Double Whammy


Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the death of my first wife.

And tomorrow is the 30th birthday of my (and her) son.

I've felt so sorry for him that his mother died so close to his birthday.  It always casts a bit of a pall on the happy day for me, and must do so for him, at some level, also.

My son is having a bit of a struggle with becoming 30, I think.  He has always been remarkably sensitive to birthdays.  I remember we bought him a 2-wheeled bike when he was 4 1/2.  After mounting it, riding a foot or two, and falling down, he got up and said seriously "This is hard.  I don't think I can ride a bike until I am 5!"   He then refused to have anything to do with the bike.  On his fifth birthday, he got on the bike and rode it 30 feet before falling.  And before long, he was totally at home on it.

So I think he expected to be married at age 30, and possibly (at the height of the dot com madness) retired as well.  I expect that there may well be significant changes in his life in the next year or two, as all those things he has been unconsciously postponing ("This is hard.  I can't do this until I am 30!") start to manifest.

This apple fell pretty close to the tree--my 50th birthday was my permission to start working on myself, and getting what I want out of life, and finding out who I really was.  Perhaps he can start a similar transformation sooner than I.

So I think of my first wife, and what she would have made of the recent events.  She would be so proud of the kids (as I am), although she would also be taking more credit than I think I do.  As I contemplate becoming a stepfather again, I realize that my biggest successes as a parent didn't come from the things I did intentionally, the things I stayed up late worrying about.  They were the responses I made to the unexpected, where I just managed to say the right thing, hit the right note.  Finding my teen-age daughter in bed with her boyfriend.  The times the kids snuck out after curfew.  It's the responses to what they do that build trust, not the things that I did.  How I wish I'd known that twenty years ago--I would have so much less hard on myself.

And I think my first wife never understood that, although had she lived she might have learned it eventually, as I did.

I have vivid memories of her cursing the Iranians during the hostage crisis--she started at the top and cursed down and sideways, with special venom reserved for the clerics.  These became nightly rants, and didn't make the late stages of my marriage any easier.  How much of that anger was really meant for, or generated by, me, and displaced 10,000 miles away?  I'll never know.  But I can hear her voice now, cursing Bin Laden and the Taliban.  She loved New York, as I do--it's where we met and lived, and she would be feeling the loss of the twin towers as a personal wound.  As I do, also.

An amazing woman--librarian, hippy, mother.  We were never closer than after we divorced--we shared a love and devotion to our kids, and we both put them above our disputes.  I'm sure had she lived I would still be close to her today.  And I do miss her.  And I see her in my kids at the strangest moments.  

So when I celebrate my son's birthday with him, I'll sense another person at the table, as I do with all his birthday parties.  And I'll try to be sensitive to whether he is feeling it too and wants to talk about it.  As I know I will.  And then I'll sit back through the coming months, and see what my son reveals to himself and the world that he is old enough to do, now that he is 30.

Thank you for reading.

Copyright © 2001 Pete Stevens. All rights reserved.