This Boy

My dear, sweet, precious boy…..How can it be you will be seventeen years old tomorrow? I’d swear it was yesterday I heard your tiny cry for the first time. But here you are, taller than me, voice deepening, you’re driving, we’re talking college plans. You’ve grown up when I was busy being a mom.

You made me a mom first. I’ll never forget the first time I heard you, and knew you’d be a fighter. I won’t forget the first time I saw you, and it seemed impossible you were the same baby that had been inside of me just a few hours earlier. I won’t forget the first time I touched you, and you held on with all the strength in your tiny hand. I won’t forget the first time I held you, finally at peace, finally able to breath after five days of watching you through a 2-inch video camera screen. Was I scared? Oh yeah…I was terrified. I wasn’t ready. You certainly weren’t ready, but there you were. You taught me from day one things were going to happen on your terms and in your time. You’ve taught me more patience than I probably cared to ever have. You’ve taught me how it feels to live with my heart outside of my chest. You helped me learn to let things go, those little things that just don’t matter as much.

I love watching you, even still.  You walk into a room, and own it, whether you believe it or not. I love the way you connect with people.  I love watching people’s faces light up (especially your grandmothers, aunts, and great-aunts) when you give them one of your famous hugs. I love your quirkiness, your laugh, your spirit. I love that you’ve learned to battle your way through challenges, how to pick yourself back up and keep going. You will always be my first baby. You lead the way for your brother and sister.

I’ve walked those sixteen days over and over each year…..those days leading up to your birth. Your life is a gift. Your journey gave me a strength I didn’t know I had. You taught me how to be a fighter, even against the biggest odds.

Do you make me crazy sometimes? Uh, yep, ya do. Trust me, I thank God for even that.

Tomorrow is your birthday….seventeen. I don’t know why that seems to be a milestone, but it feels big to me. Big changes are coming, and you’re just on the verge of adulthood. I’m almost done the biggest part of my job as your mom. But know that no matter how old you get, or how tall you get, I will always see that little baby boy when I look at you. I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m honored and blessed to be your mom. Happy Birthday!

The Last Drive

I didn’t realize yesterday morning was my last drive with Big Man to school. I wish I’d processed that information in the moment. It didn’t hit me until last night, after he’d passed his driver’s license test, and was getting his truck ready to drive to school this morning. Yesterday morning was my last time driving my baby boy to school, my last time picking him up from school.

You know, you wait to have even one thing taken off your parental plate. When it is, there’s a certain sadness to it. I’m realizing every day that each milestone is leading him one step away from home, one step towards adulthood, one step towards independence. And P isn’t far behind….she can get her permit next month (Holy Wow!), and her license in seven months (Double Holy Wow)…..that’s right…..two kids getting their driver’s license within seven months of each other. Oh, the insurance bill! But even more, oh, the big changes we are facing.

It is a break in my day to have to go drop off and pick up. There’s a certain stress to getting out of the house on time multiple times a day. But it also gives me a measure of control, and it allows me a tiny glimpse into their daily worlds. With them driving themselves, I lose that, take one step further away from their world. I won’t need to take them to and from practices and sporting events, thus even less interaction with coaches, friends, parents of friends, and teachers. I have a hard time keeping track of the names of those in their lives already.

It’s terrifying to give him this step of independence. He still seems so young and so little to me, but  yet he got into his big truck, and drove off to school by himself this morning. There are new rules, new consequences. Some days, I know I’m not ready for this. He was supposed to text me when they arrived at school (he was nice enough to take his sister with him). He forgot. That doesn’t help a nervous momma at all. But I know he was excited.

This is where we are now, and it only flies more quickly from here. I wish I’d taken in every second of that last drive yesterday.

In which I noticed something strange

When I was in high school, I didn’t know one kid who couldn’t wait to get her driver’s license. We all took driver’s ed at school, got our learner’s permits as soon as we could, and did our best to schedule our license appointments as close to our sixteenth birthdays as possible. It was just a thing….that freedom….we all couldn’t wait for it. Even if a kid didn’t have immediate access to a vehicle, he’d still get his license as soon as it was allowed by law. I grew up in a small town – a license allowed one to cruise, to actually even escape to the next, larger town, and if you were of a mind, it allowed you to get out to the “far out country” to party in the gravel pits (I wasn’t a partier in high school, so never experienced those infamous gravel pits).

