What do you call a dinner conversation that involved hearing about how your husband can identify which guy in a parking lot will have tools so he could crawl under his Jeep and fix the starter? Or when Flash talks about some punk kid that goes to school with him flippantly calling Flash "buddy" at the tux shop, and your son's equally sarcastic response? Or learning that your husband may have been on speaker phone instead of hold at Auto Zone when he said, "Man, I have to piss like a racehorse?" Or how Flash had to think of how to delicately remind The Mister about the button in the Jeep that he had just recently told us about when The Mister couldn't get it into neutral? Or when the boys try to explain why The Mister smells a little perfume-y. Or when the teenager starts singing along to Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero"? What do you call conversation over dinner where your husband and teenager have you laughing so hard you cry, recounting the events of their afternoon? Well, at my house, we'd call it, "typical."
If you're stopped at a light and some guy in the lane next to you jumps out of his car and walks over to you and unexpectedly slams the hood of your car shut and then gets back into his car and drives off, do you try to catch up so you can thank him or do you laugh thinking about how odd the whole scene must seem to everyone else on the road, when you know that guy was actually your husband shutting your hood after you had to jump start his Jeep?
I remember birthday parties and themes over the years. A construction cake, sleepovers, building a stand for a new fish tank. Giggles and smiles and celebrations of an amazing child. But this one is different. This one is hard. This one is eighteen.
I think about it every year, the drive to the hospital, the complications in delivery, the blue of his little feet and his cry, when it finally came. I remember missing my mom with an ache that hurt more than giving birth. The days following are the proverbial blur - summed up by saying I had never before felt so unprepared. For a girl who had graduated with honors, I had no idea how to get this child to stop crying - something that seemed like it should be so fundamentally easy at that point.
We've journeyed through life - through divorce and relocating, through the Year of the Death Glare (12 was tough on us both), through first girlfriends, hard classes, learning to ride a bike, then drive a car; and most recently applying for college.
We have yelled, cried, sobbed, laughed, held grudges, forgiven each other, hugged, smiled, winked, smirked and wrestled. We've consoled each other, made tough decisions together and forged our way through life together. He's been my constant companion for all the years.
His nickname has never seemed as appropriate as it does today. Eighteen years? They've gone by in a flash. It isn't possible for me to be the mother, a woman in her early forties trying to balance college money and retirement savings. And when I look at him, it doesn't seem possible that he can be the same boy as the little blonde boy walking around the house with an audio cable - "plugging" into the couch cushion and speaking in martian to the other end. It's easy to say, "Where did the time go?" but if you're a parent, you know the answer.
It was spent holding a crying baby with tears running down your own face because you can't figure out what's wrong and you just wish he could tell you. It's spent trying to figure out what your preschooler is trying to tell you from the back seat and finally realizing he's talking about a yo-yo - something you've never shown him or talked about - realizing he's now learning without you for the first time in both your lives. It's spent holding onto the back of a bike and lying to your child when you promise you're not going to let go, you're not going to let him fall. It's spent pouring over a math textbook that might as well be written in Greek knowing that despite your education degree, you cannot figure our your middle schooler's math assignment. It's spent worrying about him letting him in to the house and staying safe until you get home from work. The time is spent shopping for new shoes and new sweatshirts (red when he was seven, orange when he was a teen, and now green). The time was spent in parent teacher conferences wondering if you've put too much on his shoulders at such a young age - is freshman English too much for a seventh grader? The time is spent driving to the apple orchard, the strawberry patch, Bowman's Tower, the shore, Tennessee, Michigan, back and forth to Cleveland so he can meet up with his grandparents... the time has been poured, moment by moment, hoping that everything you did would amount to something. More than making memories together, you prayed all along that you were making a man - helping to create a human being that would be loved deeply for all of his life (by more than you just you!)
It's not that he's not ready to be an adult and to move on. It's not
that I think he's not prepared, or that he'll fall flat on his face. No,
it's that he is ready. That he'll do just fine. He's going to be better
than fine. It's just that he won't be here. I won't hear about his day every night. I
won't sit around the dinner table with him and hear about all his
friends, his Calc test, his work schedule or his plans for the weekend.
I won't have him around, cracking jokes at my expense or wrestling with
The Mister. He won't be here playing cards, mowing the lawn or riding
with me on our drive to school every morning. I'm going to miss him so. We are going to miss him so.
And so today, we will celebrate this milestone birthday. Tomorrow is prom, next month graduation and in the fall - well, let's not even talk about that today. For the one thing I've learned over all these years is that as painful as giving birth was, as much as I cannot truly think too hard about all that happened that day or how truly terrified I was, I know this: giving him wings is proving to be as painful and as terrifying.