Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Birthday on Borrowed Time

Dear Oldest,

I have been trying to write this birthday letter for weeks now. I know that you still want me to do it, and I know that I need to do it, but I've sat and stared at this flashing cursor a few times now, then pushed myself away from the computer and vowed to try again later.

At State. Hair in the air. Heart in the sky.
 Just makes sense, I guess.
It isn't that I don't know what to say to you this year, it's that there is so much inside my head and my heart and I'm afraid that if I start to let it out even a little, the floodgates will open and devour me whole.

This parenting thing, man. It's rough sometimes.


There is a part of me that still sees the little boy getting on the bus for his first day in kindergarten when you look at me. There is a part of me that still sees you running around the house in your Buzz Lightyear costume instead of drumline t-shirts. There is a part of me that still instinctively wants to swoop in and scoop you up and shield you from all the things in the world that are unfair and will harm you.


I'm already crying, by the way. I just figured you'd want to know how far I got into this before the sobbing began. You always have liked to keep track of my sentimental tears, like that time you and I went to see Toy Story 3 in the theater and I sobbed through damn near all of that movie. And not the quiet subdued sobs, either. The loud gaspy ones, bad enough that you had to check on me a few times to make sure I was alright.

I was. I just saw my future on the screen. You've always been Andy.


And back then it was just a preview of that future. We're here now.

As of yesterday, you are officially a Senior in high school, and I don't know for the life of me how we got here. I really don't.


The days seem relentlessly long sometimes, but the years have flown by so fast that I cannot even try and capture how unreliable time is once you have kids. Someday, if you have children of your own, you'll know what I mean when I say this. Time isn't linear, not in any discernible way that makes sense.



As I wrote on my Facebook page this week, if you'd have told me ten years ago that this kid would finish his Eagle, that he'd be drum major his Senior year, that he'd be volunteering at the hospital, that he'd be kicking ass in school, that he'd be using everything in the house as a practice pad, that he'd already be making plans for independent drum corps after graduation, that he'd already know where he wants to go to school, that he wants to someday become a high school music teacher, I am not honestly sure that I would have believed you.


I didn't know who you'd grow up to be yet. I had no idea that you'd turn into this amazing human. I had hopes, sure, all parents do. We all want more for our kids than we had.

My life has been full of potential unfulfilled. Things I should have done and didn't for a million reasons that aren't really relevant for you. I've had lofty ambitions and big goals and huge dreams...I just didn't often make good on them.


I wanted better for you.

I fought like hell to make things better for you.

And now we are here.

And you've done so many of those things already.


You've sacrificed, you've worked hard, you've stayed up late at night finishing work so that you could fit everything else in, you've dropped EVERYTHING when someone needed you to be there. This year has been especially difficult in terms of that stuff. The people needing you thing. It's been a lot.

A ton, actually.


When your family needed you, when your friends needed you, you were always there. Maybe you didn't understand what was going on, maybe it didn't make sense to you, but it never mattered. You never needed an explanation to be there for someone else. You were the quiet support that people have come to rely on. You have learned to check on your friends, your siblings. You observe and pay attention to the nuances and the things they aren't saying. You know already that most of the things that people are preoccupied with aren't really what is important.

You've had to learn those lessons so much younger than I wish you'd had to learn them, and yet, now you have that experience and are armed with the knowledge and power to be a better support for others going forward in your life.



You've dealt with worrying about things out of your control. You've dealt with loving people through traumas. You've dealt with diffusing situations no 17 year old should have to understand. You've been an extension of my eyes and ears and heart every single day.

You've had your heart broken, and rather than opt for anger and sadness, you instead went to compassion and understanding. You allowed other people the space they needed and didn't make it about you. You could comprehend that even if you were hurt, it wasn't about you. It never was. That doesn't make it hurt less, no. I won't lie to you and tell that it is ever easier to be someone else's collateral damage...it isn't. But you had a choice in how you handled it all, and you did so with grace and kindness.


You are a good friend. Truly, a good friend. And this isn't just me saying this because I am your mom and I am supposed to. You have figured out how to give to others without sacrificing yourself in the process, which is something I still haven't learned.

You were put here on this planet to make a difference in the lives of other people, and you have. You do. Every day. You are a joy bringer. You are a breath of fresh air in a world full of negativity. You are an unyielding optimist. You always have a joke or a meme queued up, ready to show someone.


I hear there's an award for that.

You are resilient. You don't let disappointments shape your choices. If you want something badly enough, you hang out there in the sadness for only a moment, then you start taking inventory. What can I do better? What can I learn from this failure? How can I improve for the next time?



You've also learned to walk away from the people and the things that aren't meant for you. Already.

It took me until well into my 30s to have any grasp on those realities.

This morning as you were getting ready to play in the band at the last high school graduation you'll ever play at, you excitedly started sharing details about Battalion for next summer. You think you might be able to make it in with your audition, travel the country playing with drum corps. And you just might be right.


You can do just about anything you want enough.

And it is amazing to watch. Truly.

You haven't just grown older and taller. You've grown up. You've really found what brings you joy. Music. Maybe I knew it all those years ago when I found that drum kit on clearance. I think you were five years old. Your father thought I was crazy. (He's not wrong, by the way.)

That same kit is the one you refinished last year. The one that you've taped together and added rice cooker bowls to and hauled in the back of your car to fundraisers and played and played and played to work out your stress and your frustration and your sadness. You've broken drum heads and sticks, played until you had blisters on your fingers. Literally.



I'm sure that even if you add more drums eventually, that first one will go with you everywhere. It's basically become an extension of you.

When you were talking about Battalion this morning, I smiled on the outside. Asked questions. Encouraged you. All that. The things supportive parents do.

On the inside, though, my heart and my soul were breaking a little bit, knowing that I'm on borrowed time with you. One more year and you'll be off, out in the world, chasing those dreams. We may not even get next summer with you, not if you manage to make it into Battalion.



I know that I don't have much time left with you here.

And I know that all the parents of grown children out there will tell me that you'll still be around, and that things will be fine...I do know that, but it won't be the same. You won't be here anymore.

You won't be throat singing in the bathroom (that's where the good acoustics are). You won't be drumming in the basement. You won't be eating everything in the house. You won't be here to take your baby brother to the park when he gets extra spicy and needs to run. You won't be here for a lot of stuff. It won't be the same, even when you are home.

I know I am on borrowed time.

The truest element of parenting I have learned, though, is this: it's all borrowed time.

From the moment you were born, you weren't mine. I was just lucky enough to get to keep you around for a while. Kids don't belong to parents, not in the way that most people think. You've always belonged to you, I just was gifted the opportunity to watch you grow up.

And it has been an honor.


So, go easy on your old mom this next year. She's going to be weepier than normal. She's going to hug you a lot. A. LOT. Be prepared for that. She'll be around, doing all the things, watching from the corner like she usually is, watching time flash before her eyes.

I'm proud of you, sweetheart, even if you still need to sometimes find a bird statue.

Love,
Mom

p.s. the video is so getting played at your graduation party next year


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