My Son’s Story

Every child has a story. Most of the time, it’s the story of his birth. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s a story that is told by someone who loves him most. And, little by little, it’s a story that lays itself on a child’s heart, and whispers itself in his ear when he needs to hear about family, and love, and belonging.

Both of my children know their story, because their dad and I have told it to each of them many times. Sometimes they ask for it, but they hear it at other times because I want to say it out loud and see them smile knowingly.

My son’s story begins with a lunar eclipse and ends the next morning with his (then) blue eyes staring up at me, squinting and calm but asking “Are you my mama?” and my answer “Yes, that’s me.”

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My boy’s story will be thirteen years old this month, and so I’m reliving this first scene where his life began. As a result, I’m getting sentimental and melancholy as opposed to feeling simply nostalgic like a normal person.

You see, I never pictured myself as a teenager’s mom. I was always comfortable in the role of harried, messy mom of toddlers and preschoolers. I must have spent hundreds of hours mixing up a million batches of playdough and picking the remnants out of the carpet at night. I knew all the songs. I had all the equipment. I finally learned how to work the seatbelts in the carseats. I read them all my favorite books from childhood, which became their favorite books too.

But I suspect that I might actually have a knack for being a teenager’s mom. For one thing, I am starting to look the part, with lines on places where I worry too much. For another, I have really taken to the sarcastic banter with The Boy, and don’t mind a bit of back talk as long as it’s successfully funny.

And here I am, ready or not, driving from school to home discussing politics with my nearly-adolescent son. He is full of opinions that seem to be forming faster than he can shock me with them. I don’t know where he gets all this information. I don’t know how he processes it into astonishingly inaccurate ideas.

He’s hilarious just like his grandfather (on my side, naturally), but unbelievably serious at the same time, and far too ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. He worries too much, and asks questions about the future, ones that keep me up at night, ones that show he beginning to understand what a responsibility this Life Thing is. He asked me the other day if his dad and I had a will, because we really should plan for the future.

In September, out of the blue, he decided to join the school musical, The Fiddler on the Roof, as a member of the stage crew. I assumed he and a buddy were joining together to try new and creative ways of slacking off. I asked him who else would be part of the stage crew, and he told me he didn’t know, that he just wanted to help out Mr. Dunger, the music teacher whose class he enjoys. The teacher asked him to be in the Bottle Dance and he said sure. He picked up his rehearsal schedules and didn’t miss a single one.

The other day I picked him up from a six hour rehearsal on a Saturday. He had missed a classmate’s birthday party because, as he said, he had this rehearsal and could not miss it. I took him to Starbucks for a treat and he sank into a comfy chair gratefully, long legs splayed out in front of him.

It was like he had just grown an entire foot in front of my very eyes (which I actually think has happened at some point this year). Finally I think I really understood that my boy is this separate person, living parts of his life that I don’t really know much about. I couldn’t stop staring at him, which apparently isn’t really a cool thing for a mom to do. Oh well, it’s not like I’ve done a lot of cool mom things in his lifetime anyway, so why start now.

He’s not a blue-eyed baby or a brash, curly-haired toddler. He’s not a sticky, noisy preschooler. He’s a teenager, one who has his own thoughts, his own opinions, his own nature.  One who was now rubbing his cap over his eyes, waiting for a milkshake.

He’s not a baby anymore. But I’m still his mama. His story is still being written. And I’m so grateful for this extraordinary boy’s life.

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The Birthday Fairies

When I was a young mother I enjoyed creating new traditions for my children. I think I believed that the more exhausted you were every night, the less likely your children would have to be bailed out of prison some day. So every time my children had a birthday, they would wake up that morning and found that the “birthday fairies” had arrived sometime during the night and decorated the house with their favorite Disney characters.

So the birthday fairies are up way past my bedtime on every October 27th and June 22nd, and I am unwinding streamers and blowing up balloons as quietly as I can even though it HURTS my FINGERS to tie those dang things after the fifth one. It’s all about the love and the traditions and the remembering what your mother did for you so you’ll feel a bit guilty about asking for a loan just until payday.

