It really hadn’t sunk in until about 4 minutes ago. The baby is turning 18 tomorrow.
It’s not like I haven’t been thinking about this year for… well awhile.
My primary life role has been mother. I’ve been a mother since I was a fresh faced 23 year old. From that point forward my life’s focus would be to nourish, love, care, protect, invest in and raise my children to the very best of my ability. I would dig deep, and try really hard to not perpetuate the dysfunction of my past, of my childhood. I would try to raise functioning, happy, kind, loving, giving, empathetic humans who would go out into the world and do the best with their abilities. For the last 25 years, that has been my mission.
I remember the night I got pregnant with my youngest. My marriage was circling the drain. No amount of Dr. Phil books stacked on the bedside table was fixing us. But we had a rare night out and a few beers, and voila! Baby number three.
The pregnancy was hard. While I was only 30, I was exhausted. I was sicker, and had two other children. It was clear my husband was struggling. He was working 16 hour days at a hard labor job. He was gaunt and exhausted and we had all but quit communicating.
Baby three didn’t make a graceful entrance. Induced two weeks early to avoid having a 10 pound baby, it took 2 hours of active pushing to get him out of me. He didn’t breathe when he finally arrived and he was rushed away to NICU before I ever saw his face. I was sure my general malaise combined with early induction had hurt my baby. I sent my husband home. I didn’t care what he told our family and friends, I wanted everyone to go home. I saw no one. I spoke to no one. I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling and let the tears leak from my eyes in the dark and just waited.
Eventually a nurse came to tell me my baby was alive. He was on oxygen and would need to stay a few days and did I want to come down to try to nurse him? And I did. From that moment on, he joined his sister and brother in being my reason for everything, my single focus.
When I look at his first birthday pictures it fills me with incredible sadness. The contrast of this chubby, healthy baby and his laughing smiling siblings juxtaposed against my tight smile and my husbands hollow eyes breaks me. Four months later I would ask for a trial separation. Six months later my husband would angrily move out of our house.
The baby was both joyful and demanding. His sister carted him everywhere like a live baby doll. His brother thrusting toys into his hands before he could grip them and making him play. Despite the chaos of figuring out how to survive, moving out of our house, learning about dad weekends; we were happy, the four of us. Even when new people entered our lives, it would be the four of us.
The baby got wilder, and older and louder. He ran everywhere, and even at three and four and five he still prefered me to carry him. He was heavy, even as an infant. We joked his bones were made of concrete. He slept in my bed until he was 6. He had a pacifier until he was 8. I could hardly tell him no. He felt like a miracle, this happy sunshine boy with his halo of curly hair. He followed his siblings around like a puppy, eager to join in whatever they were doing. Always watching.
He was smart and quick witted and stubborn and righteous. At three when he bounced himself off my bed listening to Slipknot and cut his forehead on my open dresser drawer he looked me square in the face and said “why DON’T you close those?” and I remember thinking “why am I letting him jump on my bed to Slipknot!?” That would not be our last visit to the emergency room.
As the youngest of three, and when I decided to be in a relationship again for awhile, he had to learn to go with the flow. He always had older siblings outvoting him for restaurants and activities and movie choices. He didn’t grow up with Barney or Blues Clues like his siblings, he learned language by watching Friends and The Simpsons, shows his older siblings watched. He played video games I didn’t approve of with his brothers. He got to watch R rated movies by the time he was 5. He constantly heard “I didn’t get to stay up – do that – watch that” from his siblings.
He also got the most flack. As the baby of the family he got picked on relentlessly at times. The older his siblings got, the less they appreciated his non-stop commentary and attempts at humor. He always wanted to be funny. It wasn’t until his siblings moved out and on to their adult lives that he really found his voice. And he is indeed, so damn funny.
He also absorbed the most. He watched his older siblings go through adolescence and the pain and struggles they endured, that we all endured with them.
His first word was “Tay” and when she left for college he felt the loss of her leaving the most. He felt deeply the split of myself and my partner, losing that man from his life who he had known since he was six. That was the second and last time he would grow to love someone other than his father, and watch them leave. I wouldn’t openly date again.
At eleven he had to deal with his step-brothers suicide and the crushing depression that exacerbated in his older brother.
In one year he dealt with the loss of his grandmother, his big bro moving out and moving across the country, me losing a job I loved and watching me try to keep it together through all of the things, he was always quick with a hug. It was not a good year.
But here we are. The night before his 18th Birthday and I think about all that we have gone through together, this kid and I. This tough little baby who spent his first few hours trying to decide if he was going to breathe or not. At some point he took a big deep breath and said “ok, lets do this” and that’s how he approaches life to this day.
I got home today after cleaning a house, and as I got out of my car he came bounding down the steps to the curb. I asked him, “whats up?” And he said “nothing, I just came down to help you carry your stuff in”. And that tells you everything you need to know about him. He thinks ahead, he thinks about what would make you happy, would be helpful. He’s kind and empathetic and giving. He’s taken all of the lessons he’s watched, absorbed and lived and he gives. He’s simply, a good guy with the emotional intelligence of a man twice his age. He tries to make life better, easier, and more fun for everyone around him.
I’m excited to see him join the ranks of his two older siblings in the world of adulthood. Curious to see how his path unfolds, excited to see what’s next for him after high-school. Proud already of the man he is.
The baby turns 18.