As of about two o’clock this morning, I am officially the mother of a ten year old.
It now takes two whole digits to accurately describe him. Or rather, his age. It obviously takes more than mere numerals to describe the rest of him.
As we drove to Walt Disney World yesterday to celebrate his birthday as a family, I realized that ten years ago I had been in labor with him.
“Devin, ten years ago from right now, you were still in my belly. I was in labor with you at the hospital.”
“Uh, not yet. You have like 16 hours to go, Mom,” he was quick to correct me, as usual. “My birthday isn’t until tomorrow.”
“Yes, son, I know. But I was already in labor by this time. It took me 18 hours to have you.”
“18 hours? Woah. That’s a long time.”
“Believe me,” I laughed, “I know. 18 hours is a really long time to be in labor.”
“Mom? What’s an STD?”
“What’s an STD?” he asked again, as we drove closer to Walt Freaking Disney World for our wholesome family outing.
“It means ‘sexually transmitted disease’. It’s a disease you get from having sex.”
“WHY WOULD THEY PUT THAT ON A SIGN BY THE ROAD FOR A KID LIKE ME TO SEE?!?!” He was mortified, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“It might make you uncomfortable to talk about it, Buddy,” his dad interjected, “but it’s important to talk about that stuff still.”
“Uh, I am nine,” Devin reminded us. “I’m not even ten yet! I do not need to know about… ew. Gross.”
“But when you do, you need to know about things like STDs,” I explained.
“Yeah, well, maybe when I’m like 20-”
“Or 30,” I said.
“Yeah, right. Like when I’m like 20 or 30 or whatever.”
He quickly changed the subject and I tried not to think about how quickly 20, or even 30, could be here.
I wasn’t even 20, not even double the age he is now, when I gave birth to him. My God, I thought as I looked at him and how quickly he was racing through the years, I was just a kid when I became his mother.
I was talking to my mom this morning about that day ten years ago, and she talked about the very first time she held her first grandchild.
“I will never forget how he felt when they put him in my arms the first time,” she said. “He was so warm and soft.” My heart ached a little for the memory I didn’t have.
I barely remember the first time I held my son. I remember the way he looked when they held him up between my knees, all purple with huge black eyes and an oblong head, and how I thought “shit, those dreams were true. I just gave birth to an alien.” I remember being half way through a pepperoni pizza when they had finished cleaning him up and passing him around the room between his father and his grandparents and his uncles and his surrogate family, my best friend and her fiance (the pizza delivery guy). I remember someone bringing him over to the side of my bed and asking, “are you ready to hold your baby?”
And everyone stared at me, and I stared at the slice of pizza I had poised in mid bite. I remember thinking that lightning was supposed to have hit or something, if my mother’s birth stories were to be believed. I should be aching to hold him, I thought.
“Ummm… can I keep eating if I hold him?” I asked. I was starving.
The nurse laughed a little nervously, surely wondering what the hell was wrong with this teenage mother and what kind of life this poor newborn was destined for, but she assured me I could eat with one hand and hold him with the other. They placed him in my arms, I remember, but I have no idea how it felt.
But that was the best damned pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life.
I don’t remember anyone taking him from me. I don’t remember when the room cleared out, or when I fell back asleep. I can recall waking up to nurses whispering about how odd it was that I’d actually slept through some sort of “uterus massaging” procedure. Having been wide awake five years later when they pretty much jump up and down on your stomach and try to kill you, I understand now why they were surprised. But back then, I just remember that somehow I ended up in a wheelchair with Jared behind me and someone telling me were going to another hospital room.
“Do you want to stop by and see your baby in the nursery?” someone asked.
Again with that damn baby! Man. I was so tired. I just wanted to go back to sleep! And all anyone wanted to talk about was that baby!
But again, I agreed, knowing that I was supposed to be wanting nothing more than to be by my infant’s side. I remembered, again, my mother’s stories of staying up all night after I was born and calling the nursery non stop to see if I was awake so that she could have me with her. I remembered thinking my own mother was clearly better at this then I was going to be. I just wanted to sleep.
They wheeled me into a small linoleum room that was bathed in fluorescent light. An Indian doctor I’d never met before was leaning over a plastic hospital baby cart, listening with his stethoscope to whatever was lying inside it amidst all those blankets.
“Your baby is doing very good,” he assured me in the chipper staccato accent I would come to love over the next several years.
I smiled, because surely that is what new mothers do when they are told their baby is doing good.
They wheeled me up closer to the plastic baby cart.
He was perfect. Heartbreakingly perfect. He was no longer purple and his eyes seemed to have shrunk to a normal size and turned from black to the most dazzling shade of blue I’d ever seen in my life. And his cheek….
That’s the first thing I remember clearly about Devin. His cheek. It was… gorgeous. It was smooth and soft, you could tell even without touching it how soft it would be, and perfectly round and plump.
“His skin is… perfect.” They are the first words I remember having said since giving birth. And they were the most true words I’d ever spoken in my life. The skin on that perfectly round cheek was simply begging to be caressed.
Oh, that I were a glove upon that hand
That I might touch that cheek.
Even now, ten years later, my chest squeezes more tightly around my heart when I think of the perfectly flawless skin on that tiny little cheek.
