The Apple of My (Boy Mom's) Eye
The neonatal intensive care unit doctors and nurses nicknamed him the lineman of the NICU. Three weeks early, two full feet long, and 11 pounds on the scale, my freshly born baby boy was nearly seven pounds heavier than the next heaviest of his hospital peers. His size was top of discussion for everyone who came and went in that sacred space where the tiniest, sickest, most vulnerable babies reside. Although the levity was needed in that otherwise emotionally souffléed environment, I was the only adult who didn’t delight in musing over how much bigger the “lineman” could have grown had he made it to his due date — but I smiled anyway while staying focused on why I couldn’t take my baby home.
Soon after Christopher’s birth, we were given the news that he would most likely never walk or talk, and there was “no idea” of cognitive ability. The numerous specialists who poked and prodded our compromised baby boy said that although they couldn’t be sure, his future wasn’t promising. He had a host of challenges, from almost no muscle tone to trouble feeding (later finding a cleft in his soft palate), from not remembering to breathe to asymmetrical qualities, among other anomalies including an adorable extra pinky on his left hand. At one point, they said he was blind; at another, they suspected muscular dystrophy. When I wasn’t standing bedside, I was poring over the paperwork, test results, and pamphlets of every suspicion and possibility in order to learn as swiftly as possible how to best support this new, vulnerable creature in my life.
I loved and hoped for my son in the same fashion the mom across the neonatal intensive care unit did for her anencephalic baby girl, in spite of the dire speculations that made their way into our ears. And in our incredible love for our babies, we were forced to open our hearts to the idea of letting them go.
“I don’t want to lose you,” I cried one day while cradling Christopher, careful not to disrupt the feeding tubes, IVs, and the many wires attaching him to incessantly beeping monitors. “I’m here forever if you can hang on. I’ll be the best mama and I’ll help you be the best boy.” I wanted him to feel my hope, but I wanted him to feel peace, as well. “But I will let you go if that is what is best.”
We took Christopher home four weeks later. I promised God, the universe, and most importantly, my sweet baby, that I would pour every ounce of my energy into ensuring he reached his potential, whatever — and everything — that may be. It was a challenging road to navigate in the beginning with several surgeries and a host of intervention services. But ManCub, as I came to call him, began hitting milestones at 10 months old, and walked by his first birthday.
His presence in the world quickly filled every empty space he entered; in size and spirit (he is now 6’ 8”), and then eventually as a contender on the basketball court and football and track fields, but mostly as an incredible force of kindness, love, curiosity, and joy. From making sure to bring a little happiness to those who appeared around him to talking a young woman down from a bridge as she contemplated ending her life, Christopher shows up with eyes and heart wide open, always. And I can’t help to think his trials in the beginning of his life helped him develop an ability to sense the pain and challenge within others, and a deep empathy to stand with them.
We are 21 years into this mom-and-son journey now, and life with ManCub continues to be a grand, wild ride. He’s taught me more about myself than I could have imagined at the start of this adventure with him. We’ve shared so many tender, brilliant moments together, from those early times in his life to more recent heart-to-hearts on “locker room talk” and having the courage — and finding the right words — to encourage respectful behavior in his peers; to showing up for his sister no matter how many times she decides to move in or out of the house because it’s a family’s job to be a safe, trusted place for those we love; to unmeasurable lightheartedness and laughter.
To honor the joy of this young man, along with so many boys and men trying to find their place in a world full of confusing expectations and blanketed criticism, here are a few recent magical mom-and-son moments, vignette-style, that keep me chuckling on good days and bad.
1Living in the Moment
A local university offers a fundraising opportunity for school groups to run concession stands during basketball games for a share in profits. ManCub and I volunteered to work on behalf of his high school senior all-nighter a few years ago. After scrambling the brains of everyone around me — order after order — as I worked one of the six cash registers, I admitted I was not in top form.
“Ugh” I said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been more horrible at anything in my life.”
“Yeah, Mom, you’re pretty bad,” ManCub replied.
“Can we please talk about some things I am good at? To keep it all balanced?” I asked.