Something seems to have changed over the years, because I know a ton of kids at my kids’ high school who have seemingly zero interest in getting their licenses.  Seriously, wth? It makes  no sense to me. You’d think they’d all be like we were – so ready for that freedom of being able to drive themselves where they need and want to go. But no….

Big Man turned sixteen nearly six months ago. He will finally take his license test at the end of February. Now his is a different circumstance – we held getting his permit over his head to push him to get his grades up. Doesn’t seem it was much incentive. I finally caved, knowing I was punishing myself more than I was punishing him. I know boys older than him who don’t have their permits yet, and some just now getting their licenses. One of my friends has a daughter who’s a Senior – she doesn’t have her license, and doesn’t want it.

I’ve been trying to figure this out. Why don’t they seem to care about this typical teenage milestone? Is it the parents, or the kids? Is it because we’ve just gotten into the habit of doing so much for our kids, it doesn’t seem to matter? Are we part of the entitlement problem, enabling our kids to disregard learning how to drive because we simply take them everywhere? Are they so used to, and fond of, us having total control? Or is that one on us as parents?

Like I said, Big Man will test for his license the end of this month. Am I nervous about him taking the wheel by himself? Of course I’m nervous, but you know what? I can’t wait…I can’t wait to not have to drop three kids off at school at three different times. I can’t wait to not have to pick him up from school, take him to the golf course, and then wait for his text they’re on the last hole to go pick him up. I can’t wait to have one more driver in the house to help with errands and getting his siblings where they need to go, when they need to get there, without  me losing my mind.

Do you have kids old enough to get their driver’s licenses? Do they have them? Do they care? What’s your take on this situation?

Trusting him

I did say I would keep more and more of what goes on with Big Man and the Princess private out of respect for them. I didn’t say I would keep EVERYTHING private. Hahaha

One of the milestones of teenagers is getting that learner’s permit and learning to drive. We are there now. Big Man got his permit a month ago, and had his first lesson with the instructor last week. That means Spouse and I are spending a good amount of time in the passenger seat with him behind the wheel.

I’m not as nervous as I’d thought I would be. If you’d asked me a year ago what I would be like teaching him to drive, I’d have told  you his dad would probably have to bear the brunt of the training. But it really isn’t too bad. I think I’ve been rather calm. Big Man might tell you something else. I’ve only pushed the imaginary brake on my side of the car twice in the four times I’ve gone with him. He’s pretty conservative and cautious, which totally works right now. There generally isn’t much traffic when we’re on the road either, which  helps immensely.

I realized this morning when he’s driving, I’m placing my life in his hands. Whoa. He is in control of a big machine, surrounded by other people in big machines. And he’s just learning how to operate that big machine. Mistakes are to be expected when someone is learning. The scary part is a driving mistake can result in an accident. I try really hard to not go there when I’m in the passenger seat and he’s driving. I am learning to trust him in a way I’ve never had to before. I think the fact I’ve been so calm shows I do trust him with this.

Like I said the other day, we are definitely in yet another new season. Being in the passenger seat while he drives is a new normal for us. We’re adjusting. I guess we’d better do that quickly, especially considering the Princess will have her learner’s permit too in just over six months!

That day

It’s Big Man’s birthday today. I was scrolling through my Timehop app, reading my posts on his birthday each  year. To a point, every single one of those posts mentions his early arrival, survival, dramatic start, and how proud we are of how far he’s come. It seems that day, beyond being his birthday, will always carry that part of it, that part of his story.

I can’t consider his birthday without remembering or thinking about how he came into this world. I can’t talk about his birthday without bringing up his beginning. Every time I think about how quickly he’s growing up, I think about what exactly that means.

That day will always be a part of his story. It will always be included in my narrative of his life. I can go for days without thinking about it – how his life started. I get caught up in the normal day-to-day stuff of having a teenage son. But when milestones hit, I always go back to that day. And I need people to know just what that milestone means, why I get a little crazy about each and every one. I want them to understand just how far he’s come, why that matters, what a miracle he is, how incredible it is he’s here.

