"It happens and I don't know anyone who can explain it. A child walks in the door and that child belongs to you. The odd thing is that it is seldom the kid you would expect it to be....Sometimes it's the kid who is the neediest, the one you have to spend the most time with. And sometimes it's like falling in love. Inexplicable chemistry." - One Small Boat by Kathy Harrison
(He does this sort of thing to make a spectacle in our living room, to get a rise out of us. So we react in kind and shake our heads and laugh. I practice my street talk and he says it's improving and this is just one of the ways we love each other.)
Somewhere around midnight the night before, as timely as ever, I was overcome by the surging truth that the paper plate banners simply had to come out. This will probably be the one and only time he'll be under my room on his birthday, and he needed the full Martin Birthday Experience, which, in this case, ended up being the paper plate banner (the gift that keeps on giving!) and a bunch of balloons strung up by yarn. (He's up and out of the house well before it's light out, and I secretly hoped they would scare the liver out of him.)
I spent most of the day in the kitchen, making a recipe he messaged me via Facebook, back when he still had hope in the intersecting of our culinary worlds.
Loaded Chicken and Potatoes.
People - so good.
It was a homemade cheesecake stuffed inside a homemade red velvet cake, frosted with homemade cream cheese frosting.
Hey, kid? I love you.
(Don't tell him I just called him a kid because he's especially sensitive about this sort of thing now that he's twenty, but I'm saying anyone who still sneaks up and tickles their dad falls under the category of "kid". And I'm sticking to it.)
I wanted recognition for the effort I put into loving him, for spending my day in that blasted kitchen when I could have had my nose in a book.
They say love is full of grace, but apparently not mine, because I keep seeing the way I want to secretly lord mine over my people, making them feel small next to my sacrifice. It's gross and I hate it, but there it still is, never going away.
Instead of oohs and aaahs and thank yous, he was grumpy, texting his life away at the table when he knows that's the one time we ask him not to. He didn't make eye contact, didn't have a word to say about anything, huffed and puffed when Cory told him to put his phone away.
Happy birthday, this is a disaster.
I wanted it all to be bigger than that.
I wanted myself to be better.
I wanted the fairytale that doesn't actually exist, but I wanted it more than ever that night, because birthdays are a bigger deal than he's ever been shown, and I wanted him to feel that for once.
What we all got instead was ordinary. Imperfect.
We got real life, which is what we've gotten every day for the past six months with this guy.
And I have to believe that's the way it was always supposed to be.
I thought about what we were doing exactly one year ago, and about how much had changed since then. In some ways, our hearts feel somehow further apart, but boil that down, and it's obvious that now we're more fully together. We're a truer version of family, warts, fights, gripes and all.
(He's done the same for me a hundred times, and he hasn't even known me that long.)
I feel like he decided to let some things go, too.
A family is a safe place to do that.
We don't have to debrief every swinging mood.
Then he said he's not much for being the center of attention, "so can we skip the singing?" And we belly-laughed because his intention and purpose in every moment of time is to ensure his position on center-stage. Oh my word, I don't even.
His reward for that kind of nonsense was a double-round of Happy Birthday, round two sung in Spanish.
Our tallest homeboy will be moving out in just over a week.
I can't talk about it.
I can't talk about it, for real.
I'm terrified and ready and mostly, I'm deeply, passionately terrified.
And sad, I'm sad, too.
I'm interested in getting reacquainted with a little evening-peace-and-quiet, but I already know it'll be too quiet and too boring and I'll miss him yelling "MOM! MOM! MOMMMM!" through the house and I'll be overcome with nosiness about all the details in his life I'm no longer privy to and I'll still want to meddle in his relationships and finances and WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MYSELF?
Be prepared for a hearty dose of over-processing in the days to come. Consider yourselves warned.
I don't necessarily love saying I have a twenty-year-old son, because nineteen seemed old enough, but he's reminding me every chance he gets that it's now mandatory that I make all necessary adjustments.
So, fine. My oldest son is twenty.
He's becoming more of a man every day and he's still all kid.
He's affectionate like a child and tall enough to pick his Dad up and toss him around without warning.
He's sensitive and loyal.
He loves his boys and takes parenting them seriously.
He's teachable. A good listener.
He's generous with his heart.
He's a hard worker.
He's the class clown.
He's just the son and brother we needed.