‘So there’s this boy. He kinda stole my heart. He calls me ‘Mom’. ― Author Unknown
For Alec, oh heart of my heart– who keeps the twinkle in my eye and the warmth in my soul.
I walked briskly to my youngest son’s high school graduation as the sunset bled the sky a beautiful crimson and considered what it meant. ‘This is the last one,’ I said to God. My sister walked beside me and in front of us, a small girl walked quickly with a giant bunch of balloons.
“That is a great idea!” I shared. “I should have done that for Alec,” I lamented. “We could have let them go as he walked across the stage.” “Well, you’ve only had three tries to get this right.” Smartass. She’s right though… I watched Jack graduate and head off to Manhattan confident in the direction of his dreams, Paxton graduate and head off to the other side of the world armed with only a pack on his back and kindness in his heart and now I nudge gently the baby out of the nest hoping his wings will carry him to new and unknown heights.
I have been stoic as the other boys have left to the extent many thought me carefree in their departure and hard-hearted because I did not cry. I think we all know I cry enough without a special reason to do so.
My pregnancy with Alec was unexpected, a true surprise. In truth, David was unsure about having another child and Jack very astutely pointed at Paxton when I told him I was expecting a baby and said in horror, “Why? We already have one of those.” (He was three years old at the time.)
I remember the day of my scheduled ultrasound hopping up on the doctor’s table throwing my feet in the stirrups and saying, “Let’s get this over with so you can go ahead and tell me it’s a boy.” The tech laughed at my brazenness and said, “You can’t possibly know that yet.” Oh, silly woman. I knew the moment I found out I was expecting.
I spent my pregnancy with Alec in transition. We moved to South Carolina and I spent most of the time arranging the house and making sure his brothers felt like the strange place we were calling home did, in fact, feel like home. We moved twice during that time as a very aggressive army of fire ants was quite at home in the first beach house before we ever arrived.
The boys and I spent most mornings until about lunchtime at the beach. We scouted for seashells, crafted sandcastles, played in the shallow water and tried to keep Bogey (our Golden Retriever) from drinking the salt water. Every afternoon, as we made our way back home, tuckered from the sun, I put the boys down for their nap and we lie in their little bed and read from Shel Silverstein and Beatrix Potter. We also read ‘The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus’ (the boys’ very favorite) and I used several different low country drawls for each of the characters much to the delight of the boys. Alec loved the stories. He would kick and move as I read until the other boys grew sleepy-eyed and he did too- as he nestled into the warmth and safety of my belly for his forty winks.
We took long walks on both the beach and the golf course right outside our back door in the summer evening finding shade and uncommon breeze under the massive oak trees woven with thick Spanish moss. Charleston, Savannah and both Seabrook and Kiawah Island are magical places steeped in low country legend and lore that we were fortunate to know.
Alec was the only child where even though I had scheduled a c-section, my water broke and I went into fairly hard labor and almost had him in the front seat of the Land Rover. We ended up having a sheriff’s escort upon his seeing my condition as he sped up beside us (lights ablaze and sirens blaring) to pull David over for speeding well over the 95 mph mark to get me to the Mount Pleasant, SC, hospital 45 minutes away. David, who was not pulling over, pointed to me in the passenger seat (in my cotton nightgown with my legs spread and feet upon the dash) and made the universal sign for “giant pregnant belly” with his hands at which point the sheriff pulled in front of us and sped up as we followed furiously behind.
It was an intense time-sensitive emergency situation as I had previously had two c-section births (of very large boys) escalating the circumstance. When I awoke all I saw was this incredibly beautiful baby boy swaddled in a robin’s egg blue blanket, his hair so blonde it was almost white, his eyes the color of the bluest ocean that perfectly matched the blanket. I fell in love at once.
Things were pretty terrible in our marriage at that point. David was working very long hours on a prestigious golf course renovation and when he wasn’t he was out partying pretty hard pretending he didn’t remember he had a family. I had three boys under the age of four at home- a painfully small bungalow that was crowded not only in space but emotion.
Alec was also very sick in the first few weeks. I was unable to breastfeed and he was allergic to every formula we tried. After a barrage of tests (stool and blood tests, poor baby boy) the allergy did not present itself in the normal ways, neither was it picked up in any of the tests the pediatrician had run. What did show itself was the pain on his little face and the blood in his diapers.
