Every assumption I’ve ever made about my son has proven to be wrong.
The first one, of course, was crucial. I assumed I couldn’t get pregnant on the first day of my cycle.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
Once we got over the surprise of his conception, we started planning for his arrival. My daughter, Amanda, was especially excited about the prospect of having a little brother. About seven months into my pregnancy, I was due for a sonogram, and decided to take her along. She was absolutely dancing with glee as the doctor smeared my belly with gel, and put the cold metallic gizmo to my stomach.
“Look at the screen, Amanda! There’s the baby!”
“Is that my brother?”
The doctor said to her, “I don’t know, honey. I don’t see anything here that tells me it’s a boy. I think you’re having a sister!”
The barometric pressure in the room dropped perceptibly as Amanda’s brown eyes turned black.
“Isn’t that neat, Amanda?” I asked sheepishly. “Look at your sister, Carolyn.”
Furiously, she turned to me. “I don’t want some stupid old Carolyn. Where’s Alexander?”
We spent two months trying to sell her on Carolyn. We took her out and let her choose one pink baby outfit after another. We bought pretty little things monogrammed with C’s. We picked out dainty little stuffed animals.
Then I gave birth.
We didn’t even ask the doctor what the baby’s sex was. “Is it healthy, doctor?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Are you feeling okay, honey?” Jeff asked me.
“Yes,” I replied.
One of the nurses became frustrated.
“Don’t you people even want to know what it is?”
And with that, the doctor lifted the baby into view… and there was something below the torso that I definitely wasn’t expecting.
“Carolyn? What the heck is that?”
My husband started fist-pumping madly.
Carolyn was a boy.
We’ve spent the last twenty-eight years trying to sell Amanda on Alexander, who had wasted his first close-up by mooning the camera.
He, of course, has spent those years upending our expectations.
Sometimes, this was just fine.
I remember picking him up at preschool one day. Normally, the parents would scoop up their kids and leave; on this particular afternoon, there were clumps of them hanging around the parking lot, speaking to each other as they clutched their kids. Sensing something ominous, I ran inside, only to find him sitting far from any other child, crying his eyes out.
Had he done something to another child? Had another child hurt him? I assumed a thousand doomsday scenarios in the span of a second.
“Mommy!” he jumped up and ran into my arms.
“What’s wrong, baby?”
“The doctors were here from the hospital, Mommy, and they looked at all the kids.”
Oh, my God.
“What did they say, baby? Are you sick?”
The sobs rose to a crescendo.
“They said all my friends had bugs in their hair and I didn’t!”
I learned not to assume he had any common sense.
I also learned how to give him a buzz cut… his scalp was on display at least until he hit the third grade.
By then, it had become obvious that he was, and would remain, bigger than the average bear. His desk was almost as big as his teacher’s, and he towered he over all the little munchkins in his class picture. I’ll never forget watching the local Pop Warner coach staring as he dashed through the playground. Wistfully, the man turned to me and sighed, “he runs so fast for a fat kid!”
He did… and by the time he got to high school, everyone expected him to excel on the gridiron.
My kids went to a school with a very large Asian population, and the freshman football team wasn’t what you’d call massive. At the first game, I sat in front of a couple of old guys who had, it seemed, attended every damn match-up since the school was founded. The team marched out. These guys had something derisory to say about each little boy who appeared, dwarfed by his helmet and shoulder pads.
All of a sudden, the two guys jumped up, and one of them yelled out, “Holy Shit, look at number 61!”
He was six feet tall and nearly three hundred pounds; his uniform was bursting at the seams. He wasn’t wearing any socks because they couldn’t find any that would fit him; I eventually wrote to the Green Bay Packers, whose uniform matched the school colors, and they were kind enough to send him socks that he could wear when he was on the field.
Every time he played, I dreamt of the day the scouts would see him. I dreamt of colleges throwing scholarship money at him. I expected the NFL to sign him up.
I didn’t expect him to quit football and join the choir.
I didn’t expect him to have the sweetest and most powerful tenor voice imaginable.
I didn’t expect he would become a protégé of the great opera stars Martina Arroyo and Lauren Flanigan. I didn’t expect he would have his picture in Opera News at the age of 21, or receive a favorable review from that publication when he was 22. I didn’t expect him to sing the lead in La Boheme at 23.
And I didn’t expect him to stop singing and go into business, where he has become more successful than I ever hoped to be.
When I look at my son today, I make no assumptions. I thank God he’s happy, successful, very much in love, and filled with ambitions and dreams. He is becoming a powerful writer, with an acute interest in politics and social justice; part of me expects him to enter the political arena. He’s also a helluva cook; if he were to open his own restaurant, I wouldn’t be the least surprised.
But I suspect he’ll come up with something far outside the bounds of my imagination.