“Nope, you know what they say,” he said, “we need to live in the moment.”
2A Plant Named Heather
After picking up ManCub from school, I asked him to hold the pot of flowers a friend had given me for my birthday.
"This is more like a bush than flowers," he said.
"Oh, it's Heather," I replied.
"Oh dear … you are naming your plants now?"
"That's what it's called," I said.
"I get that's what you are calling it," he smiled.
3When Height Trumps Vocation
ManCub was asked what kind of work I did, and told the person I was the editor of a woman’s magazine. As he shared this with me, I gasped and said I couldn’t believe he was so many years behind knowing I had changed roles and climbed career ladders, etc.
“Oh, okay, Mom,” he said. “It’s really not that big of a deal ... most people are more impressed that I’m as tall as I am, and that seems to trump whatever you do anyway.”
4My Mother, the Infomercial
I shared environmental statistics on the way home after an event I attended before picking up ManCub from basketball practice. As we pulled into the driveway, I shot out one more stat. “And! Listen to this one: Adults who sleep less than seven hours a night have a 75 percent higher risk of having a heart attack than those who sleep more than seven hours a night. Can you believe that?”
He laughed and said, “Awww, Mom. You are like one of those infomercials playing in the background, listing off a ton of information and after 10 minutes you think, 'Holy cow that thing is still going!' Don't get me wrong, it's all good, but WOW.”
“Oh, my Lord. It has been a long !¥£}%@&!#* day,” I said.
“You would think after being raised by a sailor-mouthed mother I would be inclined to use curse words,” he said. “But I’m not.”
“I would think after being raised by such a mother, your ears would toughen up and she wouldn’t have to keep hearing about her cursing,” I replied.
“Oh, Mom, it’s all part of my training to give you a more peaceful mouth, and I’m not giving up.”
6Bills to Pay
Me, lounging in bed with my computer and phone at 9:30 a.m. on a workday (before working from home).
ManCub, coming up to the main floor from his bedroom and seeing my car in the driveway: "Ooooh, looks like my mom hasn't left the house. Helloooooo?"
Me, silent, smiling.
Him, eventually peeking around my open bedroom door: “Woman! What are you doing in bed?! We have bills to pay!”
“I've been working,” I replied. “Although I'm about to pull myself together to head to the office."
“But can you tell me why you have to be at the office by 8 a.m. when I drive you, but you can lounge in bed until after 9:30 when you drive yourself?” he asked.
“Nope, I cannot.”
7Pressures of Entertaining
I was Cinderella-style scrubbing the floor as ManCub walked into the living room.
“Oh great, what's happening here,” he asked.
I replied, “Oh, I was just thinking of …”
He interrupted: “Having friends over?”
“I haven't had friends over in more than a year. Why is that your first guess?” I asked.
“Well, you only clean when you have friends over,” he replied, “ which made me panic because I wasn't planning on that kind of pressure today.”
Me: "This morning as I was driving to the office, I started to pray that …”
Him, interrupting: “Your brakes went out?”
9A Titch of Depression
“I think I was kind of depressed there for a while,” I said.
“Well, duh, Mom,” he said.
“What made you think I was depressed?”
“Every time I came home you had tears in your eyes and said, 'Don't worry about me, I think I'm kind of depressed.'"
10Alien Voices and a Perfect Connection
ManCub and I were out running errands one night, including a stop at the grocery store. He said something sassy to me, so I replied in an “alien-like” voice.
“Mom, stop, we are in public," he said as his eyes darted around to see if anyone was within earshot. I assured him I had enough sense to be aware of my surroundings and no one had heard me.
Afterward, as we climbed into the car, he said, "Sometimes it's hard for me to believe you are a professional. You are one of the craziest, most spontaneous people I know.”
I giggled and then quickly turned it into maniacal laughter.
A little later during our commute, and after several “I was just thinking the same thing” moments between us, he said, “It's as though our lives aligned when I was born, and everything is always perfect between us.”
And all of the boy mamas said: “Indeed it is.”