Today is his birthday. My little boy is a grown man. He has been for quite some time. This is the first time I’ve said it to myself and actually believed it to be true, though academically I have known for years.
He was brought into this life at 37 weeks gestation due to concerns about my health. I heard his cry and knew we were going to be alright. This little boy, this bundle of blessings was placed in my arms and I thought “My God, he looks like ET”. But that was ok because he was sweet and he was cuddly and he was mine. He came into this life 7 years to the day that his grandfather departed his. I’m sure they will meet someday.
This one challenged me from day one. Constant colic. First ear infection at 2 weeks, respiratory infections one after the other. Tests for Cystic Fibrosis, allergy testing, ear tubes. Trips to a local farm for goat’s milk that gave him some degree of comfort. In spite of it all, he was a happy child. He had a huge grin and infectious laugh. He was, and is to this day highly intelligent and extraordinarily artistic.
He is the only one of my three children who had the need for a pacifier that he affectionately named Nana. Nana was very special to him. Nana had to be specifically made by Platex. There were multiple nights when the 24 hour grocery saw my frantic face quickly enter the establishment in search of a replacement Nana. More often than not I remember leaving empty handed as Playtex was a popular brand and was sold out. There was no internet back then, no capacity to order a few cases to have on hand, you know, just in case. We did the best we could.
Nana was an important part of his life. This little thing sticking out of his mouth saved his teeth uncountable times due to his frequent falls and the occasional shove down the stairs by his big sister.
Nana was such a constant companion I started to worry that I’d be sending him off to high school with it still in tow.
He was 3 months shy of two when we bought our first home. Since he was such a big boy, he got his own waterbed. I was in favor of this because I thought it would be a challenge for him to climb out easily and run around during rest time. Think again.
We started preparing him during those three months before his birthday that on that special day when he turned two, he was going to have to put Nana away because he was now such a big boy. He said he understood. He told us OK, I’ll be a big boy.
So the big day came and he handed Nana over to me. Didn’t even cry. He said “Bye-bye Nana” and then ran out to play.
The next morning he walked out of his room with a Nana in his mouth, grinning. This happened for several days in a row. He would deny knowing where they came from. At that point I insisted that he show me where he was getting these.
He took me into his closet and showed me a small hole on the wall, close to the floor. There remained several Nanas in his special hiding place. He was reluctant to hand them over but did eventually. Then all the tears I had been expecting on No Nana Day came like a waterfall. I felt heartless, nearly in need of a Nana myself. We both got through it though it took a while. The first of many rights of passage.
The little boy grew and continued to be a delight, although he was all boy as the saying goes. I did coddle the child a bit as he was my only son. I believe he uses that killer grin he has to this day for affect.
I received a call from a mother of another student one day who introduced herself and said “I’m the mother of the child that bit your son on the back in the stairwell at school today.” She insisted the two boys get together and play to get past the event. I’m so glad she did. The two boys became fast friends and partners in crime. I smile when I think of their shenanigans, even the time I saw they had dug quite a deep hole way in the back of the yard. When asked why they would do such a thing they said in unison “to bury Eugene” who was a child that lived across the street. I have no doubt it would have been a fait accompli soon thereafter. Thank God for divine intervention and sustaining me through the lessons on right and wrong.
So the little boy grew and suffered the joys and disappointments of childhood the best he could. He was seven when he experienced the transition of our family to a single parent household. He suffered the most with this. There are some things the heart will not allow us to understand. The pain is unrelenting.
He is the middle child. He is the one most like me.
I have to think we both learned a lot through those difficult years.
He was resilient, continues to be.
An accomplished musician, a gifted artist, a chef extraordinaire, the years have passed and he has flourished.
I don’t think I told him often enough as he grew how proud I was of him.
I don’t remember encouraging him to reach for the stars and follow his bliss as often as I should have.
I hope it’s not too late.
Several years ago I had the honor to work in Saudi Arabia. While all my peers were going to Petra or Dubai for the weekend, I saved all of my time to realize a dream.
Many, many years ago I fell in love with India through reading The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. On those pages I envisioned a magical far away place, a land so full of beauty and mystery that I wondered if it could really exist. I knew some day I would have to see for myself.
I took a holiday from my job in Riyadh and met my son in Delhi a few days before his 26th birthday. Together we traveled this majestic land. We experienced the extreme contrasts of the human condition, yet all were a proud and happy people. The poorest of the poor inspired me. As we traveled by train, we witnessed the families living in shanties by the tracks. The women were dressed beautifully in colorful saris. The stooped by their outside cooksites making marvelous meals. The children were dressed modestly and were happy and playful. They without question would smile and wave as we passed.
We shopped in markets and souk-like stalls. Hospitality with offered chai and refreshments was always a part of the shopping experience.
On his birthday we were staying at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaiper. Such luxury I’ve never experienced. A boat ride across Lake Pichola delivered us to the dock of the hotel. As we exited the boat, a red carpet was unrolled before us and sprinkled with rose petals, extending all the way to the door. What an exquisite treat. As we checked in, I mentioned that my son was celebrating his birthday. It wasn’t long before two dozen long stemmed roses arrived to honor him. He was so pleased. I marveled at his happiness.
It was immensely painful to say goodbye to him as he headed back home after our travels. I had yet another week in India. It remains painful every time we must part.
I look back at the events of his life with joy in just his existence. I acknowledge the pain he suffered as he’s lived through life’s disappointments. I always wanted to take away that pain, to fix things but couldn’t, knowing he would never learn to face conflict or adversity with grace and recognize this is all part of the human experience.
I recall vividly how I cried when it was time to register him for school. I remember with pride the soccer games, the school programs, the band concerts, observing the gradual loosening of the apron strings as he grew and thrived.
He moved back to San Francisco from Southern California last week. I had missed him so terribly.
He was cooking for me a few nights ago and I said “Don’t spray the pan while the gas is on. It can start a fire.”
He looked at me and said “Mom, I’m a professional. I know my craft.”
I looked at him and thought My God, you are. You are a grown man and a professional and it happened in the blink of an eye.
I told him” Yes you are. But you’re my son and I’ll always be your Mom. I can’t stop being that.”
I knew in my heart the micromanagement of his life would continue with silly comments like “remember not to lick the beaters while the mixer’s plugged in. I did that and got quite a shock” or the old classic ” Don’t be playing around with that, you’ll put your eye out.”
Casey Campbell, you have been a constant joy to me every minute since I knew you were to be. My life is richer because you’ve been a part of it.
I wish you joy and success in anything that speaks to your soul.
I couldn’t be prouder.
Follow your bliss, always.
Know you are the pride and joy of a mother who was often too silent, frequently too pushy and opinionated, and far too lenient because she felt the world was often a cruel master.
She wanted to provide a place where you could experience solitude and peace while exploring your place in the world. You thrived in spite of me.
My heart bursts with pride and love as I watch you make your way this wonderful world. Know I’m living vicariously thorough you.
You are my son.
Live long and prosper