I have not written for a long, long while, because I was tired of myself. I felt like I was trying to write about me, which therefore meant hammering on mostly about motherhood. Yet all mothers, unless they are experiencing some unimaginable tragedy of some sort, face the same sorts of frustrations and elations as I did and do, and no matter how creatively I spin it, yada yada yada, we get it – I’m still just one mom among many, dissecting the daily minutia.
But soon it will be my second son’s eighteenth birthday. And last year, on his birthday, we were all suffering from a vicious, vomity flu, and so the birthday boy spent his birth day and night staggering from the couch out to the front yard to projectile vomit in front of the neighbors. And he graciously, unbiddingly did this because the inside two bathrooms were being used by vomity girls and grown ups too sick to wish him a happy birthday or even contemplate the word ‘cake’.
And so I am inspired to wish him a Happy Birthday this year, publicly and profusely. And to direct your attention to the first sentence of the second paragraph, in which I utilize a key identifying phrase. Eli has always been my second child, my second boy, my second wind, my second chance. His birth happened in Massachusetts, far away from any other family, and when he was born after a long, stressful day and night in the hospital they rolled the two of us down the hall and put us in a shared room with another couple who’d just had their first baby. And that baby screamed non-stop. NON STOP. So that even during those first hours, when I was lying there gazing down at my quiet, blue-eyed, new little boy, some other boy was already overshadowing him, literally.
I had a very hard time picking a name for this second son of mine. I wanted to name him Jonathan, but Damon and I argued for months over the spelling (he wanted JOHNathan, I insisted on JONathan). That one H did us in. The name was scrapped and nothing else fell into place. For months and months I stewed, feeling bad that of course I had wanted a girl, since we already had one boy, but now the baby was a HE and I couldn’t picture him, or name him, or even figure out where to put him in our tiny little military house.
So it was that we placed a crib at the end of our very long, very white, very boring bedroom, and in that crib we had some blue snowball and candy cane material that we made into bedding and bumpers. That was all we had for décor. This baby had nothing else new or exciting or interesting at all. All the baby clothes and paraphernalia I already had from Jacob. I needed nothing except perhaps a warm bunting of some sort, because this second son of mine was expected in December, and we were in Massachusetts, and Jacob was born in California. So I did buy some blankets and warm little outerwear for this vague ‘Snow Baby’ of mine soon to arrive. And then I waited. Each day during Jacob’s nap time I’d load a tray with Oreos and milk (oreos around the rim like a clock, milk in the middle), then waddle up to my bed, where I lay with the tray balancing on my bulbous tummy, eating and reading and crying as I stared over at that little forlorn crib waiting at the end of the room for a baby I couldn’t fathom.
Then one day I saw a greeting card in a Hallmark store that had a grinning little elf on it, with a flurry of snow flakes and candy cane trim, and I felt that this baby needed something cheerful, so I bought this little card and framed it and hung it over the crib. It read: E is for Elf
Each afternoon henceforth during nap time I still stuffed myself with Oreos and quiet weeping (Must Not Wake Jacob!), even as I stared down at the little crib area and the one little photo, thinking silently, ‘well, E is for Eli’. Then I would reprimand myself because I’d read it wrong. “No, it says ELF.”
Then ding, ding, ding, at last the lights went on. Hot Mercy! His name is right there! Over the crib! E is for Eli!!!
So he was named and subsequently born and I brought him home from the hospital during the first snowfall in Boston that year, and I sat in the car next to his car seat and looked down at him bundled up in the little green, quilted bunting I had bought for him, and he reminded me of Maggie from the Simpsons – pale, golden hair. Puffy, heart-shaped lips. My little winter star baby. And I loved him immensely and wondrously and was suddenly glad to have him.
And now eighteen years have merrily rolled along. And all that time he has been my second son, but also my happy little elf and a sweet shining star within our family. Instinctively, he is merry and bright. And perhaps more remarkably, unusually patient and undemanding. Throughout his entire childhood, while events were planned and carried out virtually non-stop for Jacob, Eli never complained when he had to wait his turn. And if things turned out disastrously with Jacob and we were no longer wanting to try them again with Eli, (soccer, baseball, boy scouts, the IB program, French, just to name a few), then we didn’t, and not once did Eli whine or fuss or say, “But what about ME!???”
When three more girls arrived in the years after him, and I was sick and overwhelmed and then eventually somewhat back to normal but now glorying in the girlness of THEM, he loved on them, too, and rarely demanded my time or attention apart from daily necessities.
And now he is eighteen! Emancipated! And I, the no longer legally necessary parent, ruminate over how much I miss his little boy smile and how he could jump straight up onto the couch’s arm from a both-feet-side-by-side standing position and then literally crawl up the door frames and hang upside down, smiling at us. I miss him wandering around the kitchen every school day morning (after asking him to get some lettuce for his bearded dragon) yelling bewilderedly, “What’s a bin?” “Huh?” “Where’s the bin?” I miss him drawing endless circles in his Blues Clues notebook, and spelling out “I WANT TO GO HOME” with his French fries on restaurant tables, and how the one time (the ONLY TIME) I took him out on a ‘date’ all on his own to Claim Jumper when he was about eight, we both ordered hot fudge sundaes and by the time they arrived he had slumped over in the booth, sound asleep.
I miss that little Star Boy, who good-naturedly followed his older brother on every adventure and whim, but who lit up our whole family with light and sweetness and early morning happiness.
From the moment I realized his name and brought him home in his star bunting in the snow, Eli felt like my very own little Christmas Elf, born both merry and bright, brimming over with enthusiastic energy and love.
Meanwhile I, the mother, am rarely merry and almost never brim over with anything but indigestion. Which was exactly the scenario the other night as I lay in bed, grumpy and malaised, contemplating abandoning my country once and for all Von-Trapp style, when Eli burst into the house after riding his bike home from high school choir practice.
“Mama!” he cried, rushing into my room. “Come and see the stars! They’re so beautiful!” His cheeks were bright red from being out in the crisp night air and his blue eyes – how they twinkled (that doesn’t seem technically true, but it paints a picture, doesn’t it?)
He came to my bedside while I hemmed and hawed and coughed and chortled and stood there practically boucing upright with excitement. “Come on, Mama, you need to see this, it’s incredible!”
So I followed him outside in my nightgown, trailing this suddenly tall, grown, man-boy, and we stood under the stars, and he laughed with delight and happiness at how bright they were, how many you could see, look up, look up, isn’t that so incredible, Mama?
And it was! The quiet hush of night wrapped around us. The cool, wintery air brought us closer together. His golden-reddish hair glistened against the shimmering stars overhead. The moment seemed immense and wondrous and I was suddenly so very glad to have him, there by my side.
Eighteen is a big milestone. It is like turning the page on a whole new chapter of your life. Yet I have no party planned as of now, no presents purchased. All I have is a birthday wish for my second son on his eighteenth year: that he knows this. All of this, that I’ve just written down. That somehow this Mama, without even wishing on an actual evening star, got him. Him! My star boy, my second son.
Isn’t that so incredible?