Good-bye, Baby Boy
It’s time to say good-bye to my baby boy. It’s bitter and it’s sweet, this farewell.
For 18 years, I’ve loved him. From babe to teen. From child to almost-adult. From kindergarten through high school. From then to now.
The years slide by. The years slide by.
Oh, your children are never your own, I know. It’s been said and sung and written — Let them grow, then let them go.
In art and on paper, it’s an idea. In life, it’s a reality that’s hard for a mama’s heart to take.
Kids grow up. Kids graduate. Kids leave.
And we mamas wave them on their way.
I’m trying like crazy to find an apt metaphor. It’s hard not to cling to the curve of cliché. This leaving is a sudden slant in the road. It’s a red rose, unfurling. It’s a steep climb up a craggy peak. It’s a bend in a fast-rippling river.
But no. None of these speak to truth. None hum to the heart. None encompasses the mixed musings of a child raised and on his way. None.
So I’ll let the metaphors be. And I’ll let the memories speak.
Sebastian, you were always loved.
Infant, we brought you home to a sea of snow. Ice hung in the bright blue air. I wrapped you in soft blankets and held you in my arms. “Put that baby down,” my father groused. “You’re spoiling him.” But can you spoil with love?
Child, you set your own path in agates and gems. You knew your mind. At 6 months, 12, 18, I tried to leave you with our sitter. All your siblings had gone this route: not you. You wailed and sobbed and wept. You would not relent. Finally, the call: “Come pick him up. My heart can’t take it.” After that, you barely let me leave the room. I’d turn the corner and you followed. I sat down to write, and you settled your Thomas trains close by. “Velcro Boy,” your father named you.
You didn’t talk. Oh, you gave a few nods and no’s, but silence sealed your thoughts. We waited and waited, but you didn’t speak. When you did, you lisped the language of elves: words and phrases wild with incoherent magic, sentences spiced with serendipitous syllables. With time, I learned to listen. With practice, I learned to hear. “This is what my brother’s trying to say,” your sister said. She’d translate, and you’d nod.
One day, on a walk, an admirer stopped to peer at you. Hair long and golden, your face shone keen, angelic. “What a beautiful little girl,” the grandma said. Suddenly you found your words: “I’m not a girl. I’m a boy. A Sebastian boy!” We laughed, surprised. All along, you knew exactly who you were.
Your heart is soft, my child. You cried to sad ballads on the radio. You cringed at scratchy tees and too-small socks. When Aunt Julie stole a single French fry, you sobbed all the way up the snowy mountain.
Eves, we snuggled on the big bed to read. On my right, your sister. Left, you tucked against my rib, touching the faces and words of the books we read, flipping the pages slowly, not letting your impatient sister push your speed, sedate. You hugged the words and story to your heart. “I like this part,” you said. “Read it again.” And again.
At school, speech therapists solved your lisp. The elvish intonation lapsed and left. Energetic, you grasped your words and let us all into your universe. You read and read: alone, out loud, in the car, at the beach. The Boy with the Book you were. You loved Tintin, blue smurfs, and the magic of mythology.
Despite your imagination, you remained a realist. In the car, your 10-year-old sister warbled future gilded plans: “First, college. Then medical school. I’m going to be a neonatologist — but I’ll also be an artist and a writer so we can write books together, Mom!” I smiled and we leapt back and forth with dreams and dares and arty ambitions. In the back seat, you closed your book, looked up, and solemnly declared, “Clearly, I’ll need to start my own business and make a million dollars to support you two.” A moment of silence, then we laughed.
A businessman you became, from age 7 on. You created landscape brochures and weeded for the neighbors. You bought a shoeshine kit from a garage sale, set yourself up on our Silverton streets, and began your next endeavor. When I asked how much you charged, you revealed a savvy secret. “When someone asks, I tell them they can pay me what they think it’s worth. I always get more than if I had a set price.” The next summer, you learned magic. Soon, you stood at Saturday market, card deck in hand. On weekend eves, you suited up in tie and top hat, and took your magic show to the streets. You learned to be agile, courteous, and assertive. “It’s best to ignore the hecklers,” you told us one night as you counted your loot. “They lose interest.” Next, ice cream sales. At 12, you became the youngest vendor at the Oregon Gardens. One night, the line of your customers stretched down the path. I rose to help take money to make things move along. “Sit down, Mom,” you told me, “I’ve got this.” And you did.
Middle school child, you stood out from the crowd. You collected hats: derbies, newsboys, fedoras. Next, suits and ties. Once a week, you suited up and walked into a sea of surprised students. You didn’t give half a damn when they jibed or jeered: you stood strong in your certainty of who you were. Style was not a costume or a prop: it was a part of you. And you wore it well. In high school, you expanded your fashion repertoire, reading decorum books and saving your earnings to buy your next suit. You found that it’s not fashion that makes the man, but the man that makes the fashion.
On your own, you’ve learned and taught yourself so much. You took tech classes, coding and designing — and coming home to self-teach more. You watched YouTube and online classes. You gamed and found your tribe, but you also delved deep into the parts and pieces, picking up graphic design and 3-D modeling. In eighth grade, Mr. H asked you to teach Blender to the class since you knew more than he. You found excitement in enthusiastic learning — and in striving to learn, more and more.
There are mountains you’ve climbed, my son. Many of them steep. Many of them hard. You were only 12 when your brother died. Only you know what that did to your heart, but I know you hold him there: always loved, never forgotten. At 16, the surgeon told us your spine required straightening: the 12-hour spinal fusion with titanium rods and bone transplants took over a year of recovery and an infinitude of patience and grit. I worried and fretted like mothers do. I got up 3 times a night to check on you, to give you painkillers, to tuck your covers close. It reminded me of you as a baby, when you’d wake in tears and I’d rock you in my arms. Now, you were too big for more than a hand on your brow, a soothing touch of your hair, and a prayer for your life. You suffered, but you came out the other side, stronger, straighter, wiser.
Sebastian, these are all the stories of you. These are all the stories of a beloved, creative, unique, and intelligent child who has so soon emerged a young man.
The years slid by; the years slid by.
It’s time, though, to say goodbye. To say farewell to the child you were and hello to the man you will become.
Tonight, you graduate from high school. It’s a rite of passage and a right of way. It’s merely a marker in the magical, magnificent life you will live. With God’s grace and a mother’s love, you will walk down that aisle, out the door, and stride with certainty toward tomorrow.
I’ll be there, smiling and loving you, all the way.
Sebastian getting ready for graduation. Photo by Mom.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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