22 November 2007

Happy 21st Birthday Justin Ryan Parker...

"I love lilacs and avocados.

Ukeleles and fireworks,
Woody Allen and walking in the snow.
But you've got to know...

That you're the love of my life,
You are the love of my life
You are the love of my life
You are the love of my life!
From the moment I first saw you.
The second that you were born.
I knew that you were the love of my life,
Quite simply, the love of my life..."
~ Carly Simon

It started in Amarillo, Texas, on a Wednesday Night, 19 November 1986. I'd just eaten a piece of pumpkin pie and as soon as I put the fork down, my back started aching and it didn't stop until, two days later, Justin made his way into this world. This baby wasn't due for a week, but I guess he just couldn't wait and he was so bent on being a Scorpio that he got in right at the last minute, on the cusp. Justin did it his way. Justin's always done it his way. Justin is my son through and through.

There are about 1600 miles that separate Amarillo, Texas and Wilmington, North Carolina. Twenty-one years ago we celebrated his arrival at Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo. Last night we sat down to dinner at Henry's Restaurant, and celebrated his turning twenty-one. I adore this young man of mine. Many miles have been traveled and a great deal of history has been lived in those twenty-one years. What a crazy, wild ride.

Justin is the only authentic, genuine born and bred Texan in our family. His father, sister, grandparents and I were born in West Virginia and he's rather proud that he wasn't. Just like the state that produced him, I've always found him to be larger than life in so many ways.

He and I used to sing "You Are the Love of My Life" together in Florida. We would dance around the living room and hold hands and be silly and no lyrics ever rang truer, from where I twirled. We're hauntingly alike. We're both headstrong, obstinate and sometimes we hide behind a veil of shyness, but we always manage to get our point across and we seldom move from our most deeply-held positions, even when it's to our detriment.

He's twenty-one now. He's an adult. There will be joys ahead to celebrate and sometimes, hard, painful lessons to be learned. But on this night, the anniversary of my son's birth, I felt extreme, profound gratitude. This was a night to rejoice. And so we did.

I think about all that lies ahead at the tender age of twenty one. Remember how much you thought you knew and all that you've discovered since? As I consider my son, I honestly believe he's far better equipped with a brand of durable wisdom and savvy that I never knew at his age. There are times that it still takes me forever to pick up on things that should be blatantly obvious. I don't think that will quite be the case for him but, should it be so, I just hope he has angels circling who will pick him up when the need arises, as they have done for me so many times, and send him in a better direction. Good angels do that.

"You can drive me crazy.
You can drive me anywhere.

Here are the keys,

Just do as you please.

It may not always be easy..."

We've butted heads more than a few times. We've sparred, retreated to our corners, slammed a few doors and sneered now and again. Typical mother/son stuff. But deep inside, I believe there's always been a deep affection and there are still times that I look in his eyes and he can reduce me to a puddle, even when I'm absolutely irritated with him beyond belief. He'll flash a smile, fix me with those deep, cerulean blue eyes of his and, every now and then, I will completely forget why I'm so upset with him. Smart kid that he is, he uses this to his best advantage. Of course he does. Sometimes, I still fall for it.

The one thing I do know is that he is so very loved. He is adored. He is cherished, as is his sister, Katie. There are times I look at them and I can't believe how offbeat and eccentric they have turned out to be. These are not "cookie-cutter, Gap Kids", the kind I figured I'd wind up with. No, no, no, my son and daughter can both usually be found connected to an iPod, but they listen to a different tune. They've both become the ultimate in non-conformists. I couldn't be more pleased. I'd be so horribly bored if they'd turned into typical suburban kids and I don't think for one-second they ever really wanted June Cleaver for a Mom.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my home group AA meeting. The meeting had just started and "The Promises" had just been read. It was a very special day for me - the second anniversary of my sobriety - and on that day, at that meeting, I would pick up my two-year blue chip. Five minutes into the meeting, the door opened and, quietly, in walked Katie and Justin. I will never, ever forget that moment. I couldn't have been more surprised. They took seats beside me. They took time out of their hectic young lives to see their Mom pick up her two-year AA chip. Tears rolled down my eyes for the remainder of that meeting and I didn't even try to hide it. My heart was overflowing.

Nothing quite says, "I love you", like supporting your Mom on the anniversary of her second year in a twelve-step program that basically saved her life. It meant the absolute world to me. After my sponsor presented me with my precious blue chip and medallion, both kids rose up and hugged me tightly. It was a miracle in so many more ways than one. It was that brand of support that has made my life far richer than I could have ever imagined on the night of 11 January 2004. I can't envision a purer, more vivid display of love from these two. Pretty special, if you ask me. Uncommon. Love beyond measure.