I can tell you almost exactly what was happening at any given moment this day sixteen years ago. I remember my thoughts, my fear, my denial. I remember the pride in Spouse’s voice when he announced we had a son. I remember the tiny cry Big Man gave just before he was intubated. I remember thinking the fact he’d made a sound meant everything was going to be okay. I remember the words of the neonatologist as he handed us a polaroid photo of our son – him splayed, naked, tubes and wires attached to all parts of him. I remember how red he looked because he didn’t have all his layers of skin yet. I remember him grabbing onto my finger. I remember hardly hearing the words of the doctor and nurses as they loaded him into the ambulance that would take him to his NICU ten minutes away. I remember that gut-wrenching goodbye, not knowing when or if I would see him again. I remember feeling I’d failed after all –  my body had failed him. I remember the first time a nurse called me his mom. I remember my nurse rolling the breast pump into my room, showing me what to do, and making sure I was aware how vitally important it was I pump and get the breastmilk to my son. I remember how surreal it all was.

That day, this day…..It’s his story. It will always be his story. No matter how many birthdays pass for him, I will always think of and mention that day. I will always be aware his start, how far he’s come, what an amazing gift his life is.

It’s Just Different

As I was driving the Princess to cheer practice this morning, the first song that came on was “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”  If you’ve followed us for awhile, you’ll know that song hits me in the gut every single time. I spent most of September 2000 in the hospital – 16 days trying to stay pregnant with Big Man for as long as possible, and then 5 days recovering from childbirth and waiting to see how the doctors, and insurance, would handle my own life-threatening staph infection. No matter how many years pass, when September rolls around, so do the memories….the reliving of the fear and worry, the pain, and the guilt.

Big Man will be sixteen years old next month. That’s a rather significant milestone, isn’t it? When your micro-preemie survives, every milestone takes on an entirely different relevance. Learning to eat and breath at the same time, moving to an open crib, getting to wear clothing, losing each line, coming home, ditching this medicine, that medicine, this therapy, that therapy, gaining weight, rolling over, crawling, walking, holding a crayon, walking up and down steps, turning 1, then 2, 3, 4, 5…starting Kindergarten, playing t-ball, playing soccer. Every little tiny thing he does feels different. It’s somehow bigger because for days, weeks, months, you didn’t know if he would survive, much less ever come home or grow up to be a “normal” child.

The milestones have come fewer and further between. They still each have their own immense significance. Each step forward still fills me with awe, as much as it makes me miss the stage before, the stages before. I see his curled hands as he sleeps….in the same positions he held them as an infant and toddler. His facial features, while more mature and larger, are much the same as they’ve ever been, at least since most of the tape came off his face in the NICU and I could actually see his face. The tiny blond hairs on the back of his neck are still there as they were the first time I saw him. I still see that stupidly-tiny, 2 pound baby boy when I really look at him.

In a few short months, he will get his driver’s license. In a few short years, he will graduate high school and head off to college, to his future. Somewhere down the road, he will graduate college, start his career, maybe find *the* girl, maybe become a father, buy his first house. I will watch him reach each milestone, remembering the days I prayed and did all I could to stay pregnant with him, then wondered if we’d ever get the chance to see him grow up. His milestones are just different in my heart. And trust me, every September, I’ll re-walk the journey that brought him into this world. For a few days, I might ask you to just wake me when September ends, but then I’ll think about all the miraculous moments I’ve watched in his life, and I’ll smile with joy at the gift.

Keys

One of the consequences of having three kids at three different schools is that Big Man now has to walk home from school two or three days a week. No biggie – it really isn’t that far, well-populated, and literally two left turns and two right turns the entire way. He’s fifteen…completely within his scope of ability, right? Right. It’s been all good. I see it as a rite of passage. I used to walk home from high school before I got my driver’s license. Builds character.

Last week, I presented him with two keys…one to the pedestrian gate for our community, and one for the house. He immediately put them on his lanyard/keychain.  Kinda made me giggle. He’s proud of having those keys.

In my mind, this is one more milestone. Giving your kid his own key to the house is kinda huge.  It’s a responsibility. It’s a trust thing also.

They grow up so quickly, these babies of ours. I was sucked into looking way back in my ThisLife photos the other day. I look at his NICU/baby photos a lot, especially this time of year, but I was looking at toddler photos, first t-ball photos, first soccer season photos. Now, he’s halfway through his Freshman year, I’m looking up information on the steps to take to get his learning permit to drive. We’re beginning to talk college interests, working on building up the college fund.

I gave him the keys the other day. He grinned hugely. I smiled, but it was that sad, bittersweet momma smile. A key to the door is step one on his way out of it.