The One In The Middle

Charlie turned ten years old last week. He celebrated with a birthday on Tuesday, a field trip on Wednesday, a day spent at the office with his father on Thursday, and a weekend camping trip.

When I woke him up for school yesterday morning, he protested his need to attend by explaining, “But, there’s nothing happening this week.”

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Charlie always needs to be doing something. When the weekend hits, Bob and I look at each other and ask, “What’s on Charlie’s list?” We’ll jot down things inside the house that need fixing, things outside the house that need planting, things around the house that need… Charlie-ing.

When we tear him away from a small screen on Saturdays and Sundays, Charlie will spend his time on projects. Always tinkering. Always doing.

It came as a great relief when finally – at long last – Charlie grew heavy enough to mow the lawn. See, his diminutive stature was so diminutive that the lawn tractor didn’t recognize that anyone was sitting on the seat of the mower when Charlie would climb aboard and, as a safety precaution, would automatically cut the engine. Oh, how we rejoiced when Charlie weighed enough to keep the motor running. Now, he mows, too. It’s on his list.

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Charlie’s big Christmas present this past year was a brand new orange kayak. He had whittled his wish list down to the aforementioned kayak, a metal detector, or a ventriloquist’s dummy. We went for the kayak.

If it’s something to be done out of doors, Charlie is in. He putters around the pond in his kayak. Fishes there, too. Hikes the neighborhood, ensuring the paths are clear. Uses a bow gifted from his uncle for target practice in the backyard. Polishes his BB gun. Starts a fire in the pit on a chilly spring night.

The natural world matters to Charlie. He saves a turtle stuck on the sidewalk. He studies the sky when a storm approaches. He peers at the stars through his telescope.

Charlie is our Outdoor Boy. Always, always planning his next adventure.

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Two summers ago, Charlie went through an intense round of testing to figure out why school wasn’t clicking. To better discern why learning was so difficult for him. It was a laborious process for Charlie but through that testing we learned Charlie has a significant learning disability. His testing revealed deficiencies across the board – in all areas except one – his vocabulary. He scored “superior” in that area.

“Well, that makes sense,” we mused, thinking of Charlie’s incessant talking and story-telling. If votes were tallied, Charlie would be the People’s Choice winner in this family. He is beloved by those he’s met and those he hasn’t. He’s always drawn others in with his stories, his words. The test results confirmed both what we’d known and what we’d feared.

I wish school were easier for Charlie. I, selfishly, wish it were easier for us, too. Charlie is a challenge. He’s got years of hard work ahead. Bob and I do, too. As parents, we’re conditioned to tell our children they can do anything they set their mind to. But, it’s not that easy. It will never be that easy for Charlie.

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On vacation recently, our family took a Humvee tour through the dunes on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. By chance, Charlie got to sit in the front seat of the Humvee, across from the driver. He was delighted. Absolutely delighted. He also thought I had arranged it that way and I may have been slow to admit it was a happy accident. It was fun to be Charlie’s hero for a little bit.

He played it cool sitting in that front seat. Disguising his eagerness and excitement with a calm demeanor. He didn’t want the driver to know he was ecstatic. He’s maturing and changing. He’s ten after all.

Turning ten years old means you’ll have to hear more of Charlie’s delightful stories directly from Charlie now – not necessarily from me, not necessarily in this space. It’s time.

And, Charlie has plenty of his own tall tales to tell. He is full of adventure, that one. We should all wish to get to go along.

 

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Double Digits

Ten years ago this week, we brought a brand new baby Henry home from the hospital. Childbirth is one of those unique time stamp events you can pick pieces of from your memory with precision.

Ten years ago this very evening, Bob and I drove to the hospital after eating spaghetti for dinner.

Ten years ago this very morning, I woke up in labor and delivery with contractions.

Ten years ago this very afternoon, Bob went to eat lunch in the hospital cafeteria at the worst possible moment.

Ten years ago right this minute, Henry was born.

So many memories from the past decade of parenting have blurred together, a hazy hodgepodge of details, but the memories of the birth of my children remain large, like skyscrapers sticking up through the fog.

Henry was born by cesarean section after about 36 hours of increasingly unproductive labor. The long, complicated day that preceded his birth left me exhausted and utterly depleted. I fell asleep right on the operating table the minute I knew he had arrived safely. The first family photograph we have was taken in the surgery suite and just behind Bob, who is seen proudly holding a swaddled and slightly forsaken looking Henry, is me, asleep, my glasses askew.

I remember having absolutely no idea what to do with Henry once he finally arrived. My rather extensive babysitting experience accrued between the ages of twelve and sixteen proved surprisingly useless at thirty. Well, in every other baby-related area besides diaper changing. I knew exactly how to change Henry’s diaper. But, that was about it.

When a nurse popped in to check on the two of us that very first morning we were together, I commented that Henry had been fussing.

She looked at the two of us and asked, “Is he hungry? When was the last time you fed him?”

“Oh, right,” I sheepishly replied. “When am I supposed to start doing that?”

Right away. The answer is right away.

When I was finally able to climb out of my hospital bed, several hours after Henry’s birth, I relocated to a rocking chair in the room and Bob handed me Henry to cuddle. Having only seen him swaddled in a striped hospital blanket, I was eager to take a look at him. I wanted to really meet this little boy that was already changing everything. I remember unwrapping his blanket – just like you would a present – and peering in wonderment at his little toes and hands and knobby knees. Realizing with equal parts amazement and fear that he was finally here.

By the last evening of our hospital stay, I was already on the mend and we were beginning to find our groove with Henry’s care. We settled in after dinner to watch Washington play their final football game of the season. There we were, me in my hospital bed, Bob sitting in the recliner next to me, Henry swaddled and tucked into the bed between us. Our little family of three.

I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, this is it. We’ve done it. Here’s how it all begins. Here’s how the story starts.”

I’m not sure how much more of Henry’s story I’ll tell here. He is ten now and seems deserving of greater privacy. He is getting older and I can already see that the changes have begun.

A baby, a toddler, a young child, they’ll tell you exactly how they’re feeling. Every minute of every day, they make themselves known. But, after a decade of knowing just exactly how Henry is feeling – a decade of knowing everything about him – I can see him starting to pull away ever so gently. Keeping more of his thoughts, feelings and emotions to himself. Increasingly cognizant of the way others perceive him. Trying on sarcasm and new kinds of humor. Asking tough questions. Thinking about big ideas and concepts. All amazing things and all things I could never have imagined the day of his birth in 2005.

My newborn has grown up.

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