They wheeled me away a few moments later and I was soon dead asleep in my new hospital bed.
The next thing I remember was being pooped on.
It was later in the morning on Devin’s very first birthday, and I was exceedingly proud of the job I was doing with my very first diaper change. There was no way this boy was peeing on me! I held butt up in the air by his tiny feet with one hand, and was skillfully maneuvering the diaper with my other hand.
And then black tar bubbled up from that butt.
“Ack!” I screamed and thrust the diaper over the eruption site. “Nurse! Nurse!”
No one came, and I moved the diaper away slowly and carefully to make sure that whatever had been happening was over. It seemed to be. I wiped him clean again and grabbed another diaper. I put the clean diaper beneath his freshly cleaned bottom and lowered his tiny feet.
And that perfectly clean butt sprayed black tar everywhere. The white sheets and blankets on my bed were covered, as were the baby and I.
“Nurse! Nurse!” I screamed again until someone came bustling in. Of course, they explained the concept of meconium to me, changed my sheets, and we went on with the business of getting to know one another.
The mandatory three days went by, visitors came and went, papers were signed, and the authority figures deemed me fit to take home an infant. The car seat was ready, and Devin was dressed in his official going home outfit. Jared and I stood around him, staring down at him for the last time in the plastic baby cart.
“Jared,” I said, “I… um… I don’t know if I feel it.”
“What do you mean?” he looked at once hopeful and terrified as he asked me to explain, like maybe what I was about to say would relieve him of his own unspoken burden.
“I just… I mean… I don’t… this kid could be anyone’s,” I whispered. “I think I’m supposed to feel this connection to him, like I am supposed to know he’s mine and I would die for him right now. And, well…” I hesitated again, ashamed at how much I’d already failed at motherhood, “they could be handing us any kid out of the nursery and I don’t think I’d know the difference!”
Jared sighed the most visible sigh of relief I had ever seen.
“I know. I know! I’ve been so worried that it was just me!”
I shook my head, terrified that this kid obviously had two horrible parents, but relieved to not be alone in my horribleness. We stood and stared at him in silence for a few moments more, marveling at this baby that they were giving us to take home and care for, insisting that he was ours.
“Although, you know, if they’re just going to hand us a baby, at least they gave us the cutest one.” I said. “I mean, is it just me – or he is not like the most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen?”
“I know!” Jared’s words came in a rush, oddly with the same level relief he’d shown a moment earlier. “I wondered if it was just me! I mean, you know, maybe I think he’s cute because he’s mine or something – but I don’t think so. I mean – look at him. I’ve seen other babies before and I know they are supposed to be cute, but… look at him,” he said again. “He is, like, really, really cute, even for a baby!”
We were absolutely amazed at how lucky we had gotten in the great baby lottery. Seriously, in awe. We gushed for a good five minutes over our sheer good fortune that someone had mistakenly handed us this most gorgeous child ever created, and they were actually going to let us leave with him. We hustled him out of that hospital as quickly as we could, almost afraid that someone would notice their error and swap Perfect Baby with Real And Normal Baby.
Looking back now, ten years later, it’s hard not to laugh at the ignorance of those two 19 year old kids. We were so certain that we were missing some secret parenting gene, and yet absolutely convinced that we’d accidentally been entrusted with the care and feeding of the golden child.
I still kind of think we were right about that. Because my child? My half grown ten year old boy?
Like, seriously, one of the most amazing children I’ve ever even heard of.
He’s brilliant, for one. Off the charts, literally, brilliant. He is smarter than anyone I know, including me. Although, if you tell him I said that I will hunt you down and feed you to his little sister. (But truth be told, I think he kind of suspects that already.)
And he has the softest heart you can imagine in a stinky ten year old boy. Sure, he bitches that his sister gets more attention and that his parents never take him to McDonald’s, but he also tried to give me his old DS this morning in exchange for the new Nintendo DSi we gave him for his birthday present, because he didn’t think it was fair that he had two and I had none. (He happily agreed to give his old one to Emma for Christmas.)
I’ve overheard him threaten to send his friends home for being mean to his little sister. And he drags that girl around with him everywhere.
He is always the only kid in tae kwon do who doesn’t have to be coached through his forms during his belt tests, because he couldn’t even imagine showing up to a test unprepared. He does his best every single time simply because it wouldn’t occur to him not to, because that’s what he’s been told is expected of him.
I cried when I sent him off to school this morning. I wrapped my arms around him as he layed his head on my chest, because that’s how freaking tall he is now, and I couldn’t help but sniffle a little as I wished him happy birthday one more time.
“Mom,” he patted me on the back to comfort me, “it’s OK. I’ll still be ten when I get home at 2:30,” he said.
Yes, son, you’ll still be ten at 2:30 this afternoon.
But just a blink of an eye ago, you were a whole 10 minutes old and I was too busy eating pizza to appreciate it. And a couple of blinks later and bam, you’re ten. Ten. And before I know it I will blink again and bam, you will be 20 or maybe 30, and I’m going to have to be plotting the demise of some stupid girl who probably has STDs, Devin! Do you remember STDs?! And don’t think I won’t make you talk about it then, because I will, believe me.
But today, you are ten. Just ten and all of ten.
And I am so, so grateful to have won the Ten Year Old Boy Lottery with you.