Today is my son’s birthday.
He was born 24 years ago today, a week and some overdue. In the days preceding his birth, I ran/jogged/bounced several miles, double-dutch jump-roped with his father, and mowed the lawn. Civil Disobedience Baby would not be moved, however; and he did as he does today: he showed up on his own time.
The day I brought The Boy home from the hospital, I was a nervous and post-partum-depressed young woman with no idea of what to do with a baby. So I set him on the kitchen table and read him the newspaper.
He seemed to enjoy it.
He was a sweet baby; a thoughtful toddler; a child with remarkable rhythm and musical skills and more often than not, ketchup in his ears. He is now an intelligent and humorous man. His ears no longer appear to house ketchup.
In honor of his birthday, I’d like to tell a story.
I returned to school at 26 to become a court reporter. The Boy was four. In the beginning, I worked full-time (second shift), went to school full-time (first shift) and did freelance proof-reading work on the weekend. How long could I keep that up? Three months.
Money had always been tough, but it was about to get much tougher; and one night, sitting on the couch, my purse on one side, my bills on the other, I realized that I had $320 worth of bills and $273 with which to pay them. The phone calls from a collection agency, the loneliness, the pressure of the previous three months became too much to bear. I burst into tears.
That was when my son came into the room. He stood in the hallway, walked into the living room, a four-year-old in flannel pajamas, rubbing his eyes, blinking against the light.
“What’s the maddoo?”
“I – I – don’t have enough money to pay the electric bill,” I sobbed. I had never been so ashamed.
He turned around and left the room, and I covered my face. What kind of mother was I? How could I have let my son witness this?
He returned, carrying his piggy bank.
“No,” I said.
“How much is the electwic be-you?”
“Forty-two dollars,” I said, wiping my eyes.
He turned the bank upside down and pried the rubber stopper out. He turned the bank over again; and a torrent of quarters, dimes, and nickels fell to the floor. He sat next to the pile and started counting out his money.
“No,” I cried. “I can’t let you pay my bills!”
He stood, putting his little hands on his hips. He looked at me sternly, and as I received my first lecture from him, he looked older than four.
“I live hee-you, don’t I? I use electwicity, don’t I?” His voice was calm. He was reasoning with me.
“Then let me he’p you,” he said; and he sat down again. “Wi’ you let me he’p you?”
Fifteen minutes later, towers of coins surrounded him; the product of allowances and 25-cent kisses from my best friend Paula. His face had the plump, rosy glow of a child content with himself.
His change came to just over $42; and that night, my son paid the electric bill. I put him to bed, kissing him; I put myself to bed; and I cried again, this time with pride.
He is, to this day, the boy I knew then.
He’s a good boy.
Happy Birthday, Stinky.