On the day this column reaches the newsstands, my oldest son will turn 17. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that concept. Was it really 17 years ago that I brought that nine-pound, 10-ounce kid into this world? I guess so. When I look into his eyes, I see the boy he was, but when I pull back, I see the young man he’s turning into.
It’s a bittersweet thing, to watch your kids grow up.
This boy changed our lives in ways only a firstborn can.
When the nurse put my son in my arms, I remember being dazed, exhausted, but mostly terrified. Who said I was ready to be a mother? How could the hospital allow me to leave with this precious bundle when I was little more than a kid myself? I was a child, playing house, enjoying the idea of having a baby. But as I stared into his deep, brown eyes, it got very real, very fast and I wasn’t ready. Here was this helpless infant, depending on me, when I didn’t have a clue as to how to care for him. And to compound matters, I didn’t feel like a mother. I kept waiting for this rush of maternal love for this little stranger and yet I felt empty. My husband, on the other hand, fell in love with his son the moment he was born. I remember watching as my husband, barely old enough to drink, wearing a funky bandana and operating on very little sleep, cradled that small bundle in his arms as if he were the most precious thing on earth. Whatever I wasn’t feeling yet, my husband found in abundance. He delighted in being a father, finding his way easily and without reservation while I floundered, too ashamed to admit I worried I’d never be a good mother because I felt so detached from this tiny being that shared half my DNA and demanded my every resource. I was afraid I’d never feel right, never feel what I was supposed to. For the first three weeks of his life, I relied on my aunt to be his primary caregiver. She loved and kissed him, gave him the affection he needed. She even gave him his first bath. I was too afraid of breaking him, of doing something wrong, to try.
Slowly, I found my footing as a mother but it was a rocky climb and the learning curve was steep. I made a lot of mistakes, some minor, some not. He was a very good baby, which was a blessing. He rarely cried and when he did, it was never loud and piercing. He was adorable and almost too pretty for a boy. He had gorgeous soft, chestnut curls that no matter how I dressed him, always made people think he was a girl. Eventually, I had to cut those curls and they never came back.
We almost lost him when he was 3; and to this day I carry the weight of the emergency room doctor’s condemnation for waiting too long to bring him to the hospital for his cough. By the time I carried his little body into the hospital, eyes rolling into the back of his head, he had such bad bronchial pneumonia that his lungs couldn’t pull in enough oxygen to breathe. The doctor told me another hour and he likely would’ve died.
I still see everything in my mind as it unfolded that day. Tears are never far from the surface when I go back. There is nothing heavier than a parents’ guilt, nothing tastes more bitter.
By the time he was 5 years old, he’d seen the inside of a hospital room five times for severe asthma with bronchial complications.
My husband and I have taken turns sitting by his bedside, holding his hand, wiping his tears, holding back our own.
And now, it seems the worst of his medical issues have passed and he’s becoming a young man. It hardly seems possible so much time has gone.
I have high expectations of all my children, but especially so of my firstborn.
He is special. Sometimes I’m hard on him. I won’t deny it. But the truth of the matter is, I love that boy with a fierceness that shocks me. For what was slow to grow in the beginning has taken root in my heart with the strength of an oak.
He probably doesn’t know the breadth and depth of my feelings for him — teenagers rarely do — but I know that every mother who has ever sacrificed her wants and needs, cut her childhood short, or has, in the plainest and simplest terms, grown up for the sake of her child, understands the emotion that crowds the confines of my heart when it comes to that boy of mine.
On Aug. 25, 1993 after 14 hours of labor with no epidural, a tiny baby came into my life … and changed it forever.
Happy birthday, my beautiful boy.
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.