On a particularly warm sunny day in February of 1991, I stepped out of a women’s clinic with the news that I was expecting. I was so young then. Fresh out of college, I was an energized naive 22 year old woman who had just been told that everything had changed. With each day, each cell dividing and changing and growing in my womb, I found the courage to embrace that fierce protective love that a mother has. I knew that I could put my own selfish desires aside for this one life. While he grew inside, we grew together – he and I. I first felt those little butterfly flutters deep inside long before there was any physical signs of him. My heart raced with his every time I’d hear his heart beating through the stethoscope. He kept hiding from the sonogram so I would only catch glimpses of him as he’d turn his back – a fetus who just wanted to be alone in his own world, like his mother who often enjoyed just sitting in the still of her moment with no one else interrupting that peace. He’d roll back and forth inside, poking his foot out from under my ribs and I’d poke back – our first game – and we’d play it for hours before bedtime. I’d waddle down to the local market and buy a tray of fresh baked cinnamon rolls, waddle back to the apartment and eat the whole tray, washing it down with a tall cool glass of milk – just he and I indulging in our sweet tooth. My water broke on the morning of September 28,1991. I ate a breakfast of scrabbled eggs and bacon cooked up by his father, taking bites between contractions. Then we rushed to the hospital where he as born at 10:40 AM. Jimmy stayed inches away from him as the nurses cleaned him up, swaddled him tightly in those little white blankets with the blue and pink stripes, placed him in my arms, dimmed the lights and left us alone with him. And the first thing Zach did was open his eyes and look around as if to say “this is cool, I’ll stay a while”. And I played with his feet through the blanket, just like all those evenings when he was a part of me. Then they took him to the nursery and it was the first time we had ever been apart. I wanted to eat lunch with him in my arms. I never wanted to let him out of my arms again. Every moment I had in the hospital, I held him, until the nurses insisted I needed to sleep and swept him away to the nursery. It was the start of learning to let go. The hardest lesson a parent will ever have to learn and the most selfless act that they will ever need to do.
My son is now the same age as I was when I was pregnant with him. That same precious energetic naive age that we all cross through. An age of angst and promise all rolled into one. So ready for the world and so afraid to fail it. He is at that age where I have to truly let go and believe that even if I don’t see him every day, talk to him every day, text him every day – that I have handed him all the building blocks to chart his own course. I’ll hold the history of his life in my heart. His first step, his first words, his first day at school, his first bad grade, his first bully, his first dance with his first date, his first day on his first job. He learned to drive in his mom’s little stick shift Mazda and I would test him on his shifting smoothness by getting in the car with a full cup of coffee and telling him his driving better not spill it. And how I marveled over his senior band concert when he wailed on that baritone saxophone for the Star Wars canteen song. I followed him to Las Vegas for his 9 ball tournament, where I got to watch him lean his full frame comfortably over the pool table to make the winning shot.
From that first moment that we separated, I knew I would always have to let him go – again and again – but letting go doesn’t mean I have to stop being witness, feeling his sorrows with him, sharing his joys, embracing all that is quintessentially Zach. It means I get to watch him walk the path that feels right for him on his own two feet – the same little feet that would poke out from under my ribs so I could poke them back. (And Nickel Creek sings it all for me – When You Come Back Down)