Eighteen.

1921031_10204696878569183_7464022796860148720_o

Elijah,

I promise you I won’t launch into a big sappy monologue, because I know how that bugs you. Also, I certainly don’t intend on writing you a letter on each and every anniversary of your earthly debut. This is your last public birthday post (I reserve the right to pen a few sentimental words every now and then in years to come, but I’m sure you and your siblings should be used to “mom’s birthday musings” by now).

The purpose of this letter, is to formally write down an account that I’ve told many, many times aloud but as of today, have yet to immortalize through written word. It is the story of how I chose your name.

When I was about 3 months pregnant with you, and just beginning to remerge from the hell that was hyperemesis gravidarum (aka severe morning sickness), I had a vivid dream.

Life during that time, was odd. Our family was going through some difficult times, completely independent of our circumstances. Things were challenging- for everyone. I felt like I was in the eye of a storm…watching all the chaos around me, yet grounded in a sort of calm certainty. I knew we were on the path we were meant to be on.

Anyway, one night, I dreamt I was at Nana & Tata’s house. The mood was still, almost too still, in the surreal sort of fashion that only comes in dreams. I walked into the back hallway toward the bedroom, and paused outside the door. There was an unearthly light radiating from the window facing the backyard. It brightened the entire room…Nana’s bedspread, the wooden dresser, the crucifix on the wall…all of it was illuminated in a glow that I can only describe as warmth. I walked into the room. And there you were. 

At the time, I didn’t even know you were going to be a boy. I didn’t know you at all. But in my dream, there you were…a boy. A child. You extended your arms toward me. I tried to remember every detail of your face at that moment. Your eyes, nose, mouth…

Your mouth. It was upturned in the sweetest smile. You opened it to speak….and this is what you said:

“I have come to save my people.”

I woke up.

Upon waking, I remember being filled with an incredible peace. The kind that comes with knowing that everything is going to be alright.

I knew, from that moment on, that you were going to be a boy. There was something else I knew: That when you mentioned “your people,” you were referring to your family. Long story short…your birth did save us. Your presence in our family healed many rifts. It brought us together in the ways that only a child can. You reminded us of what matters.

So what’s this got to do with your name? Well…upon waking from that prophetic dream, we knew you needed an equally fitting name. And so, it was decided. Elijah.

A simple story really, but significant to me. Just as all our moments together have been simple, really…but they all add up to an incredibly significant life.

Yesterday, I stayed up all night with you following your birth, my face against your tiny face, amazed that we were finally breathing the same air. Yesterday, you were clinging to my leg as we walked into new places together. My little sidekick. Yesterday, your nose was pressed up against the glass window of the preschool, watching a hail storm with the wonder of a small child. I stood on the walkway for a moment in the rain, and waved at you. Yesterday, you giggled in delight when I showed you that if you stir syrup into warm milk, you can make hot chocolate….you fell asleep on my lap, stuffed animal tucked under one arm, hand in my hair. Yesterday, you skated away from me at open house to join your peers, only glancing back to tell me you’d meet me in the parking lot when the festivities were over. Yesterday, I walked up to DMV with you so that you could obtain your license, and your newfound freedom. Yesterday, you texted me late at night to tell me not to wait up. I did anyway…  

Yesterday, you fell in love. Yesterday, you planned a post-graduation trip with your buddies, sans adults. Yesterday you applied for colleges, some of which are far away from this little house you call home.

Today, you are 18.

I am proud. I am honored. I’m in awe.

And because I feel a major bout of sappiness coming on, I’m going to leave you with the words of a book that we’ve read together many times. A perfectly reasonable book to revisit on a day like this. A book, called Someday….

One day I counted your fingers and kissed each one. 
One day the first snowflakes fell, and I held you up and watched them melt on your baby skin.
One day we crossed the street, and you held my hand tight. 
Then, you were my baby, and now you are my child.
Sometimes, when you sleep, I watch you dream, and I dream too…
That someday you will dive into the cool, clear water of a lake. 
Someday you will walk into a deep wood. 
Someday your eyes will be filled with a joy so deep that they shine. 
Someday you will run so fast and so far your heart will feel like fire. 
Someday you will swing high – so high, higher than you ever dared to swing.
Someday you will hear something so sad that you will fold up with sorrow. 
Someday you will call a song to the wind, and the wind will carry your song away. 
Someday I will stand on this porch and watch your arms waving to me until I no longer see you. 
Someday you will look at this house and wonder how something that feels so big can look so small. 
Someday you will feel a small weight against your strong back. 
Someday I will watch you brushing your child’s hair. 
Someday, a long time from now, your own hair will glow silver in the sun. 
And when that day comes, love, you will remember me. 

– alison mcghee

Happy 18th Birthday, son.

