The Parent Imperfect notes, once again, that readership has increased quite dramatically during the long absence of new posts. I’m ready to risk a new decline in viewers with something new that is a bit different than my usual pontifications on the state of public schooling.
Last week, Vince turned 18. Fearing that the day would just pass like any other, Liz and I proposed a party of sorts to mark the occasion, one that would include whatever friends he might invite, along with adults who have known the boy over the years. To our near shock, he agreed, as long as it didn’t “ruin” a whole night of debauchery. True to form, as soon as the invitations went out, Boston was hit by the largest January snowstorm in its recorded history. Nothing is easy.
The weather was bitter cold, and there was no place to park on our street. But many friends braved the sub-zero wind chill (inside the house, as well as outside) and sheets of ice along the sidewalks to share this evening with Vince. They included one of his current teachers at the nation’s oldest public school as well as a remarkable man who helped Vince through both 4th and 5th grades at the Hernández. Also present was the friend who volunteered hundreds (no, thousands) of hours over several years to share with Vince his love of soccer. Against her better judgement, the current schoolmate who has known Vince longer than anyone else his age was also in attendance. Finally, one determined guest, a parent who we met on Vince’s very first day of school in kindergarten, rammed her car into a snowbank in order to park. So stuck was the car that she had to summon AAA to yank it out. This was not an August trip to Larz Anderson Park.
At a certain point, we lured Vince into the dining room with birthday cake and then made him sit there as people said what they dared to say about him. Those who knew the real stories were prudently silent. When my turn came, I had a story all ready but, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to tell it. Maybe I was afraid of embarrassing Vince. More likely, I was afraid to humiliate myself. Instead, I stammered out some incoherent stream of consciousness and passed the baton to Liz, who told two beautiful stories.
Now that story is burning a hole in my pocket, so I’m going to write it here. That way, I can be sure that only a select few will see it.
I’m going to take a moment to tell a story about Day One, a story of birth. I’m not doing it to embarrass you, Vince…really. I’m telling it because I think there are people in the room who will know you much longer than I will, and I want them to know this about you.
The story starts with Vince not being where he was supposed to be. If you know about childbirth, you know that babies are supposed to come into the world looking down, so that the world doesn’t shock them too much. They also come through the birth canal much better that way, with less wear and tear on Mommy.
Unsurprisingly, as he prepared for his coming out party, Vince twisted and turned until he was face up. This act of defiance made the whole thing much more difficult for Liz…only one of many hints of things to come.
After a long and painful (for Liz) journey, Vince was ready to be born. Because of a transition in the birthing team, I was, at the moment, alone at the gates, waiting for him. And suddenly, there he was! This little head and shoulders emerged into the world and then…he stopped. It was as if he wanted to check out the scene before he committed himself. Maybe he wanted to see if any of his friends were around.
His eyes opened to the world and, for what seemed like a half-hour, his little head swiveled around taking it all in for the first time. And then as I moved my head closer to his, those eyes “fixed” on mine, as much as a baby’s eyes can fix on anything in the first seconds of life. I was, of course, overwhelmed with emotion at the sight of my first child. I’m sure his first blurry view of my eyes found them full of tears. I was truly smitten, but his reaction was a slightly different one.
His eyes opened wide, with a startled expression. His mouth followed, as if to say, “Whoa, talk about a face to stop a ninth-innin’ rally…No offense, boss, but I’m going to get me another little dip in the hot tub.”
And I swear to everyone in the room that this creature’s first body language was all about going back from whence he had come. But we know that nature and mothers have other ideas at this moment, and from somewhere deep inside Liz came the energy for one last powerful push. With that last burst of energy, a primal act of unconditional love, she overruled Vince’s ambivalence and popped him into the world. The rest, as they say, is history.
Vince, I remember this story today, 6602 days later, as if it was yesterday, in part because I’m reminded of it every school day at 6AM when I face the unenviable task of rousting you out of the sack. Very much like Day One, your eyes open on those of your loving father and you quickly turn back to your covers, hoping it’s all a bad dream. But I also remember it because in those few seconds on Day One, you showed me many things about yourself that I think have turned out to be amazingly true. I’ll leave it to you and your friends to figure out what those things might be…