Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lived at my house who wore nothing but a skunk skin hat (it was made of rabbit fur, really) and a little tiny, lemon yellow pocket vest. The pockets were stuffed with all manner of little boy detritus, but mostly extra corks, to fit into the end of his cork rifle, which was perennially slung over his shoulder. I had to negotiate like a lawyer, and wheedle like a salesman convincing an eskimo of his need for ice, to get this child out of his self appointed uniform to bathe him, or wash any part of it. He would stand next to the drier and wait for the vest to emerge and then grumble that it didn’t “smell right.” Precisely, my son.
Then, I blinked.
I opened my eyes this week to find a seventeen year old man standing in his place. He now prefers the multi color patchwork of Guatemalan style pants and his “World’s Okayest Brother” t-shirt. His pockets are now filled with earphones, guitar picks and a fancy fountain pen instead of corks. He’s an artist, and a musician, a writer of deep thoughts that he rarely shares, a sailor and an adventurer, as well as a caretaker and lover of persons, on par with the excellent example of his Daddy.
And also, he’s huge.
He makes me tea, many mornings, with milk and sugar, the way he likes it; forgetting that I prefer mine without. He sneaks up on me in the kitchen and wraps his ent like form around mine and rubs my back and whispers, “My little Mommy.” These have become known as “little mommy” hugs, and I must have them. Daily. When I’m tempted to get maternal and holler at him for something I don’t need to, he laughs at me and picks me right up off of the ground to remind me who’s bigger. I find this humiliating. That my spawn can now relocate me at will. I used to pick his grumpy little self up by the back of his overalls and deposit him in his bed to “take a break” from time to time. My approach has now come full circle.
He is the boy who has carried heavy canisters of propane gas and endless baskets of laundry back and forth from the village all winter. He’s the one who moves trash bags, cleans (and drives) the truck so that I don’t have to. He runs errands, crosses the lago on my behalf to the bank or the store, and generally takes care of me. It’s a weird thing, to move from the role of care taker to the role of cared for. This happened with Gabe about two years ago, when he decided that I fell within his domain of protected persons.
And also, he’s leaving.
Gabe has been one step ahead of me for most of his life. I remember, distinctly, feeling frustrated, when he was two, that he’d somehow managed to outsmart me again. He read a little later than I’d have liked, and he was the kid who had to bounce on a mini-trampoline to memorize his times tables without us killing one another. But, he was building things before I felt comfortable with the saw he was using being in his hands. He helped tear the house apart and reassemble it when he was only five. I have a great picture of him mudding the ceiling on a ladder when he was about seven. He rowed a boat by the time he was five, and that was the beginning of the end.
When he was accepted to the program that will launch his university career, while sailing the Med and crossing the Atlantic, getting his 200 tonne captain’s license and his Dive Master certifications out of the way in the process, I hyperventilated just a little bit. He was only 16. How could he be done with his high school work and out the door already? Then I remembered that Hannah was done early too, but she chose to hang around while moving on. Not Gabe. But I guess I knew that about him when he was eight and disappeared for about six hours on his boat, only to be seriously annoyed when he thought I might have wondered where he was. He was fishing, of course, and he was fine, obviously. Of course. Obviously. He’ll be the youngest kid on the boat by several years, and he’s ready (of course) and he’ll work hard (obviously). Breathe with me, Mamas; this, “See ya later,” stuff isn’t for the faint of heart.
This week my boy turned 17. The same age I was when I graduated a little early. The same age I was when I leapt countries to dive into my future. Why does it look so much younger from this side of the equation? And yet… and yet… I have complete confidence in Gabe. He’s as prepared as he could possibly be. He’s bright, motivated, hard working, respectful, well grounded, and has a firm grip on the realities, in and outside the first world, he’s experienced more than most kids his age, and he knows how to take care of himself. My work here is (mostly) done. Now it’s time to stand back and cheer.
Happy Birthday, Manlet.