He was put on prescription formula that was exorbitantly expensive to no avail and finally, a specialist suggested in a bold (and somewhat counterintuitive) move after the last round of unsuccessful testing that I give him cow’s milk. Whatever the trick was- it worked. He immediately was comforted and happy. He relaxed, slept restfully, smiled at me and he laughed- a lot.
When the company had finished the golf course renovation on Kiawah Island David told me that he did not want Alec and me to move to the next renovation, but rather, he would like to take the older boys and he suggested I go home to Arkansas for an extended stay with my parents.
I should have known then, I suppose, that our marriage was doomed but someone smart once said ‘hope springs eternal’. Yes, it does, especially when you have said vows you meant and then had three children with the man you loved and put your faith in the fact he meant the vows too. My bad.
Upon our departure from Kiawah, we took separate cars and met somewhere at a giant conspicuous mall in North Carolina to handoff the older boys. We had gone from the warmth, humidity, and magic of the South Carolina summer to the bitter, austere (albeit striking) cold of the Smokey Mountains and looking back I should have recognized the irony. David took the two older boys to the next job in Cashiers, NC, and I went back to Arkansas with Alec unsure of what came next.
In truth, the older boys should have never been separated from me and it is something that still causes me pain and regret. I think at the time I must have thought if David had the boys with him he would see how hard I worked and realize my worth and perhaps, more importantly, he would remember he was married and had a family- a really great family full of warmth and wonder and joy. Neither of those things happened and I nursed the giant hole in my heart by filling it up with my youngest son.
I took the hurt and loss and despair I was feeling and just loved my child. I took him for long drives with the radio up loud. We listened to all the music I wanted him to know explaining to him the history behind the music between the songs. I read him stories I loved, the poetry of Longfellow and Keats, Thoreau, and Emerson, articles from the paper and sang to him at night as he lay sleeping on my chest, his tiny fingers curled around mine in a fierce grip. He needed me, and perhaps more, I needed him.
We walked for hours around Carol Ann Cross Park every morning and sometimes in the afternoon. We would feed the geese and watch as they lit on the water only to circle back around for another treat. I took him fishing at Well’s lake; me with my grandfather’s old bamboo cane pole, he napping on a quilt next to me in the unseasonably warm winter sunshine.
I chanted the Razorback fight song to him as I propped him in my lap to watch the Hogs (I may have even shown him the dance routine the cheerleaders did a time or two). It was during that time Mother and Daddy gave him Ellie, his most beloved stuffed animal. His ‘woobie’, if you will. (Ellie is still a treasured member of our family, as are Jack’s Snoopy, Paxton’s Bear and my Oatmeal.)
David and I reconciled shortly thereafter around Christmas of that year and eventually moved to Horseshoe Bay, TX, with all the dogs and boys in tow around 2002, as Jack was starting the first grade. To over-simplify and fast-forward, there was an affair not long after (his) and despair (mine).
To make an even longer, painful story very short- Alec was with me when I met the woman with whom David was engaged in the affair. It was a rainy evening in New Braunfels, TX, and I had set out with our office assistant and Alec in tow. I was absolutely certain David was having an affair with this woman- and yet I had absolutely no idea how I knew or how I was going to find out.
David was out of the country at the time which was both a blessing and a curse looking back. My friend and our office assistant Isabel had begrudgingly come along on this spy mission with me. We had closed the office early and set out on the boondoggle and she honestly thought I had lost my mind. “David would never cheat on you,” she said. I had crossed my fingers and said a little prayer she was right. She wasn’t.
Alec had been so patient and sweet with me all afternoon as we drove to our unknown destination in the pouring rain. It was a lot of waiting for such a small fellow. He was two years old and strapped in his little plaid car seat ready for the adventure, unsure of what exactly was in store. We had whittled away the early afternoon waiting for this stranger to return home. We drove around the city and neighborhood until my sweet boy finally grew restless.
After I bit of covert espionage, I had learned she was at happy hour and would not be home anytime soon. I used this information and took him to the Burger King just down the road to get a kid’s meal and stretch and regroup. (This was as much for me as my child.) The restaurant had a giant indoor playscape and I watched him toddle around indoors as the rain continued to pelt the windows; the brightness of the scene belying the events to come and the storm brewing just outside. I had let him have whatever he’d wanted. He must have thought he’d won the lottery. Not that kinda lottery, kiddo.
