Me: “Hold that thought, Jacob. I’ll be right back.” Jacob: “O.K. Would you like me to pause or reset?”
Jacob is seventeen years old today. My eldest child, taller than me now, eager to be out in the world, forging his own destiny. I asked him to friend me on Facebook as a birthday gift to me, for being his mother, and he did, with a resigned sigh. I thanked him and then immediately posted a baby photo on his wall. I just couldn’t resist. After he saw it he went straight upstairs and shut his bedroom door and he still hasn’t reappeared, hours later.
But that is O.K. Juliet carried him up a plate of pancakes while I sat here and reminisced the course of his life, how I still consider him my personal ‘on-the-job-training’ manual. Because he was who I learned how to mother on. He was the kid I held the bottle for until he was almost three years old; the kid Damon overdosed with Nyquil the first time he had a bad cold; the kid we rushed to the ER after he shoved peas up his nose instead of thinking to just yank them out ourselves. He was the only kid we never lost our temper with, ever, and who received our undivided attention for years. Such a luxury he was to us, this quiet, patient, logical boy, with his mass of fiery red hair and his intense interests. First trains, then Godzilla for a bit, until Crash Bandicoot came along and flung him heart, mind, and soul into the world of virtual conquest, where he still hangs out to this day.
Jacob, like motherhood itself, often seems like a foreign country that dazzles me, even as I’m trying to learn how to survive there, one word at a time, street by street. Back when I was pregnant, I was positive he was in fact a she. I filled the nursery with lilac- framed Beatrix Potter rabbit prints and had Great-Grandma Becky quilt a peony-covered crib blanket. At last the big day arrived. After hours of labor I finally heard Damon triumphantly exclaim, “Here’s Jacob!” All I could think was, “What did he say? Did he just call the baby Jacob? I thought we agreed on Julia Katherine? ” I had previously told Damon to choose a boy name, whatever he wanted, never imagining he would actually get his way.
But suddenly here was Jacob. Yellow as a squash, and squealy as a hyena. That kid cried non-stop for the first six months of his life. Or so it seemed. People told me to put him in the car. He wailed non-stop. “Try the top of the washing machine,” someone volunteered.” He turned blue. “Play him the same song you played when you were pregnant,” Damon suggested. I did. Jacob vomited with rage.
Then, at six months old, Jacob stopped crying. Since then he’s barely shed a tear. An infinitely logical person, it seems to me he thought it would be easier to get all the childhood crying out of the way right at the start, so that’s what he did. He’s been quiet as a mouse ever since. And just as logical and literal about almost everything.
When he was barely three, I took him to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. He was trying to sip the tea straight out of the cup like it was his bottle. I said, “Use your hands, Jacob.” He promptly dunked both hands down into the tea, then looked at me like, “Now what?”. When he was four he started Little League Baseball. He had no trouble hitting the ball, but would walk to all the bases. The coaches went nuts. We were mystified. “Run, Jacob, run!” we cheered. “Run like your pants are on fire!” The next time Jacob was up to bat he hit the ball, then took off running, hands clamped on his butt like they were glued in place. Jacob ran around all the bases clutching his hiney, until at last he was home. “What were you doing?” Damon asked, mortified. Jacob gave him an earnest, non-emotive stare. “I was running like my pants were on fire! That’s what you said to do.”
One day not long after that Jacob ran into the play land at McDonald’s. I wandered in a few minutes later and found him standing in front of the shoe bin with his pants down. “What are you doing?” I whispered, aghast. Jacob looked up at me with his usual understated expression. “I’m taking off my pants.” he said. “But you’re supposed to take off your shoes!” I pointed to the picture of the big red clown shoes. Jacob smacked his forehead and nodded. “That’s right. I knew you were supposed to take off something, I just couldn’t remember what.”
That’s our Jacob in a nutshell. Forgetful but sincere. Literal to a faulty, often times comical, conclusion. A musical thespian who spent years warming up as a pretend train engineer. He’s not your guy for baseball, or dining out at a Chinese buffet, that’s for sure. But he is the best at being my first. And if I could pause or reset all these years with him, I would, in a heartbeat.