Fourteen years ago today, in America, you were born. Your actual birthday is tomorrow, seeing that Japan is a few hours ahead of us on the international time zone (or as your Papa once said, “You’re in the future, right?”). So in all actuality, you are fourteen right now.
Whew. Those years just flew on by. Like super fast.
After I dropped you off at school this morning, I was thinking about what I would write here. I don’t think you’ve read any of the birthday letters that I’ve ever written. That’s okay too. One day. I thought about how you’ve grown into this awesome kid with such a big heart and open mind. I thought about the time you threw up in our old kitchen, as your Dad and I just stood there, horrified. Or the time you shoved rocks up your nose, thinking that later, you’d poop gravel. I thought about so many moments.
Of course, you already know that when you were born, it was just the two of us. Your Dad was out to sea and my friend who was with me could only stay so long in the room. It was a magical, terrifying, emotional moment in my life. But, I did it. I brought you into this world a month early (you were suppose to be a St. Patrick’s Day baby, not a pre-Valentine’s baby!). I sobbed when they told me I had a son and worried when they whisked you off to do tests to make sure you were okay.
There is one story I don’t think I’ve shared with you though.
When you reached the ever so wise age of three weeks old, your Dad had to go back out to sea for a few months. THAT was so unbelievably difficult. There I was, twenty two years old, living in Japan with a newborn. No car. In the winter. Blah, blah, blah, so forth and so on. I promise this isn’t turning into one of those, “When I was your age, I had to walk eight miles in the snow while wearing flip flops, to get to school” kind of stories. PROMISE.
You were three weeks old. I was twenty two. It was you and I man.
One morning you woke up crying so I figured you were hungry. You weren’t interested in that whatsoever. The crying let to screaming. Red faced, pissed off, clenched fists crying. I tried to soothe you by laying you across my legs and rubbing your back. You weren’t having any of that. At all. I tried singing Yellow Submarine to you. No dice. I rocked you. Paced our 400 sq ft apartment with you. Walked up and down the corridor of our floor. Swaddled you. All of these options did not lessen your crying and after what felt like hours of this, I began to cry too.
So there we were, both crying.
Loud, confused, sobs.
What the hell was I to do? I looked at all my parenting books (remember, the internet was still in a primal state) for help, but I’d tried everything those idiotic authors suggested. I couldn’t really call home because A) it was like 12 a.m. and B) I didn’t feel like bundling us up and walking across the street to the pay phone. Plus, the scuba shop guy who lived at the bottom of our apartment would have tried to get me to drink all his whiskey (he always did that, of course, I could never have any!) and watch corny tv game shows with him. And at this point in the game, I was too frazzled to function properly.
Just about the time I thought about walking you on base to the doctor’s office, there was a knock at the door. The door to our apartment was metal and an olive green color. There was a small mail slot which was rusty. I watched as it flipped open. My heart sped up a little, because no one would just knock on our door. Then I heard a faint voice say, “Konnichiwa? Hello?”
Walking to the door, I knelt down best I could and peered through the mail slot. Why I didn’t use the peep hole was beyond me. But by that point, I was feeling a little exhausted. Okay, a lot. So I crouched down and peered through the mail slot. My eyes met up with a set of older eyes. I stood up and cracked the door, “Yes?”
“Yes. Hi. Konnichiwa. I live next door…”
“Oh, yes! I’m so sorry, it’s just… my son, he’s so upset and he’s a newborn and I’m sorry it’s loud. I’m not sure…”
This tiny voice interrupted me.
“May I come in please?”
I opened the door to our neighbor who lived next to us in the apartment. She was an elderly Japanese lady and a former English teacher. When I was pregnant with you, she’d bring me sweet snacks made of beans (at least that’s what I think they were) and was always so kind. My eyes were puffy, I was sniffling, hadn’t showered in two days and you, well you were still crying.
“May I take your son? So you can rest?”
Confused, I asked, “What? Where will you take him? Oh, I don’t know…”
She politely, but firmly, pushed her way further into our apartment. She walked right over to you, picked you up and sushed you. She made this clicking noise with her tongue and looked back at me. “I will take him back to my house, next door. Please, I have been hearing you both cry all day. Let me help you.”
And off you went on your first adventure.
That’s right. I let you go next door with the elderly neighbor lady for a few hours.
I won’t lie, the first hour I kept my ear pressed to the wall. But then, I started to relax. I felt calmed. I knew you were not in harms way what so ever. And with that, I sat down on our little couch that looked out into the bay and I fell asleep. When I woke up a few hours later, I took a hot shower and brushed my hair and teeth (such a luxury, you have no idea). I dressed and walked next door, tapping lightly on the door. Our neighbor opened the door and I walked into the foyer. Her apartment was beautifully decorated with cozy pillows and art. The whole place smelled of delicious spices and I knew she was cooking food of some sorts. When I asked how you were, she pointed to a small mat on the floor.
