Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
Today is my favorite young man's birthday. I'm not telling you how old he is because it might lead you to suspect that I am very old.
I was an immature and not particularly good parent, but he continues to tolerate me.
The rest of this post is a newspaper column I wrote about my boy back when I was a reporter, about a hundred years ago. I posted this once before, I think.
When I took my little red-haired boy to preschool, we met the teachers and looked at the toys. We sang some songs. Then it was time for me to leave.
The boy threw his arms around my knees and cried, "But I want to stay with you!"
I reminded him that we had talked about going to preschool. I reminded him that he needed to spend time with other kids, that I would return soon and we would spend the rest of the day together.
He kissed me good-bye and went off to build a tower of blocks with his new classmates. I rushed out the door, thankful we had just taken the first successful step toward his independence.
But the boy needed to learn to dress himself. Every morning, he sat down, pulled his pants over his legs and tried to stand up before they were over his feet.
"I'll have to go to college with him to dress him," I grumbled.
With practice, though, he learned to dress himself. Another step toward independence.
The boy went to kindergarten. I removed the training wheels from his first bike. He rode around the block alone. He stopped asking me to marry him. He learned how to read.
I stood on a basketball court for hours while he threw ball after ball up and toward the hoop. None went through. I passed the ball back to him and waited while he threw it again. One day the ball finally went through the hoop.
He played basketball with the other boys. He didn't need me to rebound for him anymore. I breathed a sigh of relief. More steps.
Fourth grade and he started to play the trombone. The sound hurt. I helped him learn to read music. I played the piano; he played along on the trombone. The sound improved. He didn't need my help with the trombone.
Middle school years, and someone on the school bus teased a girl. She blamed the boy and put gum in his hair. The bus driver gave the boy's name to the principal. We practiced at home so the boy knew how to explain to the principal. The principal let the boy go. I didn't have to visit the school. A big step.
High school: Clear the roads -- he's learned how to drive. I felt frightened, then happy. He didn't need me to be his chauffeur. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted.
But so could he. More independence for him and more worries for me.
He had his ears pierced -- six times. He seemed to have trouble pulling up his pants again but he didn't ask for help with his clothes or with anything else.
I fought to stay involved in his life. Could this independence thing really be a good idea?
"Aren't you glad you know I'm independent and I don't listen to you?" he asked me one day as I was trying to gain his cooperation in some endeavor such as cleaning up his bedroom.
"Yeah, I'm glad you don't listen to me," I answered. I laughed, but I really was glad. Wasn't his independence what I had sought all along? Wasn't it what I had raised him to seek?
I insisted he hold down a job and pay for his own car insurance if he wanted to drive. He played on basketball teams, chose his own clothes, spoke up for himself, even became a trombonist in a ska band. And he did it all without me.
We went to college orientation and picked up our name tags. "Students to the right; parents to the left," a young woman told us.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Students go to a meeting in the room to the right and parents go to a meeting in the room to the left."
They were splitting us up.
I threw my arms around his waist and cried, "But I want to stay with you!"
"You'll be OK with the other parents. I'll be back soon and we'll spend the rest of the day together," he reminded me.
He hugged me. Then he walked away to be with the other students. I went to the meting with the parents, but not to build a tower. I had already built one. It was six-feet three inches tall and had red hair.
On Jan. 15, he stood at the altar of a church. He didn't hold my hand; I didn't hold his. He took the hand of the most beautiful bride I've ever seen and vowed to be her husband for the rest of his life. I sat -- an onlooker in the drama of his life, missing him, but grateful for his independence.
Note: Sadly, the marriage ended after ten years. His ex-wife remains my Facebook friend. I love her very much and will always miss her.