Evolving mother-son relationship

Posted Nov. 21, 2010, at 9:23 p.m.

My first son came in the most unusual way: on his due date. Dustin and I were between orders, having recently left San Diego, Calif., for Jacksonville, Fla., but because we didn’t have a house yet, I was waiting at my parents’ house in Virginia Beach, Va. In the wee hours of Nov. 22, 2000, my official due date, I woke up to horrible pains in my stomach.

Must not be labor, I stupidly thought. Because what baby is born on his due date? Besides, Thanksgiving was the next day, and I had a pecan pie to make.

Six hours later, I was a mother. We named him Henry Rutherford, but knew, even then, that we would call him Ford.

By the time Ford was 6 months old, we were settled in our new home in Florida, and Dustin was leaving for his first six-month deployment, which ended up being more like 7½ months because 9-11 happened in that time. For much of Ford’s first year, it was just the two of us.

My most vivid memories of Ford from this time are of him riding in the front seat of the shopping cart. He had this wonderful, gummy, half-moon smile, and when he laughed, which was often, he tipped his head backward.

Our dinners together were quiet. Ford sat in his highchair, sucking on a bottle, while I ate a meal made for one. Our mostly wordless routine was punctuated here and there by visiting friends and family, but for a long time, it was just me and Ford.

All this changed in 2002, when Owen was born (not on his due date) two days after Ford’s second birthday. I cried on the way home from the hospital. For so long it had been just me and Ford. How would I handle two kids?

Dustin left for deployment again, and Ford had to “grow up” fast to make room for his new brother and roommate. He became my helper, and although he wasn’t so quiet anymore, he still had that wonderful, open-mouth smile.

It’s ironic that I should remember Ford as a quiet baby until Owen was born. My memories of him as a toddler all involve him talking. I remember shushing him in church, listening to his daily rundown of preschool activities, and enduring nearly nonstop monologues that consisted entirely of Superman and dinosaur facts that I already had heard the day before.

Ford was in kindergarten (literally) when I went to the hospital to have his second brother, Lindell. When Ford came to the hospital to see us, it occurred to me that he was finally a “kid.” Not a baby or a toddler, but a kid.

Today, as he turns 10 years old, I recognize that Ford is now on the brink of becoming a teenager. He wants posters on his wall. He wants guitar lessons. And when he wants to be alone, he goes to his bedroom.

These days, when Ford and I are alone together, there is sometimes silence. But it isn’t the easy quiet from our dinners together when he was a baby. It is uncomfortable silence because I know that the child with whom I once fell into symbiotic routine now has thoughts, ideas and problems all his own, some of which I will never know.

When I shopped for his birthday card last week, I met another awkward moment: Does a 10-year-old want dinosaurs on his card? Superman? I realized that my first baby has in fact outgrown the “cards for kids” section. He doesn’t want cartoons, balloons or goodie bags. He doesn’t even want one of the cakes that I have made for him since he was 5.

No, he doesn’t want to be babied by me anymore. Instead, he wants to play chess with me. He wants to talk about “Frankenstein” (the book). He wants to use my guitar.

I realize we still have many more of these “firsts” ahead of us, but it will take me some time to grieve all the “lasts”: the last time I held Ford on my hip, the last time I bathed him, the last time he cried out for me in the night.

He has changed in so many ways, but every now and then, when I am sitting next to him at the kitchen table, I see that same smile — which is no longer gummy, but full of grown-up teeth — and I know that he truly did arrive just in time. And my life has been better for it — for him — ever since. Happy 10th birthday, Ford.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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