Monday, May 27, 2019

The Boy Turns 18

The Boy got his first sample ballot in the mail last week.  It’s for an uncontested primary, but a ballot is a ballot. He has mentioned that he’s paying more attention to politics now that he’ll have a say in it.  Coming back from Massachusetts last week, we took the “Mario Cuomo Bridge” (the new Tappan Zee). I mentioned that the first time I voted was for Mario Cuomo’s second term.  He asked me if Mario was related to Andrew Cuomo.

Sometimes you forget that what counts as common knowledge shifts over time.

I remember when he was born.  He was our first, so we were scared out of our minds.  I was watching Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN when TW stood at the edge of the room and announced unambiguously that it was time to go.  The next day, Memorial Day, he was born in the middle of the afternoon.

He was tall for his age from birth; he was the longest baby in the nursery.  When the nurse put him on the scale to weigh him, I was right next to him and said something like “hey, big guy.”  He turned towards me. It may have been reflex or coincidence, but I prefer to think it wasn’t.

We still have a photo of me holding him in the hospital the day after he was born, reading him a board book of The Runaway Bunny.  At the time, the prevailing theory was that children as young as three could benefit from being read to. We considered that silly; they can benefit from shortly after birth.  They might not know what’s going on at first, but gentle lap time and a soothing voice can only be positive. By the time he was two, he had a stack of board books that he kept in the living room; he’d swipe through the stack, scattering books everywhere, until he found the one he wanted one of us to read to him.  It got so repetitive that sometimes we’d hide a favorite under the couch, just to break the monotony. He especially loved the picture books about construction vehicles. To this day, whenever I see or hear a reference to a backhoe loader, I hear his little voice calling it a “backhoe Yoda.”

We discovered, too, that stories worked well as discipline.  The bedtime routine involved three stories. But if he did something that day that he wasn’t supposed to, he’d only get two stories that night.  “You’ll lose a story…” became an effective threat, because he knew we weren’t bluffing. I figured that if someone called Family Services on us to report that our kid was only getting two stories that night instead of three, we’d be okay.  It also drove home that reading is a reward.

He was a live wire.  We had an “exersaucer,” which is a sort of suspended seat held up by springs in the hole of a donut the size of a hula hoop.  He bounced in that so loudly that you couldn’t have a conversation. There were nights that we unplugged the baby monitor because he was loud enough that it was little more than an amplifier.  He hated going to bed -- the FOMO was strong, even then -- and would cry for nearly an hour many nights. I lost track of the number of nights I spent lying on my back by the crib, my hand holding his through the slats, until he’d finally fall asleep.  

We were lucky that he was always good to his sister.  She’s three years younger. She used to treat him as a sort of traveling circus, watching him and laughing at his antics.  He was gentle with her, which may be why we’ve been spared much sibling rivalry.

Even as a little guy, he was great with smaller kids.  When he was five, the two-year-olds flocked to him. He hasn’t lost that.  He recently got an award from the local running club for helping with their family fun runs -- he’d be the “rabbit,” setting a pace for the little kids to follow.  His youngest cousin adores him. I think it’s the “gentle giant” thing he has going. He wants to be a surgeon, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he found his way to pediatrics.  Kids just love him. When the time comes -- and there is noooooooo rush -- he’ll be a great Dad.

One of the best parts of parenthood is having a front-row seat to watching children grow into themselves.  He’s a young man now, and a good one. He’s as prepared for leaving for college as he can be: he knows what he wants to do, and he’s smart, hardworking, confident, funny, charismatic, tall, handsome, and considerate.  Admittedly, my sense of the dating market stems from the previous century, but that combination can’t be a bad thing. When he hit junior high, I advised him not to try to compete with the “bad boys” on their turf; that’s just not who he is.  Instead, be a gentleman. There’s less competition, and it suits him. I’m glad to report that he did, and it does.

He knows where he’s going this Fall, and he can’t wait.  Our theory of parenting was always that it was our job to get them to the point that they could leave the nest and thrive.  He’s eager to spread his wings. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

The house will be weirdly quieter without him.  But that’s supposed to happen, too. In the meantime, I’ll need a new pseudonym for him...