Love, Mom

A Memory, Nostaglia, & Foolish Games

1 - Sac City LRC

Sacramento City College, 1998.

The day I truly took interest in him, the quad was blanketed with leaves, leftover remnants of the previous night’s wind storm. I was caught up in a momentary fit of nostalgia (autumn evenings do that to me), and was walking briskly across the campus over the red and yellow pathway. He was ahead of me, backpack slung over one shoulder, novel in one hand. He glanced back toward me and grinned. “You’re in Fryer-Smith’s class, aren’t you, kiddo?”

“Yes, I am.” I answered a little too formally. He asked my name. I already knew his.         His name was Joey.

“Yeah…I thought that was you. You usually have your face buried in a book.” I smiled, pleased that he’d taken note.

I was 18 years old with a toddler and had recently completed high school on independent studies, meaning that I’d basically spent the past two years of my life in solitude as I balanced motherhood and schoolwork. Social life was minimal. Dating life was non-existent.

That first semester of junior college was like a re-birth for me. I emerged from the cocoon that was my high-school experience, wrought with memories of personal rebellion, social missteps, and school failure. Suddenly I found myself in an environment where I was free to completely re-invent myself. My reputation didn’t follow me, and neither did my previous school record.

Now, here I was blossoming into a 4.0 student and social butterfly. Every day was a dizzyingly entertaining mix of new faces and ideas. I was in love with my budding identity. And along with my academic success and new-found social sweetheart status, came a refreshingly improved dating scene.

I was completely unprepared for that. Whereas in high school, the majority of my boyfriends had been poster kids for the “bad-boy prototype,” the guys who pursued me now were of a different nature entirely. They came to me with their minds full of goals and ambitions, and hands full of sonnets. I swear to you, that first semester I spent nearly as much time swooning as I did studying.

But as the days grew cooler and shorter, I found myself spending the majority of my time with Joey. We were as different as could be. He was returning to college after years of living the quintessential California dream. Coastal living, surfing, and reveling in the glory of uninhibited youth. He was nearly 10 years older than I was. I was fresh out of 12th grade, with all the responsibilities of an adult, but none of the experience. Despite this, we shared a love of literature, philosophy, writing and coffee. For months, we met for late night discussions in the library during which we mulled over the writings of Nietzsche & Darwin. We attended a baroque quintet concert at the Crocker Art Museum, and convened for afternoon reading sessions along the Sacramento River. He introduced me to Kerouac’s On the Road, and I tried to convince him to consider reading the works of Peter S. Beagle (I’ve always had a soft spot for fantasy). I knew I was in over my head when he invited me to dinner with his family. We dined at a Thai food restaurant and afterward had dessert at the family home in Davis. I met his brother and his brother’s longtime girlfriend. His father was a lawyer, and that night I learned of Joey’s plans to transfer to UC Berkeley to pursue a law degree (Which he eventually did, followed by a graduate degree from a prestigious east coast school). Everyone was friendly, and overall the night was lovely. But my youth and inexperience were obvious to all, and it showed in the overly kind way that they humored me. It was the first time I felt unequipped in the world of adulthood (though it wouldn’t be the last).

The week before finals, he invited me over to his house for dinner and a movie. No one was home that evening but us, and I stayed late into the night. I talked about my son that night, perhaps a little too much, because in the end I think it highlighted the fact that no matter how bright, charismatic, and “datable” I was, I was the mother to a very young child. I was a package deal. And though I was largely inexperienced in the dating scene, I knew that this fact alone was a deal breaker for most.

I saw him once more after that, and the interaction was cordial and brief. The evening of our class final was a rainy one, and when I walked to the parking lot that night, I didn’t even bother pulling out my umbrella. I sat in my car for a while, watching the windshield wipers push away the water drops as quickly as they fell. Jewel’s Foolish Games was playing on the radio. And though I felt the tell-tale euphoria that every student experiences after finals are completed, I also had the sinking feeling that something important to me had ended. It’s funny the small details we remember.

You’re always the mysterious one with
Dark eyes and careless hair,
You were fashionably sensitive
But too cool to care.

I tell this story now because I think of it as one of my life’s many lessons. A story to tell my children later during a discussion of relationships and infatuations. Soon after the “Joey Semester,” I came across a poem by Veronica A. Shoffstall that I’ve retuned to time and time again over the years. It continues to move me to this day.

This morning, as I slipped on my peacoat while taking in a long sip of coffee and simultaneously searching the counter for my keys, my mom shared with me that she’d recently come in contact with a former beau with whom she’d once been intensely obsessed with. He’d shown only a casual interest in her, and at the time she was crushed. Now, decades later, she’s realized how profoundly different they are in all the ways that truly matter. She mused about the potential misery she’d avoided on account of his indifference.

