The first time I saw him he was tiny, all chubby pink cheeks and black hair so long it covered the tops of his ears. His eyes were dark, dark blue, nearly black, and he fixed them on me with a gaze that seemed to say, “Seriously, this kid? Where’s my real mother? You know, with the apron and the cookies and more than seven years into the double-digits?” But I was his, no doubt about it, and he was mine for sure.
By the time he was one, his hair had fallen out and grown back in pale blond curls, his eyes lightened to a clear sky-blue, and he tottered around the house in his corduroy overalls, sturdy legs pumping away as he investigated everything he saw. Picking up his toys, he would turn them over, inspect, name them and move on to the next. “Buth!” he would cry, stuffing legless plastic forms into his yellow school bus; “Poppy!” he yelled at his stuffed dog. Used to riding in cars with loud motors and half-assed mufflers, his word for car was simply the sound they made: “Rrrrr-rrrrr-rrrrr.”
That was, what, a few days ago? I have his first report card (“Dylan has learned to read and loves math. Please remind him to keep his hands to himself”), photos of him in his walker and standing on a train and sitting on the roof with his best friend, too cool to stand on solid ground. The overalls have given way to baggy pants, the plastic drums cast aside for the screaming heavy metal guitar he plays every day.
He plays Metallica, and I think of him as a toddler, dancing away to “Motorbreath” and laughing… always laughing.
It was a few days ago, right? That he was stepping off the school bus on his first day of school, chattering before he even hit the ground… that he was riding his big wheel down the driveway, trying to run over some goth kid we hung out with and grinning like a maniac… that he tried to hide behind the open door with his girlfriend before they ran outside to play basketball together. It couldn’t have been that long ago.
In six days he will be a man, legally. He has been for a while now, working with his dad on construction sites, taking care of the yard work, growing taller than I am and sprouting whiskers that remind me of the first blond wisps he grew on his head. His eyes are the same, though, and the smile, and the way he has to learn about everything, all the time.
I remember him small, maybe one and a half, standing in the driveway while his dad worked on our beat-up old Chevette. Dylan would pick up pieces of gravel one at a time, each time asking “Whatsat, Daddy?” And Jackey would pause and look down every time and give him the same answer: “It’s a rock, son.” He’d turn it over in his hands for a second, our little boy, and then say as if it was the most amazing thing ever, “Ohhhh, issa rock son.” Thirty seconds later, another one, and on and on for hours.
He is older now than we were when we had him.
His diploma sits on a shelf in an envelope, waiting for me to give it to him, to present him with this final thing that says he is free to go. He has big plans, my boy does. They are noble plans, plans that will take a great deal of strength to follow through. If I am being completely honest, I have to say I hope he lacks that strength. I hope something in him makes him change his mind. I wish, with everything in me, that I could go back and hold that tiny, squalling mass of dark hair and big eyes and persuade him not to go.
But I can’t. He is a man now, and I have done my job. Wherever he goes, I will be there to support him. Wherever he is, I will be waiting here with the door unlocked and the light on. I’ll watch as he goes off to make his own life, and I’ll make sure he knows that he is important to me because of who he is, not in spite of it. I am proud of my son.
He just called out for me to turn the TV on to channel 68… Beavis and Butthead is on.
Has it really been that long?
Happy birthday, Dylan Shane. I love you more than you’ll ever know.