Hello, Goodbye

It seemed our life as parents had just begun when we packed our son off to college

"Don't give up. I need your best effort. Now!" my doctor said.

The nurse leaned close. "Robin, listen." She motioned with her head.

"Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war …" the hymn thrummed, timely, from the radio. My husband pushed from behind. I gathered my strength and breath and fought for my firstborn's entry into the world.

"A boy!" The nurse placed him in my arms.

This is the first goodbye. You'll never be as close again.

What kind of thought is that to have when a couple, childless for a dozen years, becomes a family? I thrust his adulthood at least 18 years into the future and asked my husband, "What do you think—David or Daniel?" We studied the tiny, pinched-red face.

"David. He looks like a David."

Changes ensued. When I'd been pregnant and carried nothing but a handbag, crowds parted for me like the Red Sea for Moses. Men bounded to open doors wide. But once David filled my arms, I could juggle the baby carrier, stroller, diaper bag, purse, guitar, three bags of groceries and a couple of pacifiers without a soul offering assistance. Our house bulged with crib, rocker-recliner, changing table, wind-up swing, and portable playpen. We stepped over diaper bag, bounce seat, car seat, packages of diapers and the dog lounging in the Kanga-Rocka-Roo.

I rocked David, and he rocked my world.

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word …" I tried to sing him to sleep. But every time, David lit up like a jukebox with a new quarter in it. I picked up the latest of at least a dozen parenting books I'd bought. None of them said a mother might memorize every centimeter of her child's face—and never tire of counting fingers and toes.

I forgot what quiet sounded like once David could talk and walk. He pulled out pots and pans and drummed on them, breaking my wooden spoons. He recited stories from the car seat. In the pet section of the Ben Franklin store he hollered, "Da birdies are praising God." He joined them, volume at forte, singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." I found that two minutes of silence meant I'd better check on him. He was either asleep or up to something—buttering my cupboard doors or disappearing under a clothing rack at the mall.

At three David prayed God would give him a brother he could name Hunca Munca. At four he got one named Brian. At seven, the day he was baptized, David led his little brother to ask Jesus into his heart. I tucked these things in my heart, to keep forever.

When David turned eight my mother, a retired drummer, gave him her drum set. No more boxes or pots—now he made up random rhythms on the real thing. As soon as David headed for the basement, the dog (and my more tranquil Brian) made for our bedroom, the only peaceful spot in the house. Drumming held more attraction for our son than the sandbox, playing fetch with Buddy, or football with the neighbors.

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