I've been so privileged to watch Justin grow up and, in many ways, he's watched me grow up as well. We've both seen each other make hideously, ill-advised errors in judgment. We've seen each other stumble. I've bandaged knee-abrasions, nursed him through fevers and sat in many steam-filled bathrooms to loosen more bouts of croup and bronchitis than I can count. I've paced the floor through torturous ear-aching, scream-filled nights and when he was 3 years old and fell off his play horse, I talked him through lidocaine injections and tried to make him smile as his eyebrow was stitched up, the result of being bucked off a misbehaving, unruly, plastic horse. He took it like a champ, didn't shed a tear. I cried for half an hour after it was over.

For his part, he's offered me hugs when I was at the lowest possible point in my life, fresh from hitting a painful bottom that was inevitable and essential to my own recovery. He drove me to pick up the personal items out of my car following a DUI a few years ago.

When it came time to check into the treatment center a few weeks later, I asked Justin to drop me off. I was so scared, but I knew he would make me laugh and I needed that so desperately. He never once took a cheap shot at me during the low, difficult times. He sensed when I was struggling and he promised me I was still a mother he was proud to have and hearing those things gave me the courage and inestimable strength to move forward on especially dark days.

Justin has a well-spring of compassion which is deep and wide. Beneath a quiet, sometimes stoic facade, lies one of the most incredibly sensitive hearts I've ever known. He dips from it frequently, with gentle hugs and steady embraces. He loves his family and we love him right back.

We've had our moments and it's my dearest hope that we have lots more of them. We both know they won't all be easy, and a few will be contentious and difficult, probably even gut-wrenching, but that's OK, too. We've been through things like that and we know instinctively, courtesy of our shared experiences, that the bad times really do pass. As my parents have so beautifully taught us time and again by their stellar example, within a solid framework of love, consideration and understanding, we can work through whatever comes our way.

When I was involved in a car wreck this past August, I was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital beside my sweet Daddy, waiting to be called back, and within minutes after my Dad's arrival, I looked up to see Justin walking towards me with a large iced tea in one hand and an arm extended to embrace me with the other. I didn't even realize that he knew what had happened yet - I was still trying to wrap my mind around it - but he'd found out from my Mom and he and Stephanie took off in a flash to join me and sit with me in that waiting room. Being my son, he knew I needed a large iced tea, a smile and one of his hugs. He delivered brilliantly. Sitting there between my father and my son, I felt very blessed and dearly loved.

I've always found parenting to be more of an exchange than a unilateral transmission. Giving birth may place a baby in your hands, but it hardly confers instant knowledge and wisdom. I remember feeling so clueless and inept and blatantly confused on many occasions. I still do, sometimes. I've enjoyed raising my son and daughter so very much, but it's certainly not been a one-way street. They've been beside me through so many things and though I know I've made mistakes along the way, as all parents do, I can't help but believe I must have gotten a few things right because when I look at both Justin and Katie, I am blown away by the adults they have grown into.

I admire the way they handle life, rather than allowing life to handle them. They're both fiercely independent, opinionated, intelligent and funny individuals. I love how easily they find the humor in the most difficult and challenging of situations. They seem to have indomitable spirits and a keen sense of right and wrong. They are champions of those less fortunate - of the human, feline and canine variety and I adore that, too. Goodness knows, there was never any shortage of animals in our house as they've grown up and along with the ever-present influence of their doting grandparents, Pops and Granny, I know the seeds of love and kindness were borne from a strong, sturdy sense of family and love for all creatures great and small, even the ones that shed from time to time and have accidents on the carpet. Life is messy. It's really supposed to be.

"But you are the love of my life,

My heart is riding on a runaway train.
You are the love of my life,
Through all the pleasure and pain.

From the moment I first saw you, I knew.
I knew it right away,

I knew that you were the love of my life,

Simply the love of my life.

You are the love,
The great love
Of my life..."

So Justin, on this, the first day of your twenty-second year, I just want you to know that I am so ecstatically proud to be your mother, so thrilled to have you in my life and I'm solidly optimistic about your future, because I have been a close witness to your past. I know parents always say, "You can do whatever you set your mind to" and we all mean it when we utter those words, but honestly, I'd stake my life on it.

Ultimately, the choices will be yours to make, but knowing what I do of who you are, I have every faith that you will be a force to be reckoned with wherever your dreams beckon you to follow. Some will work out and a few won't, but you'll learn a lot more from the ones that don't than those times in your life when things flow flawlessly. Thank you, my dear son, for allowing me to know the essential you, and for continuing to allow us, your family, to share in your life.

You and Katie truly are, and always will be, the love of my life. Happy, happy birthday, my love.