I try hard not to pine for days gone by because it makes my heart hurt too bad, but it’s easy to do when it’s my children’s birthday. So many memories – some I’d love to relive just for the glee of it all . . .
I’d still treat your first stitches as a rite of passage, celebrating with the biggest of all big ice cream cones on our way home. No, no, I wouldn’t change that.
I’d still encourage you to dress up and take to the stage at every opportunity. (Ahem . . . by the way, when do you think you might get back around to that?) Like the first day of ninth grade when you just barely got the car door closed before the dam broke, your tears filling the car. You hadn’t been cast in any of the first school plays, and you were understandably devastated. I drove us straight home, and while you stumbled about your homework, I found an audition notice for To Kill A Mockingbird at a nearby community theatre. We shoved homework aside, gobbled down some supper, and drove straight over. After two nights of auditions and one callback, you landed the role of Dill, a role you’d put on your Dream Role List not too long before. That’s a keyper.
I would still move the earth and moon to find that Georgia Tech wallpaper you demanded as a condition of moving with us to the new house when you were six years old. And when we moved out of that house some 14 years later, I’d still hold a parting ritual for you. You with your keen sense of place. We’d probably still sit on the front stoop laughing and crying and telling stories . . . but on a do-over, I might plan it ahead instead of having it be a spur-of-the-moemnt-we-can’t-leave-without-marking-this-occasion event.
I’d still say “Yes” when you, a four year old, asked if you could walk to see YeaYea and CarCar who lived just out of sight, waving you off then rushing inside to call and alert them that you were on your way so they could just happen to be working in the yard when you arrived for your surprise visit.
I’d still let you stay with Aunt Rene as often as possible so she could hide cheese balls in the azaleas and pecan trees, leaving them for you to find and enjoy before going inside to a feast of peas and bacon.
And those swimming lessons? Oh, you bet I’d still sign you up for lessons with Mr. Bob, even though the memory of it still gives both you and Alison nightmares. I’d still make you go even when we were late causing us to literally miss the boat, requiring me to walk you to the other side of the lake – you with all four limbs wrapped around my leg, hanging on tighter than awful (but comfortable) spandex leggings we once wore under oversized t-shirts. And later after swimming lessons, when you stood on the very end of the diving board, turned to me and said, “I guess you’re just gonna’ have to push me in,” I would still walk over and give you a nudge, knowing it would be the only one you’d need.
I’d still let you dig up the boxwoods at the front of the house, damn near killing them as you re-enacted tales of The Boxcar Kids. (Thank you, however, for not getting that involved in the Firebrats series.)
There was the time when I turned my back for a split second, giving you just enough time to crawl off behind your sister to her bedroom and, at her command, pull yourself up into the rocking chair so she could douse you from head to toe with baby powder. That’s one I’d do over just for the joy of witnessing you and Alison in your first act of independent thinking. You are a Southerner, you know, a Rebel through and through. And I don’t care where you live (well, I do, actually – just using a figure of speech here.) don’t you ever forget that.
Other things I’d like to do over so I’d have a chance to do things better, to do things right . . .
Like the day you were diagnosed with diabetes at 11 years of age. They delivered the diagnosis, then left us alone in the exam room. You were mad and scared and loud, and I shushed you thinking that if you proved difficult, they wouldn’t take as good care of you. I know – it looks really stupid. It was really stupid of me. If I could do that day over, I’d tell you to scream, to rail, to rip the paper off that exam table, to turn over the stool, to rip those stale magazines to smithereens, to kick the trashcan – whatever you needed to do to respond with honest, raw emotion in response to the news you’d just been given. I wouldn’t shush you and I wouldn’t rush you. And if they didn’t take good care of you, I’d go after them with teeth bared and fangs showing.
I’d love another chance to take action when the first grade teacher stuck you outside the door, setting you up with a table and an extra chair so you could teach the slower students. What would I do now? I’d probably commence homeschooling that very afternoon or sell my soul to raise enough money to send you to a private school seven years before I actually did. (Send you to a private school, I mean, not sell my soul.) I’m not real sure what I would do, but I can tell you what I am quite sure of: I would not stand there while she responded to my complaint about your needs not being met with her “Well, he’s smart enough to get it on his own, so what are you fussing about?” No siree. I wouldn’t sit still for that again. Not on your sweet patootie.
And the Thanksgiving you brought your college girlfriend down to spend the long weekend with us? Though I then only suspected what you’ve since confirmed, on a do-over, I would act on my suspicions, and instead of just taking her aside and talking to her about the nature of the good kind of love, how it brings out the best in both of you, I’d snatch her hair out by the roots, show her the door, sell the house, and move so she could never find you again.
(Another thing I’d do-over about that Thanksgiving: When your former girlfriend appeared, taking everybody but you – the one who invited her – by surprise, you’d hear me say “Whatever possessed you to think this was a good idea?” on the outside instead of just quietly thinking it to myself.)
If I could go back in time to the day you left for Los Angeles, I’d hurl myself into the back of the truck as a stowaway, without giving a rat’s ass about what psychologists might say while wagging a finger at me. (I would have, you’ll be happy to know, flown home.) (Eventually.) Another thing I’d change about that day? I’d tweak my parting words to you as you hopped into the rental truck that was taking you and your possessions all the way across the universe from me. Instead of saying “You were the best mistake I ever made,” I’d say “You are the best surprise I ever had.”
I call you Slug, a nickname taken from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a word that refers to the hottest coal that keeps the fire burning so the train can move forward. I love you, Slug, with every fiber of my being. Though I’m quite sure you have other plans for how to spend today, I desperately wish we were closer so I could get my lips on you when I tell you Happy, happy, happy birthday, Slug. I love you more than my vintage suitcases.