By Lisa Solis DeLong
In the middle of the meat section at Costco, as I lifted a twelve pack of sirloin patties for Jacob’s birthday barbeque dinner, it hit me: Jacob is growing up. I felt teary and stood still for a moment of silent gratitude as thoughts of Justin, my oldest, pushed past my memory like overloaded shopping carts. Having had two sons with the same disease, one gone and one living, always weighs heavy around birthday celebrations.
As I returned to my shopping, I recalled how Jacob was crying the other night. I sat next to him on his bed, stroking his forehead, rubbing his back, laying down, listening, he continued to cry and speak in unrecognizable language. He gets like this when he is sad; soft spoken, whiny.
After crying for about an hour he finally spoke the words reflecting what was at the root of the emotion: “I think I’m losing my, my i-ma-gin-a-tion.” He choked the word out like he was coughing up blood, which he has done several times.
“I don’t want to grow up…Why do I have to get big and hairy?...I’m going to be bald like grandpa cuz that comes from your side mom….Why do I like war games so much? I’m afraid I won’t like playing Legos anymore…”
I snuggled close to him and put my arms around him and looked around his room. A giant stuffed catfish pillow hung overhead. His enormous tarantula spider in the glass case clung to the wall near his feet. A pile of plush toys: a fuzzy brown bear, a green snake and Chief Joe—a turtle in camouflage, fill one corner of his room. Legos were strewn across the floor in an almost complete World War II reenactment. A newly framed poster of every kind of airplane known to man and boy leans on its side waiting to be hung.
And there we were; a mother so thoroughly immersed in the joy of holding her almost eleven year old son in her arms and a boy completely aware that he is becoming a man.
He was not thinking that the only way to prevent aging is to stop living which is exactly what was in my head. I’ve already buried one son. Justin is perpetually fifteen in my imagination. That’s as far as we got.
Jacob did not know that every minute of every day with him and his sisters is what kept me going when Justin left. You get used to having your kid around and when they are gone you shut down until something forces you to turn on again. In my case that something was him. He was only nine months old when Justin died.
He was not thinking about four years ago when he nearly died too from leukemia treatments just as his older brother had. He does not know what I know: that his getting big and hairy is one of life’s greatest pleasures; maybe not for him yet but certainly for me now. Moments like these are what make me cringe and hold him tighter not knowing whether I will out live him or him me.