It is no wonder my first-born man-child drags himself kicking and screaming into the dawn of his manhood, he exited the womb thus after 24 hours of labor, though it seemed timeless to me. Headstrong, I chose to soldier through this vision-quest-of-a-labor without medication or medical intervention. I had no real outside comfort other than constant reassurance from the midwife that all was well despite real concern at times from my child’s father that I might be dying. And part of me was dying as he was being born. My innocence perhaps? My childhood? After all, I was just 26, which now is said to be in the midst of the waning years of adolescence. I have sought the advice and comfort of many entities both real and imagined throughout this child’s life, including today, that of my priest who assured me that adolescence stretches through age 30, and that a 19-year-old boy may look like a real man but he is merely a child dressed up as such, a baby really.
When Theo was born, a small piece of the placenta which had nourished him so well during the pregnancy was left inside me, attached to the womb, causing me to bleed enough to be a candidate for transfusion. The procedure to extricate this fragment was almost more excruciating than the birth itself. My mother who was standing at my bedside with my blood splattered on her shoes nearly passed out from witnessing the pain of it. After his birth, the nurses took Theo from his father’s arms and placed him in the small bassinet next to my bed. What struck me most was how AWAKE he was. Everyone said so. “What an alert baby!” He lifted his head and craned his strong neck and looked around the room at us, as I lay in the hospital bed more tired than I will ever be again, though exhilarated and profoundly changed by it all.
We named him after two of his great-grandfathers, Theodore, or “gift of God”, his nickname Theo shortened to just the “God” part. The following years were intense, every transition marked by frustration, tantrums and defiance. Meanwhile he was bright, creative, funny and an extremely sensitive child. We called him “spirited” as was trendy at the time, and this spirit would NOT be broken, though it was HIS spirit that brought ME to my knees. There we were, the two of us, me a stay-at-home mom, him with his damnable spirit, teaching me day in and day out that I was not in charge of anything no matter how badly I wanted to be, or how hard I tried. All of the qualities that had sustained and defined me throughout my life: my bossiness, my own first-child confidence and self-assurance, and my strong need to nurture and protect, seemed now more often to be liabilities in this new dynamic. And as I have come to realize, the education I was receiving as a result of this boy was not mandatory. I would not learn the same things from my second and third children. I’m sure no one ever does, but still…
Now Theo is 19. He wants to be a child, but he wants to be a man. He wonders out loud, and I do mean loud, why he “waited so long for all of this”? He yearns for his childhood and his “mommy and daddy”. He wants to be completely free of us and pushes us away to the degree that he’d rather be homeless than sleep on our couches or be civil to us. He rages against his past, pausing briefly here and there to forgive the world and all that has happened to him in his short and intense life. He is beginning to look back with perspective and something that resembles maturity. He says he cannot love himself and he cannot forgive himself, but in nearly the same breath he tells me assuredly that he can and will do so, and he is disgusted at any implication I make that he might not know just how important these things are.
When I claim he is my greatest teacher in life, I am not being cliché or glib. No one can take me to my edge like he can, and no one can force me to rally my troops and guides and angels around me like he can, though other men have come close. His sister and brother may someday realize how fortunate they are to have an older brother who with his giant, hard head paved the way for them straight out of the birth canal and through the world, leaving in its wake a gentler path for them which is undoubtedly easier to traverse as a result of his struggle. The birth of his manhood is not unlike his original birth, and I can feel that little piece of him still inside me not ready to be extricated.