I was almost ready to admit Isabel was right about this fool’s errand when the lady in question finally arrived home and I slowly made my way to her door. Several minutes later I climbed back in the car as tears stung my face and uncontrollable sobs made their way from my throat out into the ether. (The recollection is an intimate and interesting one and is as fresh and jarring today as I sit writing these words as it was so many years ago.) Alec looked at me quizzically. He was still too young to understand what was happening or the giant crevice that had just split my heart, but he was aware enough to comprehend my sadness. “Love, Mama,” he said softly, wide-eyed and gently to me.
David and I finally ended our marriage in 2005, when Alec had not yet celebrated his fifth birthday. There is so much to the story- words for another time maybe. Suffice to say, Alec never really knew and has never known what it was like to have his father at home, and he never really knew us as a family.
The early years were tough on all of us, but mostly him I suspect. The other boys understood what was happening; Alec just understood his father was gone. It broke my heart. Every date I had (no there were not many and only a handful the boys were allowed to meet) Alec wanted me to bring them home so he could play catch with them out back, or go fishing, or go to a movie, play a board game or simply have dinner.
Every first date I went on he would inquire if it was serious and what would happen if I remarried. He had questions about so many things I felt unsure or inadequate to answer but God bless him, he asked anyway and always trusted my answers (even about football).
The thing is, for both this gentle child and me, I was both mother and father. He has never known it any other way…and in true measure of the son he is and the man he has become, he never cared. We are bound in an unspoken and sometimes way out loud way by the events that transpired during the unfolding of his new life. Do I wish that wasn’t so? Sure. Would I change one second of the moments he and I have had and continue to share as a result of this bond? Not a chance.
His brothers have pestered me since he was little about this. They think I let him “get away” with more, give him undue attention and ‘baby’ him. When he was young they were particularly indignant when I let his bedtime slide or gave him more freedom than they supposed I had given them. They shared huffy and puzzled responses as to why I always made them take Alec with them on Halloween, to games or outings on their birthdays. I’m sure they thought I was being a hardass; in truth, I just wanted him to be close to his brothers- to have them be the men in his life he craved and required.
Alec was the one who always wanted me to come to have lunch with him at school, the one who “bought” me small treasures from the PTA Christmas Shop with his pennies and nickels he’d saved just for this occasion (or more likely pilfered from my cup holder). He still writes me handwritten notes in cards he draws himself for Mother’s Day, my birthday and Valentine’s Day.
Likewise, he saves my notes that I write to him- I find them tucked into his books, picture frames, and other unexpected places. Sometimes those being the only thing I was able to give him when he’d rather have had a Nintendo Gameboy or a pack of trading cards, or something shiny and new. He never complained, not once. He never uttered a word about being able to only invite one friend along on his birthday or the fact that his clothes were often hand-me-downs from his two older brothers.
He was (and is) such a thoughtful child. When Hurricane Katrina ripped through Louisiana and brought homeless masses to Texas, our neck of the woods and crowded his small elementary school, he wanted to give them his clothes, his shoes, his books…anything he could to make their transition less unbearable.
That is, I think, the hallmark of my youngest son: ‘What can I do to make others’ lives better?’ More on this in a few…
When Alec was younger he (wrongly) assumed he would never match the stature of his behemoth brothers. He sprouted up just in time for athletics around the 7th or 8th grade. He was also blind as a bat (literally) and thrust into the game of football with no real idea what to do. This is where I really began to see him grow not only in stature but character. (He still does not wear his glasses during play and some of my fondest and funniest memories are of his close friend Andrew leading him up to me after the game because he could not see me.)
People don’t believe me when I tell them his team never won a game in middle school- not a single one. I saw him after each game defeated and tired but never broken. He was a team leader too and made sure each week that his friends and team members knew that while they might be down, they were never out.
He really sprouted up his freshman year to well over 6 feet. (He now stands about 6’5”; although I’m not convinced he’s quit growing.) He was predictably moved up to varsity later although the losing streak continued until his senior year. (Yes, I said senior year.) That is a long time to keep pushing and working and striving for something that seems elusive. He never once wavered. He never contemplated waving the white flag- in fact, he just became that much more devoted, determined and driven.
The night his team won their first game was a memory I will never forget: the smile on his face, the roars from the crowd, the energy from the stadium and the bowed heads of the kids as they gathered for prayer after the game forever burned in my memory.
Things have always come very easily for his brothers, academically and otherwise. I have always had to prod Alec in a little in his studies and extracurriculars; not to make him do these things, just to give him subtle reminders about ‘stuff’ that might need his attention.
