#1 Son went back to Formerly Methodist Currently Hiptastic University today, after lying low here over Fall Break. While he was here I tried to adjust to my new glasses, with those devilish progressive lenses that transform your life, just as soon as they are finished giving you headaches and making you nauseous. My eyes struggle to find the right spots for looking far away and across the room, at the computer screen and the page.
When #1 Son was due to make his arrival in this world, I read a lot of books about what to expect. I had a degree in English and History, and I had worked in a book store and libraries, and I knew very well that everything I might want to know would be available in a book. My close companions were Sheila Kitzinger, Arlene Eisenberg, Penelope Leach and Dr. Spock. Of course, they didn’t always agree. But we learned and lived and eventually thrived, #1 Son and I.
But first, there was a period of adjustment. That child wasn’t much for latching on, and I wondered if I would ever succeed at nursing him. It was a rough ride in the back seat of our Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel out into the countryside west of Wahooville, the day we went to visit the La Leche League consultant. Note to other mothers: if you have a baby on Friday afternoon and go home on Sunday, you will probably miss the lactation consultant. She was willing to help us, but couldn’t get away from home on that fifth day of his little life, the fifth day on which we could not get him to latch on, so we went to her.
In the eyes of my mind I can still see her passive solar house, overlooking the mountains. We sat in the family room, and she encouraged me and cajoled the baby and rearranged pillows. Finally, he nursed.
Many months later I wondered if I would ever succeed at weaning him.
He was still a little guy when I suspected he might enjoy acting. At seven, he tried out for his first play. He was one of about 40 children in a production of Pinocchio at Children’s Theatre in City By the Sea, three weekends of complete chaos in an elementary school gym. He seemed to be having a good time during the rehearsals, and only later did I hear that one of the bigger boys had his fun squashing the littler boys behind a mat hanging from the gym wall.
Opening night I sat waiting eagerly to see him play the “Coachman’s Protector,” an amusingly tiny evil henchman to the bad guy in the play. He had just a few lines, and played all his scenes with his best friend, Mr. Know-It-All. His little face was so sweet and innocent. He was all dressed in black.
I will never forget the look on his face just before he spoke for the first time: he looked as traumatized by the audience as a deer in the headlights.
He was in the sixth grade when my father died, a very serious 11-year-old boy with glasses that gave him an owlish expression. The overly public memorial service at the College of Knowledge in Virginia wasn’t much of a setting for family involvement, but the minister (a female Episcopal priest whose parents were my parents sponsors when they applied to adopt a baby) asked if #1 Son would like to be the crucifer? Marching about with the cross at the head of the line is not something we’re accustomed to, but in this outdoor setting it sounded helpful for marking sacred space, and he was glad to have a task.
Later my father’s friends and relations kept saying, “He looks just like Billy.”
He’s a young man with a goatee now, going on 20. He went with me to buy the dryer, and the salesman talked to him, too. He can’t wait for rehearsals to start for what is his 44th play in 12 years. He’s lean and limber and loose and loving, sweet and dry at the same time.
On the way home we listened to Kanye West’s Late Registration, and he wanted to be sure I heard “Hey Mama,” Kanye’s tribute to his mother:
Forrest Gump mama said, life is like a box of chocolates
My mama told me go to school, get your doctorate
Somethin to fall back on, you could profit with
But still supported me when I did the opposite
Now I feel like it’s things I gotta get
Things I gotta do, just to prove to you
You was getting through, can the choir please
Give me a verse of You Are So Beautiful To Me?
Can’t you see, you’re like a book of poetry
Maya Angelou, Nicky Giovanni, turn one page and there’s my mommy
Tears came sharply, as did breath.
As we came back into the house, he said, “I want to do something like that for you someday.”
We stopped in the doorway, and I took a long look at him. My eyes knew exactly the spot. I could see him then and now, far and near, just begun and almost complete.
“You *are* that,” I said.