Dear Benjamin Maxwell,
Today you are 11.
The day you were born, August 20, 2001, I remember thinking, as the doctor held you up for inspection, “wow, that baby has a lot of hair – do they have baby toupees?”
(I was, darling boy, in tremendous pain)
That boy, you, I named Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” I’m certain it has a Biblical quality, but I chose that name, Benjamin, because I wanted you, my first born, the great love of my life, to inherit my better qualities; the son of my right side. I wanted so much for your life, which at eight pounds, seemed tiny, but really, it was the beginning of everything.
As I looked at you, that tiny baby in my arms, I wanted you to know love, to feel the love that surrounds you, even as you lay your head on the pillow each night, your eyes full of sleep. I wanted you to grow to hold your head high, to smile at the small things – a faint smile at the way the light catches the dining room window just-so as the sun sets – a distant, fiery, honey-colored orb leaving our side of the world as we get into bed, on its journey to peep through the windows and hark the morning your Australian relatives.
I hoped that you would one day grow to speak to me of your life, to confess your hopes and fears, to let me kick the ass of the first girl that hurt your heart and turn the other cheek when I left a flaming bag of poo on the front porch of the first person that dared give MY SON a black eye. I wanted march to the beat of your own drum – hell, I wanted you to MAKE that beat and make others march to the beat of your drum. I wanted to protect you from the hurts and whirls of life; to give you the very best and more. I wanted all of this and more for you – just as every parent does.
Benjamin: Son of My Right Side; my GOOD side. And so you were. And so you are.
I woke up in the hospital that day, August 20, 2001, as the sun was setting in the sky, the world, for once, quiet, and gingerly, the doctor placed you into my arms. I held you, gazing into your dark eyes for a spell until your doctor, a man who had said five words to me while I was pregnant with you, one of them being, “PUSH!” stood back, looking between you and I and back again. Finally, he remarked, – for the first, but not last time during our stay – a thin smile playing upon his lips as he watched the two of us interact, “Wow, you certainly love that baby.”
I did not, as you might expect of your mother now, pull him close to my face, and say menacingly, “You bet your fucking ass I love that baby. What the hell else would you expect? ‘That baby’ is MY baby and I am going to make him PROUD of me if it kills me.” Instead, I was too enchanted by your tiny feet and long hands, so similar to my own, that I could do nothing more than nod an acknowledgement. I whispered into your year that day, and again, many times over, “I’m going to make you proud.”
I knew I was a youngish mother for this day and age, and I knew that meant I’d be facing an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a mother. But I didn’t care – I had my baby and I was going to do right by him.
In this way, the day you were born, my life changed. You, Son of my Right Side, changed my life by being born.
I don’t mean “you changed my life” the corny way they do in movies, a great montage set to some eye-ball wrenching music, no. I didn’t immediately go and breastfeed baby Alpacas or head up a non-for-profit organization that aimed to reduce the stigmas of mental illness, trauma, rape and other horrors – no, that came later. Well, not the baby Alpacas part.
Life isn’t a Lifetime Original Series or I’d be Tori Spelling in a wig and we’d drive better cars.
No, life doesn’t work that way, Boy of my Right Side – life isn’t about fancy cars or Tori Spelling, or assured happily ever afters. If it were, I wouldn’t be here alone, sitting in my empty house, writing you this letter eleven years after the day you were born. You see things differently than the rest of us.
Life, you see, isn’t black and white, right and wrong, Roe Vs. Wade.
Life is about the beautiful, swirling colors that fall somewhere in between. Life is dragonflies who try to race you in the car, their wings shimmering, glinting in the sun. Life is twirling around in the lush grass, holding hands with your brother, until you get so dizzy you wobble until you fall down, clutching your stomach, laughter spilling out of your mouth. Life is about finding the absurdities in the mundane and finding Your Happy wherever you can.
Life is, as you’re finding out far too early, also about choices.
After you were born, I saw that I had a series of choices ahead of me in order to give my son, you, Son of my Right Side, the life that I wanted for you; for us. I’d been given the tremendous challenge of raising a boy, and I would go on to do my best to give that boy – you, a young man now – the very best. To allow him a childhood in which he could drink from the hose on a hot summer day; to laugh as the water sloshed around inside him, as though his GI tract were a life-sized water balloon. To give him siblings to teach the little things in life. To show them that in the morning, as if to say “hello, world, so wonderful to see you again,” tulips open, stretching their beautiful petals to the sky, and in the evening, they bid us adieu, closing their petals again until the sun, once again, beckoned them awake. To look at the world as a blank slate of possibilities to be filled with lemonade stands and washing the car with dish soap.
To be able to look at your mother, now three times over, and say (even if it’s never aloud), “I’m proud of what she’s done.”
I don’t think I did that. I’d like to think I’ve tried.
I’ve tried, Son of my Right Side, to do right by you, just as I promised that tiny baby I would, but today, as we are separated on the day that I became a mother; the day I became a mother to you, the day the world knew your name, I feel I’ve done you wrong.
I’m so, so sorry. I’d hoped that you’d have had some more time to see life as a series of Good Guys versus Bad Guys. Cops and Robbers. Batman and The Joker. The separation between your mother and the man you’ve known as Dad for as long as you can recall hit you hard – harder than any of us, I think – and I wish more than anything I could explain to you that while things are hard right now – and they are – now isn’t forever.
There will be more good days, more laughter and forgetting, more sunshine and lemonade stands.
I’ve wanted more than anything to continue making memories, memories encapsulated in beautiful bubbles of multicolored glass, so that when I am an old lady and you are an adult, we can sit on a porch and talk about “that time you got to go into a bouncy house and laughed and laughed and laughed as you were tossed to and fro,” or tease your sister, reminding her that you once changed her diapers. Because by then, she will have done more than any of us could’ve imagined. The idea of her in diapers will, by then, be comical. We’d laugh, sitting there on those rocking chairs, creaking back and forth, recalling the days your little brother, who will not be so little any longer, used to roll around with you on the floor, entangled like a couple of puppies.
I hope, son of mine, the one who forever altered my path, that some day, we’ll look back on this, long after our scars have healed, and return to live our lives together. I wish that it had been happily ever after for us all, but this wild card, well, it’s part of what will define our history and take us on new adventures.
Until then, my sweet son, know that I love you more than the moon and the stars and every one of Jupiter’s moons COMBINED.
I’ll be here, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to make new memories together. Because our story, Ben, it’s not over – life is not over, and we’ll both return from this rough patch better for it. Our lives; our stories, they’ve only just begun.
I couldn’t be more proud of the person you are becoming; the baby I once sang “Mockingbird” to as we both tried to relax for the night, forever choking up at the end, hoping that one day, I’d be able to give you all that you wanted.