Firsts and Lasts

The first time my eldest son, Ryan, saw his shadow marked the moment that I began living through my children’s eyes. I remember a poem– where mostly I was questioning the existence of God, in which I wrote “he put my eyes right inside my child’s, so I could see, again, how beautiful it is to live.” I didn’t know, then, I’d hear those words some 19 years later resounding through my thoughts. At each step of Ryan’s development, being my first born, I anticipated the milestones. I welcomed them. His first step, in the living room, when he let go of the coffee table that had stabilized him, and the grin on his face– both exuberant and questioning. The first time he acknowledged the stars (then pronounced stores) in the sky and the gasp that followed. I used to fight with my mother when she wanted to do something new with him because I didn’t want to miss a single first.

When Tyler came along, I’d become cognizant of how quickly the season of firsts passes, and so, instead of eagerly anticipating them, I tried to stutter them in an effort to savor each moment. My reactions now began with, “Oh no, he’s _____________ already!” What I didn’t understand is that I couldn’t do all that I had done before– cook, clean, work, care for two children now instead of one– AND simply enjoy them.

With Alexa, I’d learned balance. I embraced her firsts, setting my priorities by giving up control of the things that didn’t matter. I sat down with her on the floor for hours playing dolls while the dishes waited in the sink or the balls of dog fur collected at the corners of a room for longer than a day. The concept of quality time became first and foremost in my mind.

As difficult as it had become for me to adjust to the sacrifice of having children, it was even more so fulfilling BEING their mom. They had transformed me– during those sleepless nights when they’d only sleep while nuzzling their sweet faces against my neck when I could feel the breath from their lips and their chests rise and fall– during those moments of exacerbation when I felt my blood boiling and I wanted to scream, but then those eyes would look up at me, regretfully and lovingly, and I’d melt– during those moments when they did something noble and responsible that took my breath away.

In 2009, Ryan, graduated from high school. While I anticipated this moment, I’d foolishly thought it would all be about the pride I felt watching my son grow into a young man, taking this step he’d longed to take and worked so hard for.

The summer before his senior year, once again, I realized I’d been mistaken. He left w/ his guitar and hockey gear–props that spoke to his personality– on an August morning, and I sobbed. The tears took my by surprise on that day, as they did for each of the milestones that year which would follow: each and every award he was selected for, receiving his college acceptance letters, Homecoming, hockey, Prom…

This past week, Tyler, now a senior, played in his last high school hockey game. Four games prior, the imminence of this day became prominent in my mind. Hockey has been the single love of his life for fourteen years. Tyler, the 2nd child, always in his brother’s shadow, decided to play goalie on a whim (Ryan had played forward). Up until this point in his young life, Tyler had always done everything Ryan had done– in part because it’s what I knew, but I always believed it was his choice too because he looked up to Ryan. This is the first choice Tyler made that marked him as an individual– something NOT to be compared to the shadow of his brother. At five, he put on all of the equipment, planted himself in between the pipes and played, determined to stop every shot. It was clear, early on, that Tyler had raw talent for this position and this game. For years, he played with his friends in the league they all played in. He was known as Wacky, then, who developed this ritual of eating a Snickers bar before every game. One year, he was pulled up to a higher level team for a game; his team mates chanted his name as he skated onto the ice, “Wacky! Wacky!”; it was clear, his older peers believed in him, and they won! For two years following, he was pulled up for the year to higher level teams– those more commensurate to his skill level. To hone his skills, he enrolled in goalie camps, triple A and special tournament teams. Tyler was determined. My ritual became following him each period to watch from the zone he was playing in. I admired his focus and his drive to excel. I used to say he was a Once and Done goalie because once he’d let one puck by him, he stepped up his game and refused to let any more by. The more fierce the competition, the more fierce he played. I wish I had video footage of some of the highlight saves he’s made.

Fast forward to high school hockey. Tyler has had a phenomenal four years. With varsity letters all four years, he’s had his share of accolades… from articles, to interviews, to commentary, to awards. One commentator referred to him as “the best goalie in the state.” After all these years, he still has his game rituals: five hour energy before every game, a soak in the hot-tub and stretching for an hour. I still follow him from one end of the ice to another. His name is still cheered from the stands: “We have Carbone! We have Carbone!” It warms my heart to hear his name called. The bigger the crowd, the tougher the team, the harder Tyler plays. More focused on this one passion than either of my other children, Tyler embodies the position he plays before and after the game, during and outside of the season.

So this week, his team, after moving from Division II to Division I, made it to the State Championship. They lost in the quarter finals to the #2 team in the state (Tyler’s was ranked #15). The tears I cried were not so much for the loss, but the demarcation of his last high school game– his high school career, which had given him such pleasure, pride– it was the source of so much growth. More proud than I was of his game (and I’ve been extremely proud of his game for all of these years), I am in awe of his ability to communicate his thoughts and appreciation so eloquently with each and every interview. It really speaks volumes of the young man he’s become.

It’s surreal. The firsts, the lasts and all of the in-betweens. I looked at each of my children after they were born and thought, is this real? is this child part of me? this child IS mine.

But the truth is, they are mine for a time– 18 years is a short time; I have conceived of these children only to let them go. The adjustment is painstaking, but necessary, and I will realize the adjustment; I know I will.

The parenting phase of my life is turning as their journey of being under my care and my wings is taking a different path. I need to adjust from living through my children to being content living outside of them, beside them, always here for them, but respecting the choices I’ve taught them to make, allowing them to make the decisions that mediate their needs and their desires, watching them flourish with pride. Firsts and lasts are cyclical, as life, after all.

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