March 04, 2005

Happy Birthday, teenage Jamie

Last month, James, the son of a former college friend, turned 14. I know his age because he was born within three weeks of my father's death, and I had to take notes, just so that I would remember/believe the story of his birth.

Yes, he was close to 10 weeks premature. His mother, however, was 5 1/2 months along before she realized, at age 28, that she was pregnant, and it wasn't exactly the virgin birth. What I have never understood is, she managed a wait-loss clinic throughout her pregnancy. What part of thickening waistline did she fail to notice? Or other symptoms?

She rehearsed telling her parents, "Mom, Dad, you're going to be grandparents." By the time they returned to the New England state where they resided from the Southern state where they wintered, the statement had to be updated: "Mom, Dad, you have a grandson."

I called Tiffany's and ordered an engraved spoon.

At the drugstore, after Jamie was out of the NICU, a potential customer asked the pharmacist how effective the contraceptive sponge was. My friend, Jamie in her arms, said, "this is what happened the last time I used it." Druggist lost that sale on the spot.

During Jamie's first year, many of my friend's single friends deserted her, she said. They couldn't understand her choosing single motherhood. I didn't try. I just said, I'm here when you need me. And the name of the father/sperm donor is is none of my business, unless you elect to make it so.

In the next ten years, she dropped enough hints that I could figure out who the father was, but I never let on. I looked him up, but never mentioned that I had. He wasn't memorable enough to stick in my brain, and she seemed to have forgotten any conversation on the subject with me.

Meanwhile, shortly after Jamie was born, my friend continued corresponding with a military man she had met on a long airplane ride. Next thing I knew, friendship had turned to love, or some variation on that theme, and she was getting married. To the military. I am a pacifist, but I didn't say a word. Her husband had the presence of mind to know he had signed on to a job to protect Constitutional rights that did not apply to him in that situation. I appreciated his recognizing the irony.

For the record, she is Roman Catholic. Also for the record, I hate weddings, particularly ones where there will be 250 in attendance and the only person I will know will be the bride, in a snowy, wintry, blustery New England town. I would have had to rely on public transit alone, and keep her secrets to myself throughout the festivities.

I called Tiffany's. I sent four champagne goblets. Why should her parents have spent cash on a catered dinner I didn't want to eat, at an event where I would have been an afterthought, if that?

Her new husband adopted Jamie. The couple had two biological daughters of their own. It was obvious to anyone that Daddy adored his little princesses far more than his son.

Baby presents of an appropriate nature were sent on each occasion. Welcome to the world, daughter(s) of my friend.

The last time I saw my friend, her son was 11. Months later I found out that my behavior during my stay was not above reproach: I slept too late, and the kids wanted to know why. I never found out why their mother couldn't simply say, Aunt Alice is an adult. She lives her life differently (as I had since I met their mother, when we were each about 20).

During my final visit, I sipped my friend's wine before she touched it. We were seated at a child-friendly restaurant dinner, where I was taking the family so my friend wouldn't have to cook. (I preferred sipping her wine without asking, to having her children ask, Aunt Alice, what is that blue pill you're taking? Did she want me to explain Xanax to preteens?)

It was absurd of her to put her childrens' words in her mouth. They liked me. I taught her daughters to swim. I went berry picking with her son and listened to hours of his Jurassic Park monologue. I wanted to play video games with him, but he was prohibited due to unsatisfactory behavior toward his mom.

I am a far cry from a suburban mother or housewife. As I've noted previously, I barely drive. I never leave a supermarket with more food than I can carry. My rabbit is better nourished and eats more frequently than do I. As for discussing my sex life or romantic choices with anyone's children, I have sufficient sense to avoid the subject.

(When Jamie was 6, his mother pointed out my college boyfriend, known here as The Croquet Player, on TV, and told him he was Aunt Alice's boyfriend. Why weren't we married? he wanted to know. I asked if she replied, that was was an essay question, best answered when he had grown up, if then. He could ask TCP, if he needed further explanation.)

According to my etiquette Gallop poll, I erred primarily in having a private conversation with my friend, asking when she and her husband had decided the appropriate age was to tell Jamie the facts of life, inclusive of his biological father. Jamie, after all, is good at math. And he was featured in the wedding photos.

Silly me. My friend had been talking to me for years about finding the right time. Childless me, I had no idea she was asking rhetorically. When is the right time to find out Daddy isn't genetically related to you and hence doesn't behave as lovingly toward you as he does to your sisters?

My friend cut off contact with me two or three years ago. For a few months, I was worried sick that something dreadful had happened to her, or her children, or her husband. After I finally reached her brother, who said all was well (more than I could get out of her mother), I received a nasty email from her.

I did not reply, for I would have said, I wish I'd known better than to waste my time and emotional energy on you and the children, not to mention presents every Christmas, phone calls every birthday, semi-annual visits, and chatty phone visits with your mother.

Had I been Catholic, or remotely Christian, I would have been her younger daughter's godmother. I was rejected then on the grounds that I was Jewish, and it made no difference to her parish priest that I was better versed in Catholicism than in my own religion. Her elder daugher's godmother had ceased receiving the family Christmas photo calendars long before I'd been cut from the list.

Thank me for caring? I think not. I hope her marriage is on track: it seemed to have derailed when I last saw her. I hope she has learned to manage her weight, to keep the floor of her house from being a toy-strewn lawsuit waiting to happen, and that her children have learned to behave (preferably in a pro-feminist manner alienating their Barbie-loving mother). I also hope her husband has learned to pull his weight around the house.

She chose to be a stay-at-home mother, and I can't say it seems to have benefited either grown-up brain cells or her children. ("I'm teaching my kids to have table manners suitable for the White House," she said.)

I refrained from pointing out that the man holding sway at the White House was a Republican better known for drinking and drugging than for his table manners or gift for protocol. That would have been way, way, way too easy.

You know what? I miss Jamie. I wonder if he remembers me. In any case, happy belated birthday, sweetheart.

Love, Aunt Alice.


Blogger Robin said...

Kids Jamie's age need people like you. When he's ready, you'll be there.

8:34 AM  
Blogger the dot said...

How sad she lost such a wonderful friend not only to her but to her children as well. My husband adopted my son when we married (he was two) and loves him like his own. Why would a women marry and let someone treat her child different? Maybe on her wedding day she had brain cells removed. Her kids will look you up someday and lucky for them you will be there. Wishing you the best. Dot

10:59 PM  

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