Dear Joey

Dear Joey,

Today is your seventeenth birthday. There is thunder and lightning and downpours of rain today, the kind of thunder that starts out sounding like when your tummy is hungry but gradually grows into a loud house shaking clap of noise, with the lightning shining in your eyes like the brightest flashlight ever made, the kind of thunder and lightning that sends me cowering to the floor with a shriek. It's a cozy day, though, with the smell of the bar-b-queing chicken you requested for your supper filling the house with it's rich smells, your birthday pumpkin pie decorated with your new numbers waiting on top of the counter for you. 

The day you were born was bright and crisp and full of blue skies. The leaves outside our little hospital room in Manassas were brilliant reds and yellows, the beautiful colors of a Virginia fall day. I like those kinds of days, where the air is clean and pure, but I know that rainy overcast days like today are your favorite kinds of days, and if it's cold, then that's even better. 

This past year, I've watched you try on your new self, shrugging into what you are going to be like as an adult much like you shrug yourself into your jacket in the mornings before school. You are nonchalant about growing up, but also eager to begin being an adult, I think, talking about ranging your parks and working on a search and rescue team or becoming a firefighter, coming to the realization that computer-ing is your way of relaxing and that you don't want to turn your hobby into a career because you don't want to lose the fun of it.  Most people don't come to that conclusion till they are much, much older. 

I am very impressed with you. You know what you want, quietly doing your research to back up your desire and then explaining it to me on our car rides home from school. Those car rides are my favorite times of the day. I know it's silly, but they really are. It's those rides home where we feel freer to talk to each other, maybe because we don't have to make eye contact because I'm busy driving. I think back to when you were two and we were heading down to Target. We had just gone down the Pretty Street and had turned onto the main drag taking us to the mall. We had Trout Fishing in America or Wee Sing playing in the cassette player. It was a beautiful day and the breeze blowing in through the rolled down car window ruffled your little red curls as you bounced your chunky little legs in your car seat. I glanced in the rear view mirror and caught your eye. You were playing with your hands and you grinned really big, gave a big leg bounce and announced, "I'm not your Big Boy, MomMom. I'm your great big HUUUUGE boy!!" and collapsed into giggles and continued your bouncing to the music.

And you most definitely are my Great Big Huge Boy. I love watching you eat. It's entertainment for Daddy and me to sit back at supper and watch you help yourself over and over to the food in front of you. Whenever I bake, I try and bake in the afternoon so the bread or cookies or pie are still warm and the house smells good. The look on your face as you pass the kitchen on the way to your room after school lights up and you say, in your deep Grown Man's Voice, "You baked today!". It always makes me smile and feel happy. 

But for all your growing up, you are still such a little boy. The little things you say always bring me up short and I get a happy little jolt of "Oh! He's still my baby!" (I know that you consider being called a baby degrading, but to me you will always and forever be my baby. It's just a MomMom thing.). Your fascination with hands and all our Hank and Drover/Who's On First conversations make me smile and feed my Happy Meter for days. Do you know just how much I adore you? You with your red hair, the "V" we both share on our foreheads, your deep blue eyes and silly (slightly drunken) little grin you get when you get the giggles every day, usually because of something I said or did. You get such a kick out of life, whether or not you want to admit it. You stand back, observe and then bow your head, shaking it back and forth with That Grin like you just can't believe what you just saw or heard. Life is so wonderfully amusing to you, and do you know how important that is? To not get hung up on every little detail that Life throws at you? You take everything in stride, never making quick judgements, all the while with that merry little twinkle in your eyes.

Those eyes of yours have always held merriment, from the moment when I first held you and you played Pirate Man with me: one eye opened, studying me, before slowly closing . . . then the other eye POPPING open, to study me, before slowly closing and the whole process repeating itself. It took you a couple days to figure out how to make them both stay open at the same time, but oh the laughter you gave us in those two days! The late mornings when I would place you on the foot of our bed when you were four months old, me kneeling right in front of you, both arms on either side of you and we'd practice Sitting Up. I'd get you balanced upright, that big old grin on your face, then slowly move my arms just a few inches away. You stay upright for a few seconds before slowly falling over sideways, that silly grin never leaving your face. I'd prop you back up, you'd stayed balanced for a few seconds, then topple over the other side, grinning from ear to ear. We'd both get the giggles and practice a little longer before heading downstairs for lunch and a bottle. 

You are seventeen today, my sweet boy. You have done so much and have learned so much and have been brave so much these last seventeen years. You continue to amaze me with all your thoughts and opinions and Grown Up-ness, but just remember you will always be my Great Big Huge Boy forever and forever. 

I love you and happy, happy birthday, sweet boy.