February 21, 2016 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
Today my son Aidan is twenty-seven.
I have experienced contentment in solitude, and I have experienced it in the company of others. But there are a few people who teach me about contentment, even when they are not themselves experiencing it, and of these, Aidan is one. So I thought it fitting to dedicate today’s post to him.
[Don’t worry, son. This is not your present. I will also try not to embarrass you all to hell. But after all, I am still your mother. It does kind of go with the territory.]
Here then, are three of the many reasons I am grateful for Aidan’s presence in the world. I brainstormed a lot of Aidan stories, but even with editing, one blog post only gets me through the fourth grade.
1. I had the best meal of my life the day he was born.
I went into Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit at four in the afternoon. Aidan was born at seven in the evening. I’ve described that three hours elsewhere, but not what happened immediately afterwards. Which was that I was suddenly starving. Absolutely ravenous.
The nurse informed us – unbelievably – that the kitchen was closed. I still can’t figure out why she’d say that. Hospitals are open 24 hours. People work in them 24 hours. There is always at least a cafeteria open somewhere inside.
Nevertheless, Aidan’s dad went out hunting. Because that’s what providers do. It’s built into the evolutionary DNA. What he found, across the street from the hospital, was a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Or KFC, after they rebranded it to de-emphasize the “fried.”
He came back with a “two piece” box – a drumstick and thigh, mashed potatoes and gravy, and coleslaw. I sucked those bones so clean you could have played a xylophone with them, and licked the gravy off the plastic top on the styrofoam container, which was barely distinguishable from the mashed potatoes, to boot. Shortly after we were told that there had been a mistake, and they brought me a sandwich. I scarfed that too.
There was KFC at my son’s family birthday celebrations for many years after that – though he later became a vegetarian, and is now that shorter word – but I don’t think it ever tasted so good to me as it did that day. I am not sure any meal ever did.
2. He showed me how to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Aidan was a talker as a child. In first grade he explained to us that he had a big brain, and “there’s a lot of stuff in it that just needs to come out.” This caused some problems at school on occasion, but it was church that proved the greatest challenge. He would do his best to remain quiet and still, but the best would last around 32 minutes, which if his father didn’t do too long a sermon (slim chance there, because he had a Big Brain too), would bring us about to the Eucharistic prayer. I used to think that if I got quiet toys he would be quiet, but the toys always ended up talking.
One time we were late for church and didn’t bring any toys and he actually drew quite silently – generally his sister’s favorite church activity – extending his best to a full 37 minutes. Then I began to hear, low but distinct, that squeaky talking voice Aidan would use with his stuffed animals. I looked over.
My son had pushed up his pant legs over his knees and had drawn faces on them. He was talking to them. The boy was talking to his knees. And they were talking back.
Oh well. Talking to your knees, talking on your knees. They’re not so far apart.
3. He taught me how to set better boundaries.
My son was a generous child, and remains a generous adult. From the time he was very young he was a lover of animals. He was a voracious reader of Brian Jacques’ Redwall Series, which was fun at first, though after the second or third book, they were all pretty much the same. He once named a hamster Nathaniel. Only a Redwallian would do this. At one point we discovered Thornton Burgess, whose animal stories were much beloved by my father as a boy, and they had a bonding experience over these. Though between Mariel of Redwall and Jimmy Skunk there is, to be certain, a great gulf fixed.
At some point he ended up on a mailing list for the Humane Society. I do not have any idea how this happened, but he started getting those letters than include address labels with cats and dogs on them, and sad stories about abandoned and abused pets. The kind little old grandmothers respond to.
We were a family that encouraged giving, but after the second or third time that he emptied out his piggy bank so I could write them out a check, I said “You know, Aidan, you don’t have to give all your money every time they ask.” “But, mom,” he said, “if I don’t, they might stop sending the letters.” I assured him that this was not the case.
Several months later, the phone rang around dinnertime. It was the Humane Society. They wanted to speak to their donor. “Your donor is in fourth grade,” I said. “Please take him off your calling list.” “Oh my goodness,” said the kind little old grandmother on the other end. “What a tender heart.”