He’s my firstborn, my training child. I used to joke they should give you a practice kid first so you could make all your mistakes and then give the kid back in exchange for your actual first child. Then your firstborn wouldn’t have to suffer the ups and downs of your parental learning curve. But despite my new-mom nerves for, say, the first twenty years of his life, Nate has turned out to be a helluva guy—an amazing person, and someone from whom I’ve learned so much.
Nate’s birth was a pitched battle. He was born exactly a week after his due date, August 2, 1992, 26 years ago today. He must’ve liked the accommodations in utero because he was in no particular hurry to leave. Being 32 years old and invincible, I was determined to have a natural delivery, which meant powering through about 32 hours of labor and delivery armed only with breathing exercises and tennis balls for back pain. The 1992 Olympics were on TV when we first got to the hospital, Jacki Joyner-Kersee had just won gold in the heptathlon for the second consecutive Olympics. Sometime around midnight, I decided that my goal of natural delivery was unnecessarily ambitious, but things had progressed too far at that point for an epidural, so onwards. At one point, the midwife had to reach inside and rearrange my cervix because the baby was entering the birth canal somewhat askew. I thought, “just kill me now.” I believe it was about 2:15 a.m. when I told the midwives they should immediately wheel me down the hall and give me a C-section because I was done with this process. Nate, showing early the great persistence which is one of his hallmark qualities, has never been one to take the easy path – the midwives informed me we were “too close” for surgery, so we soldiered on together, he and I, me thinking I was pushing really hard, John coaching me to relax (???) or some other well-intended but useless advice. A student nurse tiptoed in. The midwife asked whether I minded if the girl observed as I flailed ineffectively at this whole birth thing. I was speechless, so the trainee stayed. Finally, at about 2:45, with the baby’s heart rate showing signs of distress, the midwife leaned into my face like a marine drill sergeant and said “Okay, Holly, enough of this ditzing around. I want you to push like your life depends on it.” And at 3:07 a.m. on a dark, cool August morning, Nate emerged into the world, quiet, and peeing. A nurse out at the maternity ward desk rang a little bell in the still morning to herald his arrival.
Nate was a lot to keep up with, for new parents. He was headstrong and fearless: climbing to the uppermost branches of the hemlocks at age four; skiing off ledges into the abyss below with abandon all his life, terrifying his sisters when he drove them too fast to summer camp. I cannot recall a time I’ve seen Nate back down from a challenge. He may feel intimidated inside, but he goes for it, even when he shouldn’t, like that time he biked to the Cape when he had mono. Or when he partied with a group of homeless people in Vermont because he was interviewing them for a college journalism class, a privileged Ivy Leaguer entering their milieu with a frisson of fear, but led on by a compulsion to understand.
Nate has always been astonishingly bright. His school years left a number of teachers scratching their heads in an effort to challenge him, or contain him, or both. In a recent house-cleaning frenzy, I came across a high school essay of his—a snarky, darkly comic piece about being a competitive Mr. Potatohead assembler. He wrote it to the prompt “write a mock college essay.” Clearly, he took the word “mock” seriously. It was beautifully crafted and aggressively sarcastic. The teacher’s note at the end of the paper read, “I just don’t know what to say.” I laughed out loud at her comment; being his mom, I often felt that way, a mixture of amusement, awe, frustration, affection, and irritation. He regularly astonishes his dad and me with his encyclopedic knowledge about everything, from catalytic converters to foreign politics to 90’s rap music. I don’t know if I have ever known someone with a deeper drive of innate curiosity, one who hungers more to learn. And he’s a born Devil’s advocate, loving nothing more than a good debate. (Well, except maybe Annie. And their cats. And his family. And rowing.) He’ll argue one side flawlessly then flip to the opposing viewpoint, just to better understand. And also, I have learned from experience, to get under your skin. Just a little bit. Or sometimes a lot.
As he’s entered manhood, the perseverance and iconoclasm that drove parents and grandparents, teachers, coaches, and carpool drivers crazy when he was younger have become assets for him. He’s grown into his identity as a maverick/provocateur, and it works for him. He’s acquired an easy way with people, humorous and interested. What I once thought was orneriness bordering on tone-deafness to others, I now see more clearly as profound sensitivity. (Ok, so also, single-mindedness.) He CARES.
So do I, buckaroo. Thanks for teaching me how to be a mom, for the great adventure of watching you unfold into your adult self, for being so smart and interesting, for making me laugh, and eating whatever I cooked with such enthusiasm. Knowing you and watching you grow has brought me so much happiness. Don’t ever blend in! Love you heaps and hope you have a great birthday.