The Boy’s birthday is easy. It’s almost Halloween, and nothing’s more wonderful than turning your home into a House of Horrors even if it’s not someone’s birthday. The birthday fairies are pretty twisted anyway, so they love stuffing Daddy’s clothing into life-like poses with a Jason mask perched on the tippy top of the whole mess. The Boy has a great collection of cool Halloween weaponry, so the whole scene pretty much makes itself.

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My Girly, on the other hand, has a fairly sophisticated sense of fashion and décor. She had a brief obsession with Shrek at the age of two, but since then she requests things like “how about pastels only this year” or “what about a garden tea party theme” or “think Pinkalicious”.

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She’s classy. She lets me hang out with her too.

Here’s the thing. No one has accused me (aka Head Birthday Fairy) of a lot of sophistication. But God bless me, every year on June 22nd you will find me hanging flowers from light fixtures and sprinkling glitter into tea cups and giving all the credit to the small winged creatures I made up because childhood should be magical, darn it.

I expect that some day, when my daughter has her own child and has made the same foolish promises about fairies breaking into the house with princess birthday banners at 2am, she will remember what I did. She’ll maybe wonder how I managed to get the decorations at least twelve hours ahead of time and didn’t have to run out to Wal-Mart at 9pm with my eyeliner around my ankles (let’s just keep that to ourselves, how ‘bout).

She’ll be blowing up those balloons wondering why I spent over eleven years dedicating myself to an exhausting fabrication. She’ll think about a good way to break it to HER little girl about how the birthday fairies was a Lie Grandma Told, so she won’t have to keep up this charade, because it’s killing her, this birthday chaos that comes with a magical childhood.

But you know what? The next morning her little girl is going to be shaking her awake around some ungodly hour and asking her if They came. My daughter will go downstairs with her and there will be the result of the Fairies’ hard labor: a crooked banner that’s coming off the wall because gum doesn’t substitute packing tape, some half inflated balloons because those are easier to tie, and some glitter spread around her plate.

My daughter’s heart will sink and she’ll realize she should have done a better job and not been in such a hurry to sleep by midnight, but her little girl will interrupt that thought with a scream of pure joy and a clatter down the stairs with widespread arms in an attempt to physically take in all this wonder.

And then she’ll know something that I finally figured out too. We don’t create the magic of childhood.  It’s already there, in the eyes of a child who sees a crooked pink banner and knows for a fact that the fairies put it there.

That’s why I did it. And that’s why she’ll keep doing it, as long as her baby believes in magic.

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Like Son, Like Mother

When my son was born, nearly eleven years ago today, he could not have looked less like me. My husband’s Aztec genes took a maquahuitl sword to my wimpy Caucasian ones and into the world came a black-haired little boy with the loveliest toast-colored skin. I took comfort in his bright blue eyes. It was a fleeting comfort though, because by four months or so they were a deep, thoughtful brown.

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I never minded this, because obviously I found his dad to be a pretty cute guy. And I’m now sure that I subconsciously chose my husband in order to give my children the gift of beautiful brown skin. The last thing they needed on the Mexican coast was tender hide like mine, quickly and brutally burning, then peeling back to blindingly white again. This is what maternal instinct is all about.

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Physical features are not the only ways my son and I differ, although people are now saying that we do share similar facial features after all (YES! Put that in your maquahuitl and wield it, mighty Aztec genes!). My boy is the first born and this means his personality tends toward the following: reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, achieving, controlling.

This side of him is fascinating to me, because I was the baby of my family and I wasn’t even reliably unreliable. I always have an inner chuckle when he asks me about a particular waterslide’s survival rate, or requests a new straw for his lemonade once I’ve had a sip, because germs. I know it will annoy him and gross him out if I remind him that we once shared a body and that means the germ ship has sailed (so I usually make a point of it).

