I once had a household of boys. They were pint sized and forever underfoot. My life was an endless existence of tripping over elaborate toy fire truck scenes and featured the indispensable me, in the middle of their Engine Company No. 9, my generous hip to waist valley made a wonderful holding tank for misbehaving and time-outed fire trucks.
Weeks and months and years of chubby cheeks to kiss and fall in love with over and over again with their velvety smoothness. Even chubbier thighs to raspberry when they weren't quick enough to get away from the sneaky mama alligator who hid behind the dining room chair legs to surprise them.
They would wake me too early, I never had the sleep I needed to take on the day. I would fix my small children breakfast, lunch, their dinner. Dressing them and washing them up and planning the activity for the day, everything was according to me. I had never been so essential in my life.
I am still in a household of males, but now, it's me who wakes them. When I ask what they'd like for dinner, sometimes the answer is "I fixed myself something already, thanks, mom." Dressing them? My clothing choices are met with rolled eyes and "you're kidding me, right?" And how is it that I've gone from knowing by blind memory every inch of their body, from the small pinpoint brown freckle on the outer edge of one's left foot to the pinkish quarter circle on the other one's left elbow, to not having seen their bodies in longer than I can remember?
After our first was born, I feared that if we had more children, I couldn't love them with the same interdependent existence that my first and I shared.
At seven months pregnant with you, our second child, the middle of the night would have me eyes wide open, asking what if, what if, what if I don't love him as much as my first one? But then, you were born, and the amazement I felt at seeing your face for the first time made me gasp, as if I had never seen a baby of mine before. I remember laughing when they gave you to me because I loved you so much that fast and how ridiculously incredible to love again like that.
I was once the mother of babies who squirmed to be out of my arms and let down, who then grew into children who'd wiggle free of my hands impatient to run in the park, and zoomed into teens who began taking phones into their rooms to talk privately. This, from a time when I could carry all three of them at once.
And today, I am the mother of a second adult child.
This is 18. The pudgy hands and creased wrists of yours that I memorized now have fingers longer than mine. My laundry basket is filled with your jeans whose inseams rival that of your father's. From boy to child to man, where if I hear a voice in the house, I'm tricked about who's home, is it you? is it your father?
This is 18. I watch you, my second boy, confident, happy, liking who you are. When I see you laugh with friends at school, or the ease with your smile when you greet everyone, it takes those words that creep into my heart, the ones that tell me You could have done more, been more, worked harder, for them, and shows me, that this life is good because you've come to believe what I've whispered in your ear since you were first mine: You're wonderful. You're beautiful. I can't wait to see who you'll be!
When do boys turn into men? It seems, overnight.
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Happy birthday, my beautiful son. You're wonderful. You're beautiful. I'm so glad you're here.