We used to call this guy Baby Jay. Then it evolved to Little Jay, and we still call him that, even though he's taller than his dad.
This week he took his placement test for college in the fall, and graduation is a few weeks away. His whole childhood is over. How could this HAPPEN? It did!
There will be a big, fat chocolate cake tonight with cream cheese frosting, EIGHTEEN candles, and friends, and pizza.
Below is something I wrote as he left for high school four years ago:
"Today was an interesting day. Our fifth child, Jay, turned fourteen this spring and is heading to high school next year, and this morning we registered him. When I told his older brothers and sisters this last week, about our appointment to register, they were a little stunned.
The oldest brother leaned against the dryer in the kitchen and said, “Whew, does that make me feel old. Baby Jay is going to high school? Wow.” This son was twelve when our sweet Baby Jay was born. He’s been along on the whole ride actually, and he gets what’s on my mind. Jay hasn’t been called Baby Jay in like eleven years now, and he’s ready to head out into the world, whether the rest of us are ready or not.
Jay’s been playing in the band at the public school for the last couple years. My husband’s parents gave us a tenor saxophone they’d had in their basement and we found a place that could rehab it for Jay, and he began private lessons.
Then I arranged for him to attend band at the public school. This was nothing but a pain in my rear. The driving back and forth, amusing the little kids in the car several afternoons a week… it was all a form of ennui hell. There is so little to do to kill 45 minute long chunks of time in Minneapolis with babies in the freezing winter, icy wind, puny sunshine.
It’s been an ordeal I hated, but I wanted him to learn music, so we endured. I fed the babies crackers and Yo-J in the car, did crossword puzzles, worked word-finds with the other kids, went berserk, yelled more than I care to admit, “I’m reading you this story! Are you listening?” “Where are your mittens?” and, “What is wrong NOW?” and the thinly veiled threat, “Tell me you’re not fighting.” I even bought a little cigarette-lighter DVD player to soothe their nerves (well, okay, maybe I was my nerves) while Jay attended music practice.
Tonight was the concert, and I’ve heard him practicing up in his room, muffled saxophone music I barely pay attention to. But tonight I sat in a flippy-seat chair in the dark of the auditorium and he had solos. I knew he did sometimes, but I didn’t realize he would tonight, and I was all busy reading the program.
Then in the peacefulness of that space he stood on cue, and luxurious, silky saxophone music slipped and swirled through the shadowy softness of the room. He stood in a shaft of light, and I abruptly realized how tall he he’s become. Then the director mentioned his name, a dignified name he shares with his father, and he nodded awkwardly in acknowledgment as he sat down.
I felt tears leap to my throat and my mom grinned at me. It’s all going according to plan, same as the others. He’s growing up. He’s wonderful, beautiful, sweet, smart, and capable, and can even play the saxophone.
A couple years ago he was a dumpy kid in homeschool, and in dismay, he told me there was nothing he was good at as he observed his accomplished older brothers and sisters. I felt awful and that’s when I took him and that saxophone seriously. A guy needs to feel good at something.
And actually, he’s a whole lot better at sax than most of us are or will ever be. The conscientious sweetness of him, his long eyelashes and huge blue eyes, the whole shape of his gentle, lanky person kind of overtake me now. And actually it’s been nothing but a privilege to be his mom.
He was born quietly in our bedroom on a warm spring night many years ago, a simple, peaceful moment, and afterward everything was different...though it’s not completely clear why. He was born wide awake, didn't cry, and stayed awake in bed with us for hours, big blue eyes looking into ours. In the weeks that followed, I stepped from one dimension of my life into another.
I shed people-pleasing behavior like a smelly old coat, and I have not missed it a bit.The feeling and image is of shrugging off a disgusting mantle. EEEWWW!! So over it. It reeked of the word should. A friend named Michael said that word should be banished from the language, and I agree with him.
Anyway, I owe Jay a lot. Scrumptious, huge, blue-eyed baby, he took me from a mom of a few kids to a mom of a glorious bunch. His birth changed us and we could never go back. His little brothers and sisters all changed the family in their own ways, but nothing this transforming.
And here he stands now, on the verge of his life.
When he was four he carried a Curious George around, tucked in his arm, called him George Curious. Whenever he was afraid or worried, he never admitted it. Everything was cool with him. It was George who was nervous or afraid. Jay didn’t get afraid, only George. George wanted to stay up late, to win at video games, to jump off the dock and swim. All the insecurities of my child, projected onto a stuffed animal. At least I didn’t have to wonder what was on Jay’s mind.
And he was obsessed with the number seven, insisted he was seven. Even when the line at the grocery store was a mile long in Aisle 7, we’d get in that line, just for him. He’d look up at that glowing seven above his head with an awed smile on his little face. Like sons everywhere, he is truly one of a kind. Go get ‘em, Bud. You’re two times seven now, and we love you.