My son Ben is (gulp) 24 years old today.
24? How did he get to be 24? Wasn't he just 16 last week? Or 7?
Didn't I bring him home from the hospital just the other day?
A kaleidoscope of images dance in my head. Ben laughing the first time, learning to walk, learning to swim, learning to read, starting school, discovering music. Destination Imagination, marching band, In the Know. Books everywhere. I remember his coming back from a weekend visit to Reed and announcing he had found the college he wanted to attend; I remember him joyfully showing me the email announcement when he was accepted.
Ben headed to college in 2004 and, after the summer of 2005, never returned to my home again except as a visitor. He set up his own apartment and life elsewhere. He's been way far away all of that time. Until a few weeks ago, he lived in Portland, Oregon. He and Alise, my almost daughter-in-law, recently moved to Helena, Montana (her hometown), which brought him 700 miles closer to my front door, but it's still a long ways from here to there.
When Ben arrived at college, he was instantly home in ways he could not be elsewhere. He found acceptance and friendship and respect and Alise, all at the same place. From afar, I got to watch him assemble his life with the concentration he once brought to his building blocks. And while all the blocks aren't in place yet, I stand back and look at his life with the same amazement that I had when he was four.
The bond that Ben and I have shared from his birth forward is books. I read to Ben before he was two days old. His first night home from the hospital, I propped him in my arms, opened Are You My Mother, and began.
"A mother bird sat on her egg."
Every night of that first year - through colic, through croup, through teething - I read. Almost every night after that for the next 14 years, I read. I loved books and this child of mine also loved books. Once he learned to read, Ben took off on his own literary adventures, but we continued to share an hour at bedtime most nights, my reading aloud to him or sometimes the two of us taking turns. Then someone interfered and demanded that it stop. That broke off our time together reading, but it never broke that bond.
Books and more books. When Ben was in 4th grade, he had two desks, side by side. One was for him, the other was for his books. When he went off to college, he had to leave his books behind, but quickly began acquiring more books. When Warren and I moved into this house, I boxed up Ben's books and put them in the attic. There are nine or ten boxes up there. Maybe more. (And I didn't even box the children's books.) After Ben and Alise moved to Montana, Alise emailed me about the move being seamless, "only a little stressful trying to fit all of our beloved books into the small space in the car." I can only imagine.
I don't know what the future holds for Ben. I am quite sure it will continue to hold books. Like Thomas Jefferson, Ben cannot live without them. I hope and trust it will continue to hold Alise - funny, bright, engaging, loving, caring, theatrical, passionate, book-devouring Alise, who has brought joy and light to Ben's life.
Whatever it holds for you, Ben, know that I am there too, championing you.
I look back at all the books that flowed through our hands, from Redwall to Mordor, from dinosaurs to Feynman, from Seuss to Sutcliff. Whether we were down the rabbit hole with Alice or on the road with Stuart Little, Ben and I journeyed together, sharing a love of the story, a love of the books, a love of one another.
Happy 24th, Ben.