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But the ways we ARE alike matter more to me than just our physical similarities and differences. They are the ones on which we have built a relationship that, as my son gets older and I get wiser, have helped us get past the terrible twos, the freaky fives, the scary sevens, the… well you get my point. They connect us, and they deepen the bond we share. I’m counting on it, because thrilling thirteen is just around the corner. Just a few of the similarities and interests we share:

  • Love of the written word – from the time he was very small, we have shared an avid interest in books and stories. Some of our best times were spent in The Shire, or in Narnia, or in Zuckerman’s barn next Charlotte’s web.
  • Imagination – Once you’ve done enough reading, you’ll know it’s a good idea to keep your closet closed at night. I still do, and so does the boy. Not only that, we are both very creative worrywarts. We are capable of creating worst case scenarios for every situation. Not as handy a skill as it sounds, although you may want one of us around in the zombie apocalypse.
  • Zombie apocalypse preparedness –see above
  • Need for solitude –After a busy week, we often enjoy quiet time together without actually speaking. One of us might casually wrap an arm around the other while we each take up our own quiet pursuit. If you can call Plants vs. Zombies a quiet pursuit (he needs the practice, see above).
  • Sense of humor –

The Boy: (tells joke)

Me: I don’t get it.

The Boy (pauses): Me either.

Us: (helpless laughter)

Other Family Members: You guys are weird.

  • Bon Jovi – But then again, who doesn’t like “Living on a Prayer?” (you don’t have to answer that).

My son, like all of our precious children, is on a journey to becoming his very own self. Someday that journey may take him far from me. And that’s just the way it ought to be, of course. But for now I’m more alive, more grateful, more like the person I always wanted to be, because he chose me to come along (and carry the emergency kit).

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Wading In

About a year ago I was sitting on my daughter’s bed while she said her evening prayers.  She said this: “Dear God, please protect us from the bad guys because we don’t know how to protect ourselves. And we don’t like violence. Amen.”

Cuteness aside, I always knew that my little girl would be an activist for peace. She loved every living thing from the day she could curl her hands into our dog Gizmo’s fur and tap on the clownfish aquarium at the local pet shop. She embraced a non-meat diet and helped us volunteer with local animal rescue organizations. Her first day at the SPCA sanctuary was a day spent in her true happy place, surrounded by nipping, squirming puppies. She was covered with an isolation ward gown that was about seventeen sizes too big, almost as big as her smile.

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I wasn’t too surprised, then, that she insisted on celebrating her ninth birthday as a volunteer at the SPCA. She invited a few girlfriends to come along and get to know the wonderful work going on at the sanctuary.

The night before her birthday celebration, our family decided to walk our own two dogs in the neighborhood. We were on our way back when we passed a dumpster full of garbage. What we saw under the dumpster turned our evening around completely:  two very young, big-eyed, puppies, wagging their tails tentatively.

I will admit to you now that my first thought was this: “Oh man. We are going to have to do something about this. And I would really rather not.”

This is not easy to admit. I’ve always tried to teach the children to focus on what they can do for the world, instead of waiting to see what it will do for them. And yet, here I was, reluctant to save two lives just because it would definitely inconvenience mine.

My daughter didn’t seem to think so much as to act. My not-yet-nine-year-old walked up to the puppies, which waggled over to her as though sensing A Human In Action. She put out her arms and she picked them up.

In case you are wondering, she knows about germs and bacteria. She is aware that dogs in dumpsters may not be ever-so-clean. She knows she is fairly allergic to most short-haired dogs and would have a congested night. She picked them up anyway. And she turned to us and said “We need to take these dogs, because they will die here if we don’t.”

Her father and I floundered a bit. We told her that those puppies had a mother who would miss them. And then, like serendipity, a mother dog showed up. I asked my daughter to take the pups to her. I had a feeling of great hope that this was somebody’s dog and somebody’s puppies. The mother dog growled at her puppies and ran away.

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So there we stood, my little girl facing us with two filthy, desperately thin puppies in her arms. Tears were starting to fill her eyes but her face was pure determination. I suddenly realized that her father and I were standing hesitantly on the shoreline while our daughter was striding into the waves without a second thought.

So we got brave and we waded in after her. What comes next may be up to you.

We need some help with the costs of vet care and immunizations. We have had great support from friends in raising the first round, but are looking to complete the second and third rounds. We are also desperately looking for short term foster care and/or permanent adoption for our two little dumpster pups (their names are now Brownie and Buttercup, because our daughter had more right than anyone to name them).  If you can help out with either or want more information, please write to rhythm2rain@gmail.com. Like and share our page on Facebook called Rhythm’s birthday Rescue.  Jump on in.

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