Today is my son Henry's birthday. He's 17. A strapping 17, almost 6'3" with a voice so rumbly and deep that sometimes I'll hear him from another room and think "Oh my god there's a man in the house! Who let him in?" We've come to the point in our mother/son relationship where his friends are riding shotgun, and I'm in the backseat. And that's okay, since he's my third child to reach this almost-grown stage it's getting easier to not only accept it, but to kind of enjoy it. Emphasis on the words "kind" and "of".
He's spending his birthday night with his friends. We'll celebrate this weekend, as a family, most likely at the hibachi restaurant down the road, where we'll get steak and shrimp and fried rice and leave reeking of oil and with a slick sheen on our faces. We'll laugh together, all of us, as we always do. We will talk about funny things from our conjoined pasts and gloss over the less funny parts, as we always do. Going out with my four kids now feels almost like having dinner with a group of friends. Except nobody fights me for the check at the end of the evening.
It's become a tradition of sorts for me to write something pithy on facebook as an acknowledgement of each child's birthday. I'll search for the perfect picture to post along with the words, and both of us (me and whichever kid it is) enjoy all the likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAY comments. I'll get a little misty-eyed as I reminisce, for a few whiles, about their day of birth and all the anniversaries of that day that have passed.
Which I was all set to do this morning. I thought about which picture I'd use for Henry's birthday ode. That's when I thought about Super Henry. When he was about 3-ish, I bought him a little Superman costume. One of those cheap, thin one-piece deals, that tied at the back and came with a separate,but identically thin and cheap, cape.
Henry became obsessed with that costume. He wanted to wear it all the time. And because he was my third child, I let him. One of the first things I learned as a mom was to choose your battles. Wanting to wear a Superman costume day after day after day? Totally not a battle.
I'm an old mom. How old? So old that I have actual shoeboxes full of actual photographs taken with an actual point-and-shoot camera. I'm sure at one point in my dewy young mothering career I envisioned all of those photographs either gracing the pages of sweet, memory filled baby books or adorning a wall in a tastefully kitschy collection of mismatched frames.
Ha. The shoeboxes (there are about 5 of them) are shoved in a small cabinet that sits in my bedroom. You'd think there would be some modicum of organization, right? Like, all pics of Kid #1 in the Cole Haan loafer box, or all pics from 1995-97 in the Converse box. Ha, again. Have we met? My ADD has ADHD, folks. That's what I'm dealing with.
So, I knew there had to be a few pictures of Henry wearing the Superman costume in one of those boxes. I mean, the kid wore it nonstop for a year...how could I have not snapped a shot or two of my feisty three year old clad his beloved superhero garb?
I began the search, keeping one eye on the clock. I had to get to work, but that wasn't as pressing as my need to get Henry's picture all Instagrammed up and posted on the Facebook. Priorities, you know. I gots 'em.
The search became a little more intense with every minute that ticked away. I became angry at my unorganized self. Why the hell do I have pictures of me, drunk in Mexico in 1989, mixed in with pictures of me, holding my newborn babies in the hospital? And glossy 4x6 reminders of how much fun my ex and I had before our marriage went to shit mixed in with faded 70's prints of my brother and I sitting on my grandma's couch?
I could see him in my mind, dammit, see his white-blond hair, his chubby cheeks and his tiny limbs clad in pilly royal blue and red fabric. I could feel the weight of his small body, leaning against me as I knelt next to him and tied the cape back on for the hundredth time that day. I could hear him crying in the morning, as I rushed to get his big brother, his big sister, him and my pregnant self ready and out the door in the morning, crying because his "SUPAman" outfit was in the wash.
I had all of these things as clear as lead crystal in my head, but where were the mother effing pictures?
The sweat began flowing as I flipped through stacks of memories. WHERE THE HELL WAS SUPER HENRY? There was a slippery Henry being pulled from my belly, Henry elbows-deep in his first birthday cake, Henry sleeping on the floor with his eyes open (that was the creepiest phase, ever). Henry playing t-ball, Henry tubing on a lake, Henry wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume and a hippie costume and of course a ninja costume. COME ON, SHOEBOXES! Where was my kid wearing that godforsaken Superman costume?
Finally, finally. There in the Nike box. I found him. I found Super Henry. One picture:
I smiled. I laughed. I might have shed a tear or two. There he was, cape and all. Super Henry. Just as I had remembered him.
The picture, with the accompanying birthday tribute, was posted. The likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAYS rolled in. All was right in my cuckoo world.
Except, I was mad at myself. Still am, a dozen hours later. I was mad at my current self for not having anything in any sort of order. And I was mad at my younger self, Super Henry's mom, for not stepping back a few more times and getting just a couple more pictures of her toddler who was sure he could fly, sure he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. For not having the foresight to know that somewhere down the line, when that little boy was towering above her and spending more time with his friends than with her...she'd want to see him again. See Super Henry, with his white-blond hair, smiling and wearing a cheap little costume like it was the most natural, the most everyday thing in the world.
The lesson I learned today, aside from the one about how being unorganized can turn the most benign morning into a frenzied clusterfuck, was this:
My favorite memories of my kids are the seemingly mundane, no-big-deal moments in their childhoods: eating freeze pops in the shade of the apple tree that used to stand in front of our old house. My daughter, wearing nothing but a tiara and her underwear at the breakfast table. A determined preschooler pushing his Fisher-Price Bubble Mower behind daddy as he mowed the lawn on a summer evening.
And a little Henry, all cheeks and big eyes, just chilling in his Superman costume. Cape and all.
Mamas? Stop the action now and then, won't you? Take a minute out of those neverending days and catch your babies doing nothing. Nothing but being themselves. Trust me when I say... you'll be glad you did.