fit together so completely that they cannot be separated, like a rose with its thorns or a sunset with the darkness that envelops it. He learns in this remarkably singular yet sequential experience what he has likely been taught in books or told in words but could never understand until now. He learns Truth. He learns about real love, and in doing so he learns about God.