My 15-year-old son, like clockwork, is up and tackling every school day by 5:00 a.m. It’s a comforting alarm clock, hearing the slight screeching sound of the old tub faucet and the sudden rush of pressurized water of his early morning shower.
It was a Thursday morning, the week of another mass shooting, when my phone alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. As I batted my eyes and focused on the time, I realized Christopher had yet to make his way up from his basement boy-cave bedroom to start his day. I sent him several texts, checking in and asking if he was awake, to no reply. I called his phone, trying to avoid hitting the ground running with a long trek down to his room to check in. No answer. I called again. No answer. He never oversleeps. He’s clockwork, that kid, and my world relies on his schedule staying on course.
I stared at the ceiling, without a blink, and my body stiffened. Why isn’t he replying to my “text bombs” (as the kids say)? Why isn’t he answering his phone? Could he have died in his sleep? What is wrong with me? It is irrational, for a mother’s thoughts to go straight to the death of her teenager, who most likely overslept. But Christopher’s situation is unique.
He is a big kid, 6’ 8” tall, 270 pounds, an athlete. His pediatrician soothed my concerns after I became plagued by numerous stories of big kids dropping dead of heart attacks, on the court, off the court, in their sleep. “His heart is stronger than yours and mine, combined,” the doctor had said. But he wasn’t always so healthy.
When Christopher was born, he spent his first month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. He was bombarded with specialists trying to figure him out. He couldn’t remember to take a breath, he had little to no muscle tone, he struggled to suckle his food. He was being poked and prodded and tested. He had an IV in his forehead, tape matted into his long, fine black hair, because they couldn’t get it to work anywhere else. They couldn’t offer a prognosis other than: “It isn’t good. He will most likely never walk or talk, and we have no idea of cognitive ability.”
I cradled him in my arms, tubes and monitor wires streaming from his little body. I broke up my usual string of soothing lullabies, and looked deep into his eyes. “I love you so much, Handsome Little Man. It’s okay to go if it’s all too much,” I whispered as my tears dripped onto his cheeks. “I love you, Baby. It will be okay. Be calm, be peaceful. I’m here. I love you so much.”
He began hitting the same developmental milestones as his peers around 10 months. He walked—and ran—by his first birthday. He has become one of the sweetest, most empathetic and caring humans I have ever met. Every day with him is nothing short of a miracle. And it’s a miracle I never want to face a day without.
I threw back the covers and swung my legs out of bed, onto the floor, as I slid my glasses on. I reached the bottom landing on the first floor when I heard the basement door open. Christopher and I met in the dining room. “Good morning, Handsome. What happened?” I asked as I wrapped my arms around his torso and squeezed into him.
“I don’t know, I didn’t hear my alarm and overslept,” he said. Although I knew he was ready to get a move on, he paused an extra couple of seconds wrapped in my bear hug before rotating around me and heading upstairs to take a shower.
I went to work in the kitchen, turned on the music like I do every morning, began preparing breakfast and making lunches, as I thought of the delicacy—and beautiful brutality—of life. Of having life and of losing life. I thought of my mom, as terminal cancer brings her life to an end. I thought of the mass shootings and terrorist attacks around the world. There is never enough time with those we hold dear. And although I’ll never fully shake the haunt of something taking away one of my children too soon, or the concern for the impending day I will hold my mom’s hand and tell her how much I love her one last time, I’m careful not to let those worries stop me from moving forward. Just enough of the concern lends more value to every day, helps keep me present—and beyond grateful—for the gift.
As we move through the holidays and head into a new year, I’m wishing you the sweet reminder that each new day with those you love is indeed the best gift of all; relish them.