When his siblings each set off for college I worried I might have to stay on him all the time- something I knew he and I both would find trying and tiring. I never had to even check in about things. I should have known my son better and trusted him more. He met every deadline, completed every assignment, was on time to school and practice and even studied on his own after school and sometimes well into the evening.
As a result, Alec was not only an honors graduate, finishing in the top 10% of his class, but 19th in a graduating class of about 265. He will head to Texas A&M in the fall where he will study Architecture with his major being Environmental Design for sustainable green building and design. He will also cheer on the Aggies (this offends my Razorback sensibilities, I don’t mind telling you), maybe join a fraternity and drink plenty of cold beer. That’s what you do in college. Or at least that’s what you used to do…or I used to do.
For the last several years Alec has been working two jobs- one as a glorified dock hand at the boat dealership where I work and the second, as the caregiver in the nursery at our church home, Trinity Episcopal Church. He has been committed to both jobs with equal devotion. The customers at the boat dock appreciate his genuine demeanor and his staunch southern manners. Our families with children at church appreciate Alec for so many reasons- chief among them his willingness to not only get down in the floor and actually play with the kids- but listen to them as well. He makes his interactions with the children meaningful and as such, they cannot wait to see him on Sunday mornings.
Along that same vein, our church has been an integral part of Alec’s childhood, young adulthood and now, swift push into manhood. Our parish embraced all my boys upon our arrival there and has, in a very real way, helped me to raise them with unconditional love and support. They are always quick with a hug or a smile and Alec is quick to return both in equal measure. We have parishioners who have faithfully attended his sporting events for the last four years, those who have clipped his achievements from the paper and sent them with a meaningful note in the mail. There are those who never forget his birthday and those with whom he has a special rapport. It is within these walls that Alec learned to trust in God and where he formed his relationship with Jesus. I continue to watch the Holy Spirit at work in his life and say quiet prayers to God often for the joy that is my youngest son.
Alec has always supported me with unqualified enthusiasm and unabashed love and understanding. He has watched me stumble, fall and rise more than a few times. Each time he has helped me heal my skinned knees and keep my chin up and my eyes (and my heart) focused on the future. He pardons me my faults (many) and his forgiveness of me is absolute.
He is never quick to judge and slow to anger and he is just about the kindest, most gentle soul I know. He loves animals and last year for his birthday he received Lily, the adorable, precocious, handful of a Rottweiler puppy that we never knew was just what we were missing. To watch him with her reinforces so many of things I already know to be true about my son. He is patient and playful, commanding without being cruel, compassionate and humane.
I could go on forever about this child who stole my heart and healed it at the same time. He is funny and flirtatious; he is kind-hearted and benevolent always in all ways. He wakes up happy and goes to sleep just the same. Our relationship is not always perfect so few things rarely are- but it is good. It is really genuinely good; HE is really fully, amazingly, authentically good and I am beyond overjoyed that God trusted me enough to be this earth angel’s mother.
He never leaves the house without telling me to have a good day and saying (loud enough so that I always hear), “I LOVE YOU, MOM!!!” He never hangs up the phone without saying the words and he expects them from me- and I will never withhold them. He deserves every single day to know the love I have for him, the immense, overwhelming love I hold in my heart for him. He hugs me every day too and shows me his own love in large and small gestures throughout our busy lives. He seeks me out when he has good or news (or bad) and we figure it out together, which is just as it should be.
When I look at him I see a constant reminder that we have made it through and what we have overcome… I know that come what may, we will always be there for one another- and I know he knows it too. Sometimes I look at him and see that baby with the blonde curls and the Paul Newman baby blues and see the beginning of something extraordinary. Sometimes I look at him and see the startlingly tall, extremely handsome, gentle giant with the sandy blonde hair and the JFK spectacles and see exactly the same.
Someone once told me a woman with sons will be surrounded by handsome men the rest of her life. My sons are indeed handsome, all three, but I hope for the rest of my life I am surrounded by these men, these children of God– my boys who are so much more than a pretty face. These are men of good character, of humor and candor, of intellect and intelligence, of truth and honesty, of strength and bravery- of compassion and kindness and love- mostly love. And before you congratulate me- know that while I may have planted the seeds, they have tended the garden all on their own.
I do not know what the rest of his life holds for Alec, but I do know this: whatever the path, he will walk it with faith, trust and the peaceful soul of one who is assured of God’s love- and mine.