There you were, all bundled and swaddled, completely passed out.
It was the sweetest thing really. Maybe because I hadn’t slept much in that week, but that’s not the point. Neither of us were crying! In showing my thanks, I had brought our neighbor over some chocolates I had found in the cabinet. I bowed, as low as I could, to show my utmost respect and appreciation to her.
And with that, she patted my shoulder and said, “You will be just fine! All Mother’s find their path.”
So you see, as you are turning fourteen, I think, “You are going to find your path!” Each day I look at you and I am truly excited for your journey. The world is yours. Every aspect of it. While you are getting ready to start high school, I am preparing myself for watching your life grow and bloom. Bee, you are such an amazing, talented young man. And while I am your Mom and can say that a bazillion gazillion times, its so true. I am thankful that you were brought into my life, into my world. I am thankful that I found the strength to let you go with our neighbor in Japan.
So, now that you know that little story, we can go back to laughing about music, the awkward interviews on Jeopardy and perfecting our craft of talking only in quotes from Steve Harvey from Family Feud. Thanks for letting me be your Mom, even when it’s tough. Even when it’s not. Even when you give me the stank eye. Even when you accidentally fall asleep next to me on the couch. You’re the greatest person to have graced my life and I’ll tell you what, it’s pretty damn awesome.
I love you,
Now let’s get to celebrating!
While at the dog park yesterday, I struck up a conversation with an older woman. She never took her sunglasses off. Big, round and black. They engulfed her face. High above her eyebrows and down onto her cheeks. Two black holes, gulping up her wiggly skin. She was wearing a pink cardigan, but not a faint pink or a poppy pink, more like a coral mauve. Pearls hung onto her collarbone, as if they were little dollops of sour cream gently placed there. Her dog was an asshole, who was also wearing pink; only with bows on each ear. Oddly enough, they matched her cardigan. I’m certain they were dyed to match.
I was sitting on the picnic table, she was standing and to my left. My dog was taking his time pissing on every square inch of the chain link fence. Her dog was just being an asshole. Barking, nipping, digging into the Earth with her freshly manicured nails. The dog had bangs. Bangs that looked like they were cut by a third grader with dull sheers. Bangs that looked like someone had too many bottles of wine and decided in the heat of the moment, it was time for a change. Bangs. On a dog. Ridiculous.
With her right hand thumbing a pearl, she asked if I went to the parish up the road. “I do,” I responded. Her face tilted upwards, ever so slightly. If I hadn’t been watching her wiggly skin move, I would’ve missed that detail. “I’m not Catholic, my husband is. I just go along with him,” she said. Her face was still slightly tilted. Nodding over to the middle of the park was her husband. He wore a Kelly green tshirt with an Irish slogan on it. Their asshole dog wore tired of watching him throw the ball (apparently the dog was too good to fetch it) and her husband came over, sitting on the other side of the picnic table from me. In his youth, I guessed he probably had jet black hair. Now it was flour white. Eyebrows too. Chest hair, which I noticed screaming out of the neck of his shirt, also matched. He had a thick bottom lip, although his top was a bit thinner. His eyes were the color of the ocean when it his the shoreline: cloudy and pale, slightly green. The moment he said hello, I recognized that he was from the East coast His words sounded like they were being dragged down the street as he spoke them and I had to listen harder, as certain letters were omitted entirely.
In the five minutes of listening to him talk, I learned that his grandfather may have been from Warsaw, it’s a little sketchy with the documents. He’s from New Jersey (the wife interjects, “Clearly I’m not,” in her heavy drawl). He goes to the first morning mass. He’s Polish. He’s Irish. He lived out West. Their oldest son is well over six feet tall. They just met their first grandchild. “Do you like college football?” I nodded, still unsure of where all this conversation was going. “What team? You know, back in my day, college football wasn’t on tv. Nope. Maybe a few games, but not many. We only had four channels back then anyway…” he continued to talk, but I stared out past the big dog park area and further on, out to where the playground was. My son was over there with his friends. I thought I saw him on the swings. His red tshirt opening like a parachute with each glide. Higher and higher. I was certain he was going to jump off and land on the pavement. He did not.
Standing up, I excused myself momentarily. The old man was mid sentence about something pertaining to football. The asshole dog was nipping at my heels. My dog was eating grass. I leaned down and clicked his leash to the harness. “C’mon bubba, let’s get the hell out of here.”
As I walked back to the picnic table to grab my bag, I smiled. “Pleasure to meet you both, enjoy the rest of your sunshine.”
The wife, without removing her giant sunglasses said, “In the morning, after mass, we have coffee with the Catholics. Then, we drive to the other side of town and have breakfast with the Methodists.”
The sun pinched my cheeks and I closed my eyes.