Brawn Before Brains

So.

My practically 25 year old son (I’m only counting because I read in National Geographic that my teenagers’ brains won’t fully develop until they are 25 and my held breath is getting thin) called last week and informed me that he “might be coming by” tomorrow.

This was call for celebration, as he moved thirty minutes away and now sighting him is as rare as seeing Bigfoot.

My response was a bit enthusiastic and I didn’t really ask him, you know, why he was coming over.

Enough to know the child cared.

I cleared my schedule, just in case.

When his car pulled up in front of the house the next day, I speed dialed Hubby.

“He’s here!” I told him, opening the front door, “Just now!”

Hubby immediately left work, calling an extended lunch break, and raced home to see the kid.

I hugged my tall, skinny firstborn and pulled him into the house, saying, “Come sit down and let me feed you!”

This is what moms do. Feed kids.

I put some leftover chili into a big bowl and said, “Wait. Why aren’t you at work today?”

I checked the giant wall calendar to see if I had missed a major holiday.

It’s happened.

“I’ve got the next two days off work,” replied the kid, reaching for a spoon, “I can’t use my hands right now.”

I did a double take.

His palms, forearms and elbows were ground up.

As in, there were holes where body bits should be.

I stood there speechless as Hubby walked in.

“Hey!” said Hubby, “Long time no see, kid! How’s it going?”

He paused as the kid held up his hands for inspection.

I lost my appetite.

“Well,” stammered Hubby, valiantly reaching for a bowl, “um, that looks painful. What happened?”

Our eldest rides a vintage 10-speed bicycle that he loves, whether he owns a car or takes the train. Last week, it was in the shop for a tune-up and new tires, and it had just come back, sparkling clean and itching for a ride.

He lives at the top of a hill.

The hill bottoms out onto a major roadway.

“Mom,” he used to say, “you know I love to ride fast…”

He admits that he was going much faster than his usual way-too-fast down the hill and that his rear tire must have hit a small pebble.

Our son has never worn a helmet, not even after he split open his head on a brick wall in high school.

“Mom,” he says, “you know I know how to roll when I fall. I never come close to hitting my head.”

His sounds of imminent destruction alerted a gardener doing yard work nearby. He ran over to my son, lying sprawled in the middle of the road, and tried to drag him out of harm’s way.

“Mom,” says my son, “you know a car has never come near me.”

His girlfriend drove over and carried him and his bike back up the hill and they put his pieces back together.

“Mom, you know that doctors can’t do anything.”

I fell into a seat half-way through his story and eyed his body up and down, wondering what mangled body bits under his clothes were being hidden.

“Mom, you know I heal fast. There’s nothing broken or anything. My shoulder hurts a little on the inside, but I think it’s fine,” he said, tackling the chili with gusto.

“The shoulder you broke when you were skim-boarding a few years ago?” asked Hubby, trying to choke down some lunch.

The kid reached for more cornbread, “Oh, I’m fine, I just can’t lift heavy stuff because of my hands.”

I passed him the butter.

“This probably isn’t the best time,” continued the kid, “but I’ve been shopping around for a while, and as long as I’m here I thought I’d ask you guys if you would mind co-signing with me on a motorcycle.”

Hubby gave him one long look.

“Well,” said the kid, “I had to ask.”

He pulled out his phone. “Here, let me show you the helmet and jacket I’ve picked out for riding.”

I stared out the window, one hand on the cool, smooth countertop.

There were my sturdy, giant oaks and distant hawks, circling overhead, and a leaf had fallen into the pool.

This is what moms do. They breathe.

Unless, of course, they are holding their breath, waiting for certain kids’ brain cells to mature.

As Hubby prepared to get back to work and the kid gathered himself up to leave, I hugged them both good-bye.

Hubby’s was a little fierce, but he’s a solid guy.

Then, cuddled in my arms for one brief second was a pudgy dimpled ten-month-old with a smile that could light up Christmas.

Hugging me back was a limber young man who turned his bright smile to me and said, “Love you, mom.”

And this is what moms do.

They let go.

 

Robbing Peter, Paying Paul

Something I wrote 2 years ago and I want to remember it.

I’m in mourning.  My unsuspecting child hit the point of no return on his timeline.  The moment when a boy becomes a man.  I do not refer to the rite of passage wherein he must kill his first bear or be tied to an anthill to prove his valor.  He just turned 13.

And he will never be the same.

My biggest newborn was a hefty 9 pounds, 7 ounces, and a happier baby you will never meet nor a sweeter little boy.  My son has always looked out for others, taken his turn, held my hand, tried to please.  He followed my fashion advice.  He excelled in school.  My kind and gentle giant.

But not today.

My poor innocent was poisoned with testosterone overnight and in his place is the Dr. Jekyll of teens.  It is suddenly asking too much to make eye contact, let alone enunciate, when he speaks.  A conversation of grunts is the new norm.  My tall handsome son has taken on a hunched shoulder and a slovenly hairdo.  Burping and body odor are no longer unfortunate incidents but matters of personal pride.

Oh my lovely boy, where have you gone?

Bill Cosby once said that he and his wife had five children “because they did not want six”.  I whole-heartedly agree.  Five is a wonderful number if you can pull it off.  Mine span ten years and I only hope that’s enough.  The timing with our family plan was that when the younger children were entering the delusional entitled teen years, the older ones would be exiting them with a new-found sense of gratitude and maturity.  This way, there would always be somebody in the house who still thought I might know something.

Sigh.

Our eldest son just came home from a year-long commitment on AmeriCorps.  At the tender age of 21, he returned to much fanfare and chicken enchiladas.  Sometime the next day, he pulled me aside and confessed that during his wanderings he realized that his parents had actually “busted their butts” raising him and his siblings and he appreciated it.  He met many, many kids out there with parents that they themselves were having to parent.

Home is a place for our kids to be kids but that may be a rarer thing than I assumed.

I remembered all the times I wanted to throw in the towel, give in to them, give up on them, or run away from them….but didn’t.  You practice doing the ‘tough love’ thing until you can balance the ‘tough’ with the ‘love’.

And eventually, if you don’t die of a broken heart first, they grow up.

I spent some years praying hard and loving our eldest furiously.  Sometimes it wasn’t pretty. I hoped his latest adventure would get his feet firmly planted and his head on straight.  And now his head, while definitely set much straighter, sports a fresh mohawk celebrating his graduation from the self-imposed straight and narrow. He stands tall and is ready to move on to the next part of his story.

He is kinder, he is gentler, he is thoughtful.

We make eye contact.

So in one month, I have lost a son and found a son.  There are places where the transfer is not yet complete; both need a haircut and who doesn’t love a good healthy belch?  I am going to miss my younger son terribly while he’s gone.  I see days coming where I will have to go ninja on him to save him from himself or perhaps hold tightly to some line in the sand while he figures out up from down.  But we are raising men and women of courage and values.

They will only know what that looks like by looking at us.

Of course, there is our youngest, yet untouched by teenager angst.  God knew exactly what He was doing when He provided the last-born comic relief for our family.  With all of the changes in our growing brood, his enthusiastic smiles and guileless dedication to childhood is refreshing. It reminds me that, like Peter Pan, that little sparkle of youth inside carries through, no matter what our age.

Growing up is a process of someone’s heart deciding who it wants to be and when.

There’s faith and hope and love during the wait.

And thankfully, the sparkle of laughter along the way.