Friday, September 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, my Berto

On my children's birthdays, I am always busy trying to bake and frost the cake, pick out birthday books, and make a birthday sign with their siblings. Inevitably the moment comes, however, when it hits me that this day means they are older, grown and changed - far from that tiny nursing baby who I struggle to remember holding - and then I am sad.

Yesterday was my handsome son Berto's birthday. As I read How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague to his little brother Danny before naptime, the moment came. Suddenly I choked up and paused. Why on earth was I sad? The emotion always ambushes me. I'm so busy I forget to anticipate it.

Yet I understood when I thought for a second. The book used to be a favorite of Berto's when he was a little tyke. He had to have it each night before bedtime. Papa read the papa parts, mama the mama ones. Then we took turns on the last few pages, giving kisses and hugs as they fell in the story, before we read together, Good night. Good night, little dinosaur.

Now he drapes his big 11-year-old body over a whole recliner and reads to himself, the Harry Potter series, books by Rick Riordin, and sports fiction by Mike Lupica.

When he was first born, I sat in that same recliner in the spacious master bedroom of our apartment, the sun streaming in through the long windows along two walls, and held the boy as he nursed and slept. As a new mother I found nothing in the world pressing enough to tempt me from that child. Cradling my tiny son on his bumblebee boppy in perfect comfort and contentment, I read Agatha Christie for hours as we rocked in quiet. I often think back to the luxury of that time I had with him. It's something I could not have with any of his siblings after; it's special.

And now I'm crying. It makes no sense, I know. Birthdays are celebrations, for crying out loud. And I celebrate all the one-on-one time I've had with Berto, like taking him to see the Hobbit just last year and trying to cover his eyes every several minutes with my hands (he just yanked them away). And I celebrate him for what he is today: a guy who loves football and wants to be an NFL quarterback, a high-achieving student who doesn't like when his friend disrespects the teacher, a big brother who is too hard on siblings but protective of them, and a mop-haired, fifth-grade boy who will do pushups and then monkey-crawl across a swing set to impress a few girls with his muscles. He is also my-not-so-little-anymore buddy who jokes around with me and makes mischief until we've both provoked Papa with our antics at the dinner table, over bedtime stories or at other inopportune times.

Our now 11-year-old son got the unabridged Dracula by Bram Stoker for his birthday book this year. Paca (my dad) and Uncle Nate, both big Stoker fans, approve, I'm sure. It's a long way from How Do Dinosaurs Go to School, and that's how it should be - even in the world of wistful mamas.

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