On Your Fifteenth Birthday

You sleep until almost 9:00 am because you are exhausted—four days into school, 30 days into football, and your team went to watch the UNH/Holy Cross game last night. The bus didn’t pull into the school lot until 12:30 am. You haven’t taken Driver’s Ed yet, so I had to sit in my car in the black parking lot waiting for the sound of the big diesel engine turning the corner. I watched your team spill out of the big green bus slowly, dragging feet and duffle bags and empty pizza boxes.

You were a little chatty for the first few minutes in the car, even though it was the middle of the night, telling me about having a steak and cheese sub and a lime rickey at the game (“I thought that was a drink with alcohol,” you said, and I said, “I think you can make it that way, but I hope not for you guys!” and you said, “Duh, mom, yeah, I had alcohol at the game.”)

By that time, it was already 12:45 am, and it was your birthday. When I wished you happy birthday, patting your leg, you mumbled “Thanks,” and put your ear buds in your ears, closing your eyes.

So today, I’m letting you sleep in. By some stroke of luck and because it’s Labor Day weekend, your birthday is a day off from school. Most days you have to pull yourself out of bed at 6:00 am to hop in the shower, stuff sheets of homework and textbooks in your backpack, and throw tech-wick shirts and shorts in your bag for practice. You don’t get home until 7:30 or so most nights. Last year, I remember when you figured out, “All I do is get up, go to school, go to football, do homework, and go to bed, and then it starts all over again!” I laughed, and said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that.”

I didn’t tell you that that’s just what it’s like once you start working. It’s not always easy to find the joy in between.

Yesterday, I asked you what you wanted to do for your special day. “Want to go to a movie, or play mini golf, or do something fun and different before you have to go to practice?” All you said was, “Let me think about it.” I know what that means. That’s what I am going to say when you want to borrow the car a year from now to take some girl to watch the new Spiderman movie at Regal Cinemas.

You’d rather have most of the day free—to lie in bed with the old laptop, your head resting on the stuffed pillow that looks like a globe of the world—and watch YouTube videos for hours on end. It’s where you get your news, you say. At minimum, you have to know where the Yankees are in the standings, who’s on the injured reserve list, and how the Ravens got their roster down to 53.

Birthdays past, you’d run into my room before it was barely light out, shaking me awake, saying, “Mommy, can I open a present?” and humor me by going out to breakfast for Texas French Toast or chocolate chip pancakes. Or I’d make you waffles at home, and you’d watch Scooby Doo or SpongeBob while I got it ready, and every once in a while come into the kitchen and give me a hug just because you can’t stand the excitement.

I thought about buying you a SpongeBob card this year just for a joke. Or maybe Thomas the Tank Engine—that’s how you used to wile away your Saturdays, organizing different train tracks on the rug, knocking over bridges and little wooden trees. But I decided in the end you might be a little old for even a joke card. Fifteen is a big year. So I found one with just a football on the front. I did write, “We love you” on the inside.

I also taped an iTunes card to two bags of Jack Link beef jerky, so I could give you something to open when you woke up. At first you thought it was just beef jerky, which you do really like, but when I said, “Did you study the package well enough?” you found the gift card and smiled. This will allow you to download more dubstep music—music that I hope you won’t still love in another 15 years.

Later, you’ll open the new Xbox 360 we got you—which you will prize because the Internet port broke on your old one so you couldn’t talk to your friends while you were playing anymore. This will likely transform your social life.

I will make you a birthday cake, whether we go anywhere or not. Vanilla on vanilla. Yuk, from my point of view—where’s the chocolate frosting? But it’s what you like, so I will make it. You won’t be hungry after practice—you never are, you’d rather drink a quart of chocolate milk and a quart of Gatorade than eat anything. But you are going to have a little piece of birthday cake and we are going to have one with you. And you will blow out 15 candles, because that’s how many that matter today, and I’m going to take pictures of you, even though you hate it, just because these days I have so few snapshots of these moments that are slipping by.