Birthday Boy

Twenty-seven years ago today, in a place that no longer exists, a bouncing baby boy was born. That place was the naval hospital at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, and the boy was my son, whom readers know as El Noble. The naval hospital has long since been demolished and rebuilt in a different location on board MCAS Cherry Point. El Noble has not been rebuilt, but thanks to his father’s occupation, he has been relocated roughly 15 times.

Weighing in at 10 pounds, 3 ounces, El Noble was the second largest baby born at that facility that month. Surpassed only by the 11 pound, 2 ounce toddler born the day before him, nearly everyone predicted he would become a football player. As is his habit, he went his own way and opted instead to play soccer, baseball, and tennis.

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Given his precociousness, his choice of sports, and his nomadic lifestyle, one might say that El Noble has always been a man on the move. Before he was old enough to ride a bike, my dad and two brothers chipped in and bought him a battery powered Jeep for his birthday in 1989.

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That Jeep was a great source of pleasure to him before it was stolen from our garage a year or so later. It was also a great source of pain to his sister, Princess Primrose, who—although she never saw it in person—to this day feels cheated for having never had a battery powered Jeep of her own.

Later on, El Noble would fill the hole left in his heart by the stolen battery powered Jeep by purchasing a used gas powered Jeep with money he saved working summers for one of the uncles who gave him the first Jeep. His sister, meanwhile, attempted to fill the hole left in her heart by her lack of a battery powered Jeep by purchasing a used convertible with money she saved working at Fleet Farm, but she’s still not over it.

In between his first and second cars, El Noble kept himself very busy. In addition to youth and high school sports, he amused himself by scaring me to half to death. In truth, the terror I felt was almost always a self-inflicted wound, as I was the one who allowed and often encouraged him to spread his wings. It was I, for example, who in April of 1992 agreed to let my friend LaVon teach him to ride a bike by ripping off his training wheels with her bare hands and pushing him repeatedly along the path that surrounds Lake Nokomis.

Don’t ask me why I agreed to this. My only defense is that I was pregnant with the Princess at the time, and wasn’t thinking clearly. Especially when Von laughingly asked, as he neared the boat ramp several yards ahead of us after having mastered the task of remaining upright on two wheels, “Wouldn’t it be funny if he lost control when he hit that boat ramp and rolled headfirst into the lake?” For instead of kicking her in the shins or running—okay, waddling fast—to catch up to and prevent my first born child from plunging into the ice cold waters of Lake Nokomis, I laughed right along with her. That is, until he hit the boat ramp, lost control, and rolled headfirst into the lake. As per her promise, LaVon went in after him. She also gave him her dry jacket and happily absorbed all the vitriol he unleashed upon her for laughing at his misfortune.

It was also a self-inflicted wound when I agreed to let him run one of the confidence courses at Quantico. Like any good and crazy mother, I went along and watched with bated breath as the boy climbed and jumped over wood, metal, and cement obstacles with only sand or asphalt to cushion his fall. His dad was there to catch him this time, thankfully, but in truth, the only one who needed help and encouragement to get through the ordeal was me.

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You might think I would have learned from those experiences what my heart could and could not take. But no.

Which is why, in 1995, I let him go white water rafting on the Arkansas River with LaVon and her husband. (It bears mention here that LaVon tends to figure prominently in many of El Noble’s adventures. I can’t go into all of them now since various statutes of limitations may not have expired, but the next time you see him, feel free to ask what it’s like to outrun the police to avoid a speeding ticket, or how one should handle being questioned by federal marshals at a national landmark.)

At any rate, believing the distraction of a baby and three preschoolers would keep me too busy to worry about El Noble, I stayed back at the campsite with the Jarhead and the Princess, and agreed to keep LaVon’s two daughters and infant son safe and warm while she took my child down a raging river in what was basically a giant flat balloon. He came back to camp alive and in one piece, despite having been bounced out of the raft a time or two. By all accounts, he had the time of his life—which is what it’s all about—or so I keep telling myself.

