Today is the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy’s birthday. For the first time I will not be able to celebrate in person with him. I so wish this were different.
The NSLDB was born at seven minutes past midnight, November 20, 1990. It was a difficult labor and birth – several ER visits and one hospitalization due to dehydration caused by severe hyperemesis gravida. All of this while I was finishing law school and studying for the California bar exam (which I passed, I might add).
He talked early, and fluently, and was consistently aware of the things going on around him. He told me at five that television commercials were no good because all they were trying to do was sell you stuff. I know adults who still don’t seem to have figured that out.
He has never shied away from expressing himself. When his youngest brother was born, I was trying to cope with the exhaustion of having a newborn by sitting watching old Looney Tunes cartoons. The NSLDB was watching with me. (Yes, I know I was being a bad mother by having a six-year old see such violent fare. I was too sleep-deprived to care.) “Duck season!,” said Bugs. “Rabbit season!” said Daffy. “Duck season!” “Rabbit season!” “Duck season!” “Baby season,” growled a quiet voice sitting next to me.
When he was eight, he was hit while crossing the street by a speeding SUV. By the grace of whatever God there is, he survived. (In one of the worst memories of my life, the ER doctor cheerfully told me, “He’s a lucky boy, if that car had hit an inch higher he would be dead.”) While he was in the ER, through a bloodied mouth that was now absent three front permanent teeth, he tried to tell jokes to make me and the nurse laugh. (“ ‘Ell, I ‘ould always ‘e a ‘entriloquist….”). Instead, both of us had to fight back tears. “I’m supposed to try and make you feel better, not the other way around,” I responded.
The NSLDB was never a kid that blended in. A friend visited us once when he was ten and commented that it must be like living with a Borscht Belt comedian. A counselor told him in middle school – much to the dismay of his father and I – that he should stop using such big words, that he should try to be more like the other kids. That was a little like asking a peacock to shear his feathers.
When the NSLDB discovered the drums, he was in nirvana (we ended up in city mediation due to his practicing.) He loves music, and by the time he was in high school had more music than anyone else I knew. He was interested in every aspect: I remember on a band trip I was chaperoning, hearing him discuss a band with a classmate. The classmate had mentioned a current group he liked, and the NSLDB took off: he discussed the music, then the production, the other albums with the same producer, and the audio techniques he particularly liked… The other kid looked a bit shell-shocked.
When he went to the orientation for the Mountain View Los Altos High School District’s Freestyle Academy, he walked up to the audio instructor and said, “So, how much Pro Tools do I need to know? I haven’t worked with it.” The instructor hemmed and hawed and said, “Well, we generally start people out on GarageBand.” The NSLDB had been working with GarageBand for two years already.
It was at the Freestyle Academy that he discovered art and design. He has carried that love into his work at college, and I know that it will be with him the rest of his life.
When younger he did not handle boredom well. During his eighth grade band, when he was better than most of the other (younger) drummers and hence not being challenged enough, he led a mutiny about the uniforms. (I got a call from the his band teacher about that one.) When he was a freshman in high school, he was assigned in an English class to write an essay about a “heroic figure.” He was in fact quite bored with the class, and not particularly taken with the rather humorless teacher, so he chose as his heroic subject the pot of petunias in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. I did not actually hear about that from the teacher directly, but at parent-teacher conference the young woman did express bewilderment about how to deal with him.
There is no one I would rather go to an art museum with. He is his own person, he likes what he likes, and is willing to discuss why intelligently. He does not see the art as sacred cows or the museums as temples: in the Musee d’Orsay he walked up to Degas sculpture of the little ballerina girl and said “What a brat.” You could hear a gasp go around the group of art-lovers clustered around her. He was talking in an art museum! He was criticizing a beloved work! Then he went on… “Look at how smug she is. I know this girl. I went to school with girls just like her.” “Oh, yeah,” said another observer. And soon, people were discussing the statue as if she were a person, and is that not the most any artist can ask? To have their work come alive for people?
He makes people better just by knowing him. That’s not just the opinion of a doting mother: I once got a call from a high-school English teacher telling me how much he loved having the NSLDB in his class, and that a girl in class had said that knowing him had changed her life. This same class always had a contest at the end of the year, to decide who had been the most insightful and valued contributor to the class that year. “It would have been unanimous, Mom,” he told me, “but I decided I’m not the type of person who votes for himself.” In his evaluations at college, one of his professors called him “a credit to the college.”
He’s not perfect: He procrastinates sometimes, and is disorganized (he gets that from his mother – although unlike her he seems to be getting better) and has an occasional tendency towards cynicism (he gets that from his father). He has other faults, but they are more than compensated for by his virtues.
I miss him terribly. He can discuss politics, and art, and culture, and philosophy with a clear-headedness missing in those much older and ostensibly wiser than he is. Having Thanksgiving without him is tearing me apart, even as I recognize that he is a grownup now, with a grownup’s responsibilities that will mean that I see less and less of him.
So, here’s to you, kid. I love you very much, and I am prouder of you than you can ever know. I hope that you have a marvelous birthday.