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Being Thankful for This Life

My son Michael is two. We are walking on the boardwalk along the Jersey Shore. He is up on my husband’s shoulders. Michael watches as people walk toward us, and with us. The sun glare makes him squint. Waves crash against the shore, leaving behind glistening and soon-to-be treasured shells. His hair is being gently stirred by the ocean breeze. The ice cream on his cone gives up on patience and starts to drip down his little arm. Ahead of us is a break in the crowd, and a clear stretch of wooden planks. I glance downward and watch the shadows of our family; a husband, a wife, and a son. Michael stretches out his arms to me and I hold him. The smell of seawater mixes with the scent of his baby shampoo. I pull him closer and I breathe him in.

My son Michael is in kindergarten. I love to watch him sleep. His entire body collapses in all-embracing exhaustion. This is the kind of tiredness only a five-year-old boy could know. Too many hours spent laying the tracks for his new train set.

“Michael, wake up. It’s time for school.”
 
“Okay, Mommy. I want to wear my watch today.” He brings it over to me and I wrap the brown leather strap around his tiny wrist. He is still my baby. His eyes are focused and determined. He reads the blue LCD numbers and says, “Look, Mommy. Seven, dot, dot, zero, zero. That means it’s seven o’clock.”

My son is twelve. He is very cool. I am not allowed to kiss or hug him in front of his friends. He likes to talk about baseball. Any other topic will surely result in a one word answer, or a shrug of his shoulders. Lately, I find myself wondering what he is thinking.

Michael is twenty-five. I am sixty. Today is his wedding day. As we dance I can feel the precise and hauntingly magnificent movement of each violin. I listen to the breathtaking melody as it climbs and falls. …The long and winding road … it always leads me here … lead me to your door … The wild and windy night that the rain washed away … has left a pool of tears crying for the day …  I look up at my beautiful son. I am filled with pride for the man he has become. But, I cannot help but feel that this day came too soon.

I am unable to sleep. I am filled with anticipation. The glowing LCD numbers of the clock on my nightstand are all at once too bright. Today is my seventy-ninth birthday. It is late January. From my window I watch as snow falls over the ocean; it is an intimate dance between winter and summer. The snow never reaches the sand; the saltwater air evaporates each flake before it can. Michael is coming to see me today. For the past thirty-nine years of my life I have made my living writing words, but now there are days when words escape me.

“Hello? Mom?” Michael calls from the hall. He walks into the living room. I can hear the
apprehension in his voice, and I can see it in his eyes as well. He is not yet sure if I know who he is.

But today is a good day. “Of course I know you. You’re as handsome as your father.”

Beep … beep … beep … The alarm on my treadmill sounds and it unsettles my attention for a moment. I glance down to read the glowing LCD numbers. Today is actually the eve of my 41st birthday. I received a phone call from my sister this morning. I listened to her voice quivering with an awkward and embarrassed discontentment. ”It’s a boy. The ultrasound confirmed it,” she said. This will be her third son.

“Is the baby healthy?” I ask.

“Yes, everything looked fine,” she answered.

“Then that is a blessing. There is no telling what your new son may be destined to do,” I replied.

“I know. The 3-D image was amazing. I saw him dancing around.” She laughed. ”Now I am going to focus on preparing a room for him.”

But it is human nature to contemplate the absence of something … or someone. I do not have a son. There is no Michael.

I turn off my treadmill and I run downstairs. I put on my coat and I go out to our bus stop. I watch as both of my daughters walk and giggle their way up the driveway. My five-year-old rushes towards me while swinging a plastic baggy in her hand. Her very stubborn baby tooth finally came loose. The fact that it came out in school, for all of her friends to witness, has put her into a state of complete nirvana. My oldest daughter smiles at me and begins to tell me about her day. It’s a girl’s life, full of princesses, pink and purple crayons, pretty singers, and magical stories. As we walk to the house, I step back and let them go ahead of me. I take a mental snapshot of this moment in time. I love these two little girls more than life itself …

They lead me to our door.

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