And that’s the way life runs it’s course. In the present, we can never truly grasp the reasons why we face the trials we are given & the rejections we are subjected to. If we’re lucky, we’re blessed with the hindsight that brings everything into perspective. But often, we’re not. And in the latter case, I choose to hold tight to the belief that there is always a higher plan, even if we can’t make sense of it. And if that plan is never revealed, at least it makes for an interesting story to tell, years later when time has graciously dulled our feelings, and the only things remaining are a few recollections, scattered across our memory like leaves on a walkway…

 You Learn

 Veronica A. Shoffstall

After awhile you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn that love doesn’t mean possession
and company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises and you begin to accept
your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of an adult not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build your roads today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have ways of falling down in mid-flight.
After awhile you learn that even sunshine
burns if you get too much so you plant your
own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn…

16 Candles & Other Musings

IMG_20130127_104042                       Well. The big birthday has finally arrived. My baby boy is turning 16. I feel as if I’ve been anticipating this milestone since the day he was born. Remember the Disney film Sleeping Beauty?  Princess Aurora’s parents spend years anxiously awaiting their daughter’s 16th birthday because it has been proclaimed that, before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic…and I’m pretty sure my son wasn’t cursed at birth, and even if he was, I’m confident that there are no spinning wheels in the nearby vicinity. So, we’re safe in that sense. However, I do feel a teensy-weensy bit apprehensive about this upcoming birthday. Why? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I am seeing him now at the age I was, right before he came into my life. I’ve heard other young moms talk about the coming of age of their children and how their up most concern is that their child doesn’t share a fate similar to their own. In other words, they wouldn’t want their child’s potential to be cut short by an unplanned pregnancy, especially in the teen years. I can relate. A few months ago my son’s (then) girlfriend called me unexpectedly in the wee hours of the morning. The second I heard her teary voice on the other end of the line my mind reeled with hypothetical questions…”Had my continued contraception/sex talks been adequate enough? Had I been too lax on my monitoring of his comings & goings? How far can a parent go to prevent their teen from becoming a parent?” Thankfully, a pregnancy was NOT the issue she was calling about, but in those few seconds I realized how fast our lives could change. I’ve been there before, of course, but not as a parent. That morning, after hanging up the phone, I gained a new sense of appreciation for my mother, and the grace with which she handled herself when I came to her with my news 16 years ago.
                       Anyhow, it’s a peculiar thing to watch my son, as he meanders through the kitchen in the morning in search of a bite to eat…as he curls up on the couch doing normal teenage things like watching movies, texting  friends, or catching up on required reading for school. In the past, these little moments haven’t caught my attention as they do now. But now….now, I am seeing my son as I was, 16 years ago, pre-parenthood. It’s impossible for me to watch him swoop his little sister up for a piggy back ride, kneel down to un-tuck the pant leg that’s caught in her boot, or coach her to take that last bite of oatmeal, without considering that I was more or less his age when I was doing all these things for him. Its humbling in a way that takes my breath away.
                    I think its safe to say that every mother who has ventured into parenthood as a teen hopes that their child will not follow in their footsteps when it comes to early parenthood. I’ve heard others say they would not want their child to repeat their mistakes. That always gives me pause.  For  mistake is not quite  the way I would describe my eldest son. Yes, his birth changed the course of my life, but not necessarily in a negative way. My stating this is in no way an endorsement of teen parenthood. It is a difficult road to travel. Isolating, at times frustrating, and some would say limiting, especially in regards to mothers. But consider this: Parenthood at ANY age can be described as such, and all the while there are countless wonderful aspects to it as well. There is hope in our story, and as his 16th birthday approaches, I want my son to know that. 
                 Yes, my options were limited because I was raising him. I didn’t get the chance to experience college in the traditional “move away from home, live in the dorms, join organizations and party” sense. I didn’t travel the world. I couldn’t take part in many of the twenty-something rites -of-passage that our culture deems so valuable. But what I did do, was help guide a precious little soul into adolescence. And I stand back now, in awe of the person he is becoming. Mark my words; Elijah will a leave positive imprint on this earth. Perhaps not with fanfare and wide-spread recognition, though if he sets his mind to that he is perfectly capable of it. More importantly, with his gentle, thoughtful, old-soul of a spirit, he leaves, and will continue to leave subtle but significant impressions on the lives of all he touches. Beginning with me. As January 27th approaches, I’ll be contemplating new beginnings, a supportive family network, strength in the face of adversity, relentless hope, and the beautiful little baby that made all these concepts a reality in my world one winter night, so many years ago. 
                                                                                                                                                            Happy 16th Birthday, Elijah. I love you with all my heart.