You've reached a milestone, son-your 21st birthday. It's a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around-it seems like only yesterday a grinning hospital aide handed a squalling baby boy-a stranger-into my arms and said, "Mrs. Vogel, this is your son."
I looked down at you and felt a wonderment unlike anything I'd ever known. You were so angry, hungry, demanding, crying so much, I wondered if I was doing the Mother Thing correctly. It didn't matter; I was completely ready to be your slave, milk machine, poop cleaner, protector and admirer. We were together in the hospital for a week, longer than the usual stay, but I became sick after your birth and had to be pumped full of antibiotics. My illness separated us for a couple of days, and I knew how fiercely I loved you when I wandered to the nursery, pulling my IV pole along, and sobbed as I watched you cry through the glass window. I felt guilty-I knew you were crying for me, but we couldn't be together until my sickness was under control. When they finally returned you to my arms, I sat watching Price is Right, holding you close, talking to you, feeding you, telling you how much I'd missed you. We watched that same show daily, and I wondered-would your first words be, "COME ON DOWN!"?
When they finally released us, I was terrified-what the hell did I know about caring for a baby? What if I didn't feed you enough? What if. . .oh, the fears were terrible, but it turned out you were the best teacher (destiny, perhaps?)-when you ordered me to jump (or screamed to be fed), I asked, "How high, your Highness? Left breast or right?" When you got sick, I rushed you to the doctor, no matter how trivial the problem. The pediatricians might have grown impatient with me at times, but I didn't care-your good health was my first priority!
You grew, as babies will, becoming a talkative, highly intelligent toddler. I cried when you called me "Mommy," since I wasn't sure, given that you only saw me in the evenings, if you knew WHO the heck I was. Although you refused to completely toilet train until the ripe old age of three and a half, at least my fear that you'd go to your wedding in diapers was unfounded-thank God. I taught you to read very early, and while Rita, your daytime babysitter, was changing your diaper, you recited the letters on her sweatshirt, amazing her. When they told me at St. Boniface, the last nursery school you attended before "real" school, that you were gifted, I was proud-but unsurprised. Here you are, a college junior, a straight A student, looking forward to another summer at Maplewood, where I was once a camper/counselor and you've had both roles since you were eight years old. Tradition-isn't it grand?
Diabetes attacked you at age four, but I don't want to dwell on that. Suffice it to say, it forced on you a sense of discipline you might otherwise not have attained-a tiny silver lining, but at least something positive. As for the June 9, 1990 car accident that left you with a broken leg and four-week hospital stay, you learned a valuable lesson about cars and paying attention. We also learned who our real friends were.
Our pets. . .Spock, who snapped at you when you pulled his ears and tail-and was dismissed from our household for his transgression. Muffin, the sweet, motherly pooch who watched over, protected and loved you, God rest her soul. And of course, Snapple, a.k.a Snaps, who kisses you crazily when you're tying your shoes, hoping to force you to stay home with him. I think you really, really adore him-and it's clear the feeling is mutual.
You wanted to be tall, and as you grew, I often told you how big you were, but I guess no "tall genes" ever kicked in-sorry about that. To me you were gigantic-and perfect, no matter what Keith Bergen said. Your vast array of friends-Keith, "Domino," Zinn, Kevin, Timmy, Mike, Brett, ad infinitum. How many times did you arrange celebrations for your close pals? What a good-hearted, well-organized guy you are. You CARE, you put yourself out, and that's marvelous. Don't ever lose that trait! You have the charisma of a politician but more honesty than any politico. When you run for President of the USA, I hope you'll remember your mother.
You became proficient at baseball. It was both wonderful and awful attending your Little League games, but when I watched you pitch no hitters to hapless players on other teams and witnessed those times when you smacked the ball to the back fence, I again felt that immense pride parents feel at very special occasions. It hurt me when you didn't play again after that World Series loss ("Stand in the Place Where You Live"), but you have ALWAYS been a winner to Dad and me. I recall helping you practice for those games on the front lawn of our home, and on that score, let me apologize for two things-the fact that I couldn't kneel the way a pitcher should and the times I said no when you asked me. I'd give anything to get back a few of those, believe me, and say yes instead.
So many memories, each and every one with its own luster, good and bad-birthday parties, ambulance rides, graduations, friends, video games, TV shows (Nickelodeon cartoons?), Halloweens, Chanukahs, Christmases, winning games, losing games, basketball hoops (oh, putting those together!), laundry, garbage, dog pets, Simpsons, Sopranos, new cars, old cars, music, laughter, hugs, kisses and above all, love. My brother, noting how close you, Daddy and I were, once dubbed us, "Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster." I remember that creature from bad sci-fi movies-it had three heads that were together always, inseparable. We always will be, son, no matter where we-or you-are. When you marry, your wife will become part of that group, and your kids-Ghidrah will have as many heads as it needs!
We took you all over-zoos, carnivals, fairs, petting zoos, Glen Falls House (oh, those meals!), San Diego, St. Boniface, Rita's, parties with friends, Wee Care, ball games, card games (Williston Park, here we come!), stores (remember our shopping sprees?), school supplies, clothes, thrift stores (stuff that bag, Brad!), movies, restaurants ("I don't wanna go out fer eat!" declares Brad poutily), bookstores! You soaked up everything like a thirsty sponge, amazing me with your sense of sly humor and pithy remarks, like a comedian in training. You loved making me laugh, and when you saw something pleased me, did it over and over, hoping to evoke the same response.
Did you know your name would have been Mark Everett if my mother hadn't died a couple of months before you were born? The original plan was to name you after my father, Myron.
Did you know that when you were in a spelling bee, asked to spell "billionaire", trying but failing to properly do so, I nearly bit my fingertips off, I was so nervous for you?
Did you know that when you took off for your driving test, I nearly bit my fingertips off, I was so nervous for you? (See a pattern here?) You passed, even though everyone else that warm May day came back failing. Remember the mother and father geese who passed by with their babies? I told you they were good luck!
My dearest son, you've gotten your license, attended two proms (two more than I did), have a job at which you excel, are sailing brilliantly through college, have a girlfriend who loves you (and vice versa) and show signs of becoming a GREAT man. This isn't just your bursting-with-pride mother talking, either-I know in my heart that you are destined to make a positive, amazing contribution to a world that desperately needs as many as it can get. There is only one you, Brad, but you will influence others through your humor, intelligence, kindness, guts and sense of righteousness, and that will spread throughout the world.
You are a man as far as the world is concerned, or at least the DMV (love that ordinary license without UNDER 21 on it in big red letters!), but remember, whenever I look at your lanky, handsome self, I still see the 8 pound, 4 ounce, 19.5 inch baby boy they handed to me 21 years ago today. You are my greatest accomplishment, son, and when I leave this planet, I know for sure it's going to be in the very best hands-yours.
Remember, as long as Dad and I live, we will be your parents, champions and staunchest supporters. After we die, we will continue to watch over you, raining down pennies from heaven to let you know we're thinking of you-and that while our flesh may die, our love for you never, ever will.