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I always used to feel sorry for mothers of older kids. It seemed that the world showered attention on the mothers who just had a baby, the mothers of cute little tykes playing with reckless abandon in the park, and especially “soon-to-be” mothers who were proudly parading their baby bump.

When I had babies and young kids, this attention was marvelous. What mother doesn’t swell with pride when a stranger compliments her on her pride and joy? “Look at that red hair! What a cutie!” I heard about my first-born. “Wow! Those curls! He is adorable!” was music to my ears about my youngest. I loved grocery shopping, or even better, going on a Target run with my kids, sometimes simply for the “applause” of how well I was doing as a mother.

As I pushed my cart with perhaps the curly-haired tyke in the seat and the red-headed wonder walking beside me ever-so-sweetly, I looked at other mothers with older kids…older and meaner kids…begging for things, knocking displays over, and generally wearing their mothers down and working them up to a boiling point simultaneously. I tried not to make eye contact with the naughty kids or the distressed mother, thinking that maybe this behavior could be catchy.

Many, many years later, here I sit way on the other side, having lived through the accolades of just producing cute kids…to the trying times of chasing after those cute kids wherever they roamed in life…to the present time of having two giant (and still cute) men standing beside me and looking up to my now-bearded red-head and my now-very-long curly-haired sons.

Do I feel sorry for myself now that I can’t walk through the grocery store and get compliments for my precious babies? Oh my, no! It seems I was wrong when I was on the other side of motherhood. The compliments still come, but are more about who my sons are rather than how they looked. And now, after 21 and 17 years respectively, my sons mean more to me than ever. They are the ones whose compliments matter most.

And mothers of boys, let’s be honest here: Those compliments from our sons are like liquid gold, rare but simply amazing when we receive them.

When we’re mothers of young children, we think nothing will be better than the wet sloppy kisses on our cheeks and the tight hugs around our necks that our kids give to us for no reason. When we’re mothers of much older children and adult children, we know that the conversations, the texts, the nonverbal language shared between the family, and yes, the hugs – although now not quite as exuberantly delivered – we realize that this – this – is the pinnacle of motherhood. Proud moments are now multiplied; worried moments threaten to take our heart to new capacities, and “Mom moments” abound now at “the pinnacle.”

I’ve always heard, “Once your kid, always your kid” and now finally understand the true meaning of this here at the pinnacle of motherhood. I look at my giant sons and still see toddlers.

I see my red-head standing at a parade, waving his arms wildly and shouting, “Ober here! Ober here!” He was following my sage advice of “Ask, ask, ask” at a very young age and never failed to receive a shower of candy and other goodies at any parade.

I see my curly-haired son walking slowly with other kids after school, smiling and listening to them, following my advice of “The person who listens the most, learns the most.” His laid-back style of being a confidant will serve him well in his future career.

So mothers of kids of any age, thank you. You are doing a great job! You will get through the tough times and will experience things you never had in your master plan for your children. Your kids will make you proud; they will worry you; they will disappoint and shock you.

But mostly, they will listen to you and learn from you, and hopefully, they will always love you and give you exuberant hugs on Mother’s Day and beyond.

Michelle Sprout Murray is a freelance writer who lives in Mason City with her family. She may be reached at queenmom@mchsi.com or michelle.murray@mail.waldenu.edu.

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