18 Years

Eighteen years ago tonight was a normal Sunday night for me. I don’t remember a single thing about it. But I remember everything–absolutely everything–about the next afternoon. Because on Monday, May 21, 2001, I found out I had a son.

For almost 4 years, I had dreamed about this moment. I had dreamed about everything. The first meeting of cousins. The phone calls to grandparents. The first sighting. Laying around and reading classic literature together for hours.

I had a lot of dreams.

Most of them were 100% false and just as insane.

I’m not sure who I thought I’d become once I had a child. Somewhere in my broken brain, I had dreamed up that when you become a mother, you transform. Suddenly. Into something much better than you were before. To be fair, there are transformations that occur. No one can warn you about the enormous love you suddenly feel for someone that would pluck your eye out accidentally or throw up down your favorite shirt. You learn to run on fumes. You develop willingnesses you never imagined. I cultivated a weird liking for stinky feet. I mean it. I loved the smell. It was embarrassing.

But you–even as a mother who loves exponentially–are still you.

And I was still me.
Sometimes unfortunately so.

One thing I wanted to become, couldn’t become, and wasn’t smart enough to stop myself from public appearances during my attempts to become, was a birthday cake maker and party planner. I wanted to give Andrew THE PERFECT PARTY. I wanted to be that mom.

I faked my way through the first few, because he was young and not in school. No one told me I was bad at it. But on his 8th birthday, in 2nd grade, no one had to tell me. I knew.

The first of that day’s fiascos had begun at 10:40 p.m. the previous night, when I attempted to pick out a cake. For the sake of time, here’s a bullet list of the mistakes that followed.

Mistake #1 – Choosing a cake over individual cupcakes.
Mistake #2 – Buying a gallon of vanilla ice cream instead of the little cups with the wooden spoons.
Mistake #3 – Waiting until 10:40 on a Wednesday night to go cake shopping.
Mistake #4 – Deciding to buy yellow frosting to write his name on the cake myself but not deciding to buy Betty Crocker cake piping tips to give myself half a chance of not looking like a sloppy drunk wielding an icing gun.
Mistake #5 – Filling a ziplock with icing and thinking I could write Happy Birthday, AG on a round cake at 11:30 at night. There is no day or time of day when I could have pulled this off. But certainly my chances narrowed the closer to midnight it got. That there isn’t a picture of this catastrophic gesture is one of the greater tragedies of my life. And Andrew’s.
Mistake #6 – Not getting a babysitter the morning of my attempt to cart the previous mistakes to school for his party.
Mistake #7-Loading the cake in the back of the stroller but not using a 5-point harness.
Mistake #8 – Curb over ramp. Taking a short cut over the curb, when a perfectly smooth handicap ramp was 20 feet away.
Mistake #9-Slow reaction time when the cake fell off the stroller and flopped onto its head. It was 91 degrees outside, the top of the cake actually stayed stuck to the box after I turned it back over. But no one could see how badly my “Happy Birthday, AG” looked anymore. #silverlinings
Mistake #10 – Forgetting utensils. Nothing to cut the “cake” with. Nothing to scoop the ice cream with. Nothing for anyone to eat any of it with. I had to send my son into the cafeteria to beg for 20 sets of those cheap forks and napkins that come with Wednesday’s baked chicken and mashed potatoes.

Later that afternoon, I attempted to hold yet another celebration for the boy at my parents’ house. He and three of his friends, their moms and sisters, and my family were present. It all seemed to be going well and the curse lifted until I stood up, smacked a hanging, potted plant with my head, knocked it off it’s roost, and watched as the soil and water poured down into the seams of the pizza box and onto the Meat Lover’s Pizza. Bad news for Meat Lovers. That round went to the Fern.

I learned something about myself that day that I never forgot. From that point forward, I brought cupcakes and baby Bluebell ice creams. I learned I would never be a baker, or a decorator, or a caterer, or an event planner. I learned that to get to mediocrity, I was going to have to first slog through ruination. And I learned that 8-year-olds will eat a cake that looks like compost and pizza that has compost in it.

Eighteen years ago tonight, I didn’t know he was mine. Ten years ago tonight, I was reliving my failures of the day. Tonight, I’m just soaking it all in. The mistakes are just memories. The dreams are up and coming.

Tonight, I am no longer dreaming the dreams for me. I am dreaming them for him.

Your life is just getting started, boy. Grab a cupcake and go get it.

Happy Birthday.

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