When your parent writes a weekly column in the local newspaper, sometimes they write about you.
My son was born when I was the editor of The Livingston County Press, and I wrote about him often enough that people in the community got to know him, and they enjoyed reading about him.
When he was about 5 or 6, I think, (or maybe it was 7 or 8), I was a judge for the first Iron Chef competition in Livingston County.
As a judge, I had to sit at the judge’s table and consume food created by local chefs — a tough job, for sure. But I had a good vantage point from the stage, and I kept a good eye on my son — he was never outside of my view, and there were plenty of people in the audience keeping watch over him, too.
During a break, he came up to me excitedly.
“You know how Harry Potter was famous? How everyone knew who he was?”
“I’m just like that,” he said. “A lady just came up to me and asked if I was Will Stuart. People know who I am.”
This year, that little boy is turning 20. Tonight, I am sharing a piece from 2002 that I wrote about him on his third birthday.
As we celebrated my son’s third birthday, his aunt bestowed upon him the wildest gift he had ever received, a yellow, motorized, miniature front-end loader. All Will had to do was press the pedal with his foot and off he went.
Stopping was a different story.
He crashed first into a large flower pot on the patio, then into a chair, a post, and finally into one of his guests.
“You need to learn to stop,” someone yelled out. “Take your foot off the pedal and you’ll stop.”
Then, he grinned as he stomped his foot down on the pedal again. The yellow machine leapt forward, heading for a table.
“Stop!” someone cried out.
Will pulled his foot from the pedal and stopped, just in time.
“Push the reverse button,” someone else called out.
Will found the button, pushed it and zoomed backward, laughing. Then he got caught up on a bush, his wheels spinning, until his aunt rescued him.
Quickly, he learned to steer the machine with the hand-bars on either side of him. He zipped in circles, around and around, his face giving away his delight.
“He’s so young for this,” I thought as he zoomed by, laughing, exhilarated by streaking around the yard at 3 mph when all he had known until then were his own two feet, and before that, his knees.
I blinked when he whizzed by me. For a second, it was as if some strange child was in my yard, he looked so grown up.
But he was just a little boy. Then I realized that he was plenty old enough to run a tiny front-end loader.
Just before he woke this morning — his third birthday — I flipped through the photo album chronicling his every moment from birth to 6 months of age. The beginning and end of the photos in this album curiously coincide with the start and finish of my maternity leave.
There’s one photo in the album that I love dearly.
It’s not particularly attractive: I’m sleeping in our old beat-up recliner, and Will is asleep on my chest. We are out like lights, our mouths wide open, and it looks like we’re both drooling.
That’s how we spent most afternoons during the first few months of Will’s life. I’d bathe him, feed him, play with him, and then we’d snuggle up in the old recliner with the radio on, and we’d sleep the good sleep.
I remember his sweet baby breath and the rhythm of his breathing. I remember how light he was to hold, like a sweet angel doll made of feathers. How he’d nuzzle into the crook of my neck and how we’d drift off to dreamland together with the radio on.
Most afternoons, the routine was the same: we’d listen to music in the decrepit old recliner, snug under a blanket, and we’d nap. Our mornings were usually busy, but once dad left for work and the business of the day was over, we’d head for the old chair.
Those six months were the sweetest of my life, and they flashed before my eyes as I watched Will speeding around the yard in his miniature front-end loader, crashing into things, learning to steer himself around, laughing.
I blink and it’s autumn, and I see the leaves float to the ground as we slowly drift off to dreamland, listening to jazz. I blink, and it’s a hot Sunday in the middle of summer and Will is intent on learning to drive a circle around his aunt in a mechanical contraption that most boys would surely dream of owning.
As I was expecting my baby, many wise people advised me to write about him every day. “Time goes by so quickly,” they said. “You’ll want to remember it all.”
But I was so busy holding my long-awaited son close to my heart, listening to music and drifting off to sleep with him in the beat-up old recliner that I didn’t write a single thing.
And now he’s 3, and the proud owner of his very own miniature front-end loader.
Time does fly.
It claimed the old recliner this spring, an offering to the city’s large-item pick-up day. And Will doesn’t sleep in my arms anymore, at least not for very long. He’s a giant compared to his newborn self, all wiggly arms and legs and action.
But I have the memories of sweet baby’s breath and music to doze by filed away as I look toward the future.
“Take your foot off the pedal,” I wanted to shout as he rushed past me in the yellow machine. “You’re going way too fast.”
This piece was part of the “Letters from Livingston” event at the Howell Opera House on June 20, 2019. “Letters from Livingston” — the event formerly known as “The Mommologues” — is an annual fundraiser for LACASA, the local, independent non-profit organization that works with the victims of child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. For more information on LACASA, click here, or call (517) 548-1350.