It’s my big kid’s golden birthday. He’s fourteen on the 14th. He hung on to life on the inside nine days longer than expected, that giant baby did. I was a house, no, I was an estate by the time he decided to make his way. He was worth every second of that extra nine days’ wait. Happy birthday, my son.
You’ve had quite a run here these last few weeks. In no other place I know, eighth grade students face the immense pressure of getting into a “good” high school. You vie for “golden tickets” for open houses at the “good” schools, complete online applications, audition, request letters of recommendation, draft essays, and wait in a block-long line to get a space for the formal test. I don’t recall having done this much groundwork for university matriculation, and I got a really sweet scholarship. The pressures you and your classmates face should be found only in a dystopian work of fiction. Growing up anywhere else in the world, you’d go to the school nearest your home in the city you live.
You admitted nerves, but you conquered them with persistence. You felt unprepared, but you proved that showing up is half the battle. I’m proud of you.
Now you wait. Letters of acceptance arrive in December, and our family’s future hinges on what you read in that mailing. (Friends, if you’re reading this thinking I’m chock full o’ my usual hyperbole, know that in this case I speak the level truth.) Number 1 and Number 2 choices are solid–I know you’ve got the heart of Husky, but you could be a General too, and that would be OK. But you were under-impressed by the Owls, and choices four and five simply aren’t choices. One and two mean we stay; any other return means we go. We move to another city. That’s OK. We’re prepared to do whatever we need to do for you and your brother.
There are days I don’t know what I want to see revealed in that acceptance letter (OK, I WANT choice #1). I’ve never in my adult live envisioned living outside the city, but would the ‘burbs really be so bad? Not bad, but not me. Not us. Maybe they’ll fit perfectly. Maybe not.
Wait, this is about you, YOU my boy. It’s your birthday. I’ve wondered what to get you, what kind of material gift to give you. You give away very little, but you let me in on a little secret Monday, and I feel though it’s your birthday, I received a little becoming-a-mom-day gift from you, and you don’t even know it.
I nag on ya for spending all this time staring at your phone, earbuds ever-present to the point of appearing surgically implanted. You’re a YouTube zombie–you don’t even hear me when I yell at the top of my lungs for you (and I’m no delicate little flower), and no matter how many times I crab at ya for blasting your music too loud, you don’t seem to heed the lesson. Neither did I. Which explains a lot about why my hearing thresholds are what they are today, and though I wish to serve as your cautionary tale, I’ve come to realize that you do have a little bit of your mom’s heart beating inside your own.
Eighth grade me was not skinny or popular or beautiful. It shouldn’t matter when you’re fourteen, but it does. I was not confident. Or cool. I was hiding inside my room in the dark, trying to figure out just what the hell I was. I was first chair in band. I was the middle school salutatorian. I was reliable and dependable. I was the fastest girl sprinter in my middle school. I was everybody’s friend, which was freaking awesome. I got to do a lot, I guess, but I didn’t believe any of that at the time. I felt never good enough. I mistrusted every accomplishment as dumb luck, and deflected any positive comment cast my way.
Middle school is a labyrinth of all the unkindest cuts, and I bled. Wound care was administered in my headphones. Music was my solace. LOUD music, the bass thumping so loud that the headphones quite literally bounced off my head. So loud you could sing along from downstairs. Lying on my bedroom floor, wrecking the shit out of my hearing despite your grandparents’ strongest protestations, I found me.
And I think maybe you have found yourself. You’re finding yourself anyway.
I learned this week that all your time isn’t in fact spent watching banal, inane YouTubers riffing video games or opening Pokemon cards. You’re listening. You’re picking songs I loved when I was your age when the ancient version of your earbuds (my headphones) were eternally attached around my head. You love the band Rush. You hear Subdivisions and interpret the music video for me. You sing all the right words, just like I do. You pull meaning from those song lyrics, and maybe the view is a little middle schoolish, but that’s OK because you’re a middle schooler–you’re not supposed to feel like you’re applying for college this year–you’re fourteen. You get why the guitar solo in Limelight rocks so hard. You mention that Geddy Lee’s bass inspires you, and until this week, I’d never heard you utter the word inspire.
You used to write, can you recall? You created notebooks upon notebooks of beginnings. Your author’s dreams were grandiose, you had designs on writing the next great American (elementary school) novel. You began hundreds of tales, characters based not-so-loosely on yourself and your friends, and other literary characters you enjoyed. You haven’t created a great body of work in a while, but now you want to create music. You wanna make some noise, learn bass lines and play along with your new really old favorite songs. Guess what you’re getting for your birthday, kid? Four strings. Rock. And also roll.
“Dude, we gotta start a band!”
Your birthday fills me with longing–your sweet baby cheeks, your feather light tufts of blonde hair, the corners of your blue eyes, now green, turned up when you smiled. Things were quite simple then–little kids, little problems. . . Your MD, my “management” of your diagnosis that is, is what made me carve out this outlet, my little creative writing .com of the internet. However desperately I wish I hadn’t felt that pull to write, I am thankful for this outlet. What a weird thing to say thank you for. Thank you, my boy. Happy Golden Birthday. Get on that bass and rock, kid.