On Christmas Day seven years ago, I received the ultimate gift. It was handmade, priceless, one of a kind, and with proper care, it could last 100 years: my son, Anthony Jared.
Tony, as he’s better known, was born in the afternoon on December 25th. He spent his first days swaddled in a Christmas stocking screaming like a baby jaguar, which revealed a bright red birthmark in the shape of a perfect heart between his eyes. At 7 pounds 11 ounces and a mere 20 inches long, he was the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I was consumed both by the desire to hold him close and never let him go and the urge to give him away to the nearest nurse, as she could surely provide a better life for him than I could. At that point, I had no experience with children; I was fascinated by them, adored them, but had no clue how to raise them.
As an only child, I grew up with no younger siblings to mind while my mom was busy and no care of another baby to observe from a disdainful distance. I never even babysat, never, not once. How could the hospital agree to send a newborn baby home with me? What had I gotten myself into? Lucky for me, I had a secret weapon that many new mothers do not: a husband who actually knew what he was doing. Not only was he raised with a slew of younger sisters, he also had three children from a previous marriage. Watching him handle our son with such expertise in those first few weeks taught me more than any hospital’s new-mommy class ever could. But even for those with a bit of childcare experience, every new baby hurls its own unique surprises at you, along with its feeding.
Little Tony’s secret weapon was belly problems—awful belly problems. He would eat, and eat, and eat to the point where I sobbed every time he needed to nurse, knowing I’d have to attach the little Hoover to my aching bleeding udders for another hour of slow death. But when he wasn’t nursing, it was he who sobbed uncontrollably. We tried everything: I changed my diet, tested every formula on the market, gave him gas drops, tried special bottles, administered massage techniques, but nothing stopped the relentless screaming… Until one day, after careful examination, the doctor casually informed us that our baby didn’t “know how to poop yet.” Come again? Apparently little Tony had not yet developed the coordination to use the muscles needed to produce a bowel movement, and therefore he was in pain until we helped things along.
And that’s how, armed with a Q-tip and Vaseline, we reluctantly assumed a lead role in our child’s endeavor to poop. Several times a day, we enjoyed a crash course on both human anatomy and extreme parenting. Every mommy wants to believe that they birthed the next Albert Einstein, and while I know you should never compare your child to their peers, I have to admit that I was a little concerned by the fact that this child we created lacked the skill base needed to fill a diaper. Lucky for us all, he was able to master the fine art of pooping within a week or two and went on to excel in the field.
The months became years, and Tony’s neediness waned as his independence and curiosity grew. Like many little boys, he was fascinated by trains. At the tender age of one he developed an obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine that stayed with him through kindergarten. By the time his speech finally developed, he was so immersed in the make-believe world that he spoke with an impressive British accent and speckled daily conversation with words like “quarrelsome” and “indeed.” Thomas DVD’s played on a continuous loop in our house; he carried his favorite trains everywhere he went in a tin Thomas lunch box; and his Christmases consisted of a sea of blue and yellow packaging. He knew the minute differences between a steam engine and a diesel and didn’t hesitate to tell me about all of the characters on the
in tiresome detail every moment of every day. His obsession was of epic proportion; but just when I thought I would lose my mind if I heard one more word about Sir Topham Hat… it all stopped. Tony declared that trains were for babies and his beloved die-cast friends were stowed away in favor of Bakugan and baseball cards. The soothing sounds of the British narrator was replaced by barking sports announcers, and the trademark Thomas jingle that annoyed me for so many years is now only heard when my cell phone rings, which makes Tony roll his eyes and brings tears to mine. Island of Sodor
Sports are Tony’s life now, along with any other activities that involve sweat, dirt, or copious amounts of testosterone. In our home he is surrounded by girls, forcing him and my husband to form a bond of unified manliness. Together, they seek out all things tough, rugged, and loud. But no matter how macho he strives to be, he can not hide the sweet, compassionate heart that leaves him slightly vulnerable and immature compared to most other boys his age. His innocence is a trait that I adore and that will keep him safe when his boundless energy and thrill-seeking drive attempt to lead him astray. He loves his sisters immensely even though they are cootie-ridden girls, and he has a tenderness towards them that directly contradicts his rough and tumble nature.
As much as I miss my baby boy, I also love watching Tony become a little man. His chubby cheeks have become a bit chiseled but remain baby soft; his stocky little arms and legs are now long, lean, knobby, and marred by scars and bruises from never-ending rambunctious play. His precious fat baby feet that I kissed every morning have morphed into mini-man feet and possess a funk that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, let alone smoosh against my lips. But those bright blue eyes are the same ones that stared up at me the first day that we met, and the red birthmark still appears on his forehead whenever he is embarrassed or upset, a reminder of the gentle heart that still beats inside his tough little exterior. The journey from childhood to manhood has only just begun for him, but from choo-choo trains to video games, he will always be my Tony.