Monday, September 12, 2016

Birthday Boy

Berto and Papa
My oldest son Berto didn't want to go to school today; it's his 14th birthday. I didn't blame him. Really, he hates school just as I did growing up. Still, I made him go.

His birthday will be full of school, sports and work obligations just as his dad's was. Honestly, I wish we could take a breather some days - just pause for a less hectic celebration without other concerns pressing us down.

This weekend as we worked to prepare for another rowdy birthday sleepover, I was recalling when our boy was a baby. I thought of the blissful and sad moments of his infancy. It puzzled me that the sad memories rose too; I didn't invite them.

One of my happiest memories of time spent with my first baby (who looked a bit like a ruddy-faced, middle-aged balding man when he first entered this world), is those first several days or few weeks when I held him nearly non-stop in my arms, supported by his blue bumble bee boppy. Even while he slept, I cradled him instead of putting him in the crib. When he awoke I nursed and changed him and let him drift off again in my steady, loving arms. I didn't even try to pretend that I had better things to do, because I was as content as I have ever been in my life sitting there with my tiny little boy and reading Agatha Christie novels.

Of course, I thought next of how ecstatic Berto was every day when his papa arrived home. New to Arizona, we were the only two special people in his life, and he liked to see Papa for a change at the end of the day. There's a great picture of Berto as a toddler hugging his Papa's knees and looking up at him with absolute love. Matthew is looking toward the camera with a big grin on his face; it's great to be adored. They have a little more trouble understanding each other now, but they still share a million-dollar smile.

Then my thoughts betrayed me, and I thought of sadder, lonelier moments. I remembered when another mother made me feel like a bad mama, because Berto had eczema on his cheeks, and I didn't know how to clear it up or guess that it was likely related to food allergies. I was trying to wipe his face regularly which probably was making it worse. She thought I wasn't taking care of my son, that perhaps I didn't care. Her judgement astonished me.

I also recalled when relatives came to visit and assist when we first moved to this house. It was a busy, crazy time, and they helped watch the baby. Berto was not always a happy-go-lucky baby, and when I heard him giggling as I was cleaning the apartment bathroom for the last time, I rushed out because I thought he was crying, and our relatives stared at me when I asked if everything was alright. How could you not recognize your baby's giggle? they seemed to be thinking. How could I not?

Later, at the house, I tried to make my little Berto giggle that exuberantly again, and my six-month-old son stared back at my antics with a tired, serious face. I wanted to cry. It broke my heart.

But there are more good memories. For instance, there were all those afternoons in this house when we played a game I made up called Oogula-Boogula. Berto would crawl under our new dining table, and I would walk around it with all his soft, plastic toy links hooked together, chanting slowly at first and then faster, "Oogula boogula, oogula boogula...oogula boogula - Booo!", and I would try to catch him under the table, tap his arms or legs with the end of the Oogula-boogula link monster. Berto giggled and shouted and scooted away. We thought it was great fun.

Berto and Mama

And how I cherish all the evenings I held my baby's hand through the crib at night, singing him bedtime songs!

And how many days did we drive around his big, squishy fire truck and dumpster truck that he got for his first birthday? They were great, because you could lean down on their pliable tops and push them around on your knees and hit the buttons to make engine/emergency noises.

There was the move to a big boy bed (one from his dad's childhood) in order to give the crib to the baby girl Mama was expecting. There was the awesome look on Berto's face when he met his first sibling, Analisa, a few months before his second birthday. They were good friends as little tykes. They used to take naps together, giggling and squirming as I tried to wind them down with books; they got into plenty of mischief together; and Ana used to crawl into the hall when her buddy Berto was in timeout to keep him company and offer comfort.

There are many other memories I've written about here: Berto's love of Star Wars: how he is a great big brother; and what a talented writer he has become. I am so proud of my son, and many an evening he has pulled me into long conversations past bedtime, because I am very interested in his views, ideas and inquiries.

Really, I shouldn't still be writing - I have to go make the frosting for his birthday cake! But I simply wanted to take some time to walk down memory lane and greet the myriad specters there, some friendly and some a bit morose, and in taking that walk I wanted to remember that all in all, despite my mistakes as a Mama, the one thing I have always given abundantly to these precious children throughout the years is love: wrapped up in innumerable hugs and kisses, sleepy nurses, silly games, baked treats and words, sung or spoken.

And today especially I want to thank God for all the love we have given to and received from our Berto, and for all the gifts our Father has given to our eldest son. May God bless him this year, for what joy he brings to our lives!


  1. Happy birthday to Berto! May he have many blessings this year of being 14. Love, Camille


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