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There was talk back then about him becoming a Navy SEAL or working as a search and rescue helicopter pilot. That was on top of him getting a driver’s license and a real Jeep—and going to homecomings and proms. That was when I stopped listening and started drinking heavily.

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I’m kidding of course. But it would be a lie to say I wasn’t relieved when he got into the hospitality business and later became a real estate agent. And it’s fitting that he is making a career out of helping people buy and sell homes. He has enough experience at moving to qualify as an expert, and has watched us buy and sell enough properties to know how to handle almost anything that comes his way.

That’s not to say I’ve stopped worrying about him. Especially when words like kayaking, skydiving, and motorcycle come out of his mouth, my heart just wants to stop.

But he’s 27 now. Today, in fact. So it’s probably time to cut the apron strings.

Shame I’ve hidden all the scissors.


An Emptier Nest

El Noblé has left home. It’s the second time in six years that he has flown the coop but this time I think he means it.

He didn’t take off in a huff, it must be said. Although I’m sure he’s relieved to be on his own again, it wasn’t an unfriendly or unexpected parting.  His work keeps him in another town about 30 minutes away most days, so it made more sense for him to live there than with us, and his new place is only minutes from his office which will allow him to both get a lot more done AND get a lot more sleep. Because he lives and works so close, we still have dinner together about once a week, which is about how often we saw him when he was racing back and forth from our place to his office anyway, so it’s not as if he’s out of our lives completely.

Still, it smarts a little to see him go. I was so happy to have him with us again when he pulled up his stakes on the East coast and moved in 20 months ago, it’s almost harder to say goodbye this time around. Maybe that’s because this time it happened just before the holidays. The last time he moved out was in the spring, and he needed his own place because the Jarhead and I were leaving Pennsylvania to live in Minnesota. At the time he was nineteen and had ties to the Keystone State that left him totally disinterested in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. So essentially we left him behind.

Or maybe it’s harder this time around precisely because he’s the one who’s leaving. Sure, technically he left our house last time, but that was only because we were selling our home and thought it would be better if his stuff was out of the house while it was on the market and/or when the movers came to pack up our things. At that time, I didn’t think I could feel any worse than I did knowing I was leaving my baby boy behind to fend for himself in the big city, but to my surprise, I do.

Or maybe I don’t feel worse than I did then. Maybe it just feels that way because six years have passed since the last time he left. Maybe, like the pain of childbirth, the agony I’m feeling now will go away with time and be replaced with the joy and pride I’m trying to feel knowing he’s ready and able to be on his own again. Maybe in six more years I’ll have helped him to celebrate so many successes that I’ll have forgotten my sadness.

People more experienced than I tell me it will be even harder when the Princess leaves home. They say that, although it’s rough when the oldest leaves, it feels much worse when the youngest one goes; that you feel it acutely when the last one moves on and that nest is truly empty.

I suspect they’re right about all that. I tend to believe them because, although I cried like a baby the morning I walked the eldest to the school bus for his first day of kindergarten, I cried like a baby every morning the week my youngest started school. And while I sobbed when El Noblé learned to ride a bike, got his driver’s license, got his first job, and graduated high school, I was a total basket case as Princess Primrose reached each of these same milestones a few years later.

Now again, there may be reasons for this other than the fact that she is the youngest. Part of it may be that I was so exhausted by her hair raising temper tantrums by the time kindergarten came around, I cried out of a sense of relief that, even if her terrible twos had lasted longer than those of most children, they were now—if for only five or so hours a day—someone else’s problem. And as for the driver’s license, job, and graduation, I know that at least some of my tears can be attributed to the pride and joy I felt over having seen her through to adulthood without having killed her or myself.

Although I may be sad when the time comes, I don’t plan to spend a lot of time worrying about how I’ll react when my youngest child leaves the nest. I say this not because it won’t bring me to tears, or cause me to lose sleep. Rather, I say it because, as it was with going to school, riding a biking, and driving a car, if she has her way, it’s never going to happen.