The Best Laddie

I want to remember 16 because it’s as good as everything else has been.

He staggers through the front door, having just walked home from robotics practice after school, and in addition to the fully loaded pack on his back, he’s carrying a big box. It’s the new compost bin, delivered onto the front porch earlier in the day. When it arrived, after giving the huge parcel a test tug, I decided to leave it; the thing is ultimately headed out of doors, anyhow.

But he brings it in with him, the kid does, because he saw it there, and we always bring boxes in. He’s helping. When I call out a greeting and ask how his day was, he answers “Fine, especially walking home in the sunshine. You know what’s extra good today? The smell of sap coming from that tree across the street that blew down in the storm. The sap smell is –” He does a chef kiss towards the ceiling.

Before he came in, I’d been upstairs putting in eye drops, so as he speaks I’m wiping my eyes and, thanks to a raging runny nose, snuffling into a tissue. Following him into the kitchen, I complain, “Oh my god, bubs, but my nose is making me crazy today. I am blowing it every two minutes, and it won’t stop. I took the Sudafed thing we have, but it’s not helping at all.”

Pack still on his back, he turns and looks me over. “Could it maybe be allergies? Your eyes do look a bit red around the rims, and they are definitely watery.”

I explain the eye drops but concede it could be allergies although I’ve never had any before; I’ve been sneezing myself hoarse all day. What I’ve ascribed to a cold could, in fact, be spring popping. He squints at me and asks, “Have you used the Flonase that you shoot up your nostrils? That really helped me the other week. It really dried things up.”

Well, no. I didn’t know we had anything like that in the house.

His backpack hits the chair heavily as he eyes the still-frozen iceberg of soup in a saucepan on the stove. It’s been there since morning, gradually thawing, but still: it’s a ball of ice bigger than my skull. “Would it be okay if we start warming that up now? I’ll be ready for it soon.”

100% doable, pup. I turn on the burner under the soup at the same time he says, “Let me go find that Flonase stuff for you.”

In under a minute, he’s back, bottle in hand, peering at the tiny text on the label. “Now, I don’t remember how many squirts you’re supposed to do or how frequently you should take it, and we don’t have the box any more. I’ll look it up.”

He taps his phone a few times before announcing, “Two squirts, once a day. It might take up to 12 hours to start working. Shake the bottle first.”

While he’s been aiding me, I’ve been whittling the edges of the soup iceberg, trying to make it smaller. “Here,” he says, “I’m taller, so I can get a better angle on that thing.” He takes the wooden spoon from my hand and leans over the pot, stabbing at the mass. “Let me Excalibur this thing!”

I snort some stuff and then put on water for the broccoli. “How much broccoli are you going to want tonight? Just a bare covering of the plate, or a mountain?”

“I want one-third of what you make,” he assures me. “I love broccoli.” I ask if he wants parmesan grated over the top. “Oh, yes, I do. I do. Parmesan is delicioso!”

He’s over there, across the counter from me, head over his phone, when I remember. “Oh, hey! I need your skills. So my photo app has crashed and crashed and crashed all day, and I cannot figure out what to do. I restarted my phone, tried googling solutions, and I am flummoxed. I can’t even figure out how to uninstall and reinstall it. Help a mother out?”

The phone is already in his hands, getting triaged. He goes quiet as he assesses the patient, more focused still when he starts reading comments in help forums. “Oh, and also…” I remember something else. “Once you’re done with thinking over there, I have one more thing to tell you.”

Thirty seconds later, his curls tip up, and he says, “Okay, I’m loading something. So you can tell me the other thing.”

Quickly, I run down how I tried using yet another phone we have to access my photos earlier, and as I tried to delete files to free up memory, I ended up deleting them from his account, not mine, because we’d been using the same phone, and he’d re-directed the back-up to his account.

“That’s no biggie,” he says. “I was done with those videos anyhow.”

It’s a wonder, to be in the same room with this young man, a 6′ 2″ linguini noodle who refuses to have a problem even though, for another nine years, his thinking will be amygdala based, the prefrontal cortex a far-off dream.

Two minutes later, he announces, “There. Your app’s all good. Your photos are accessible.”

“Holy crap, Paco, but it’s going to be weird when you go to college, and I move to whatever city you’re in, just so I can show up outside your dorm and hand you my phone periodically. That’ll be weird, right?”

He smiles, just a smidge off kilter, meeting my eyes as he grins. “It would be incredibly fun; that’s what it would be. So fun.”

And in that moment, my eyes still a little wet from the drops, my nose dripping because that’s what it does today, blessings rain down upon my soul.

“It would be crazy fun, poppet. Think about it: Dad would show up at your place with a few freezer bags of soup he’d just made, and I’d always be stopping by with warm cookies…”

His smile grows. “I like soup. And cookies. I am on board with this plan.”

The iceberg has melted. The broccoli has softened. Hoisting his backpack once again, he loads his hands with bowl and plate — off to his room to eat while doing homework.

As he teeters out of the kitchen, he says one more thing — true to form even while awkward and balancing: “Thank you so much for helping with dinner. I’m so excited to eat!”

Somewhere deep inside our phones, people are shouting at each other. Two miles down the road, someone is getting bruised. In the next state over, a family has just lost its apartment. Across the ocean, people are unthinkingly selfish. A plane ride beyond, people cry for water.

But right now, right here, my heart thumping in concert with his footfalls on the stairs, I am witnessing a good thing.

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birthday boy


Paco Collage I

He comes home from school and tells me, “My legs have been hurting again. I must be growing.”

We measure him. He’s sprouted a quarter inch in the past three weeks. At just over 5’6″, the kid is taller than I am.

**Paco Collage II

We park by the garage. Allegra’s door flies open, and she skitters to the house, dragging her bags, heading to the task of homework.

Always, Paco lingers, walks back to the trunk, asks, “Is there anything you need help with? What should I carry?”


Paco Collage III

He tries to describe a kid at school to me–a kid who annoys him–without using any judgmental language. Several times, his voice trails off as he lists behaviors, hoping the kid’s actions will make the larger point. Finally, sighing, he sums up: “If you were stuck on a desert island with him, Mom, he wouldn’t last long.”


Paco Collage IX

He spends an evening after school at a store with a couple of friends, learning how to create characters for Dungeons & Dragons. When he gets home, he reports, “Isaac is probably going to want to design a new character. The one he came up with tonight makes no sense! It’s an elf, except Isaac also made him, like, nine feet tall and four hundred pounds.”

Looking down, shaking his head disbelievingly, he adds, “Oh, Isaac. You can’t have an elf that’s all burly and blundering.”


Paco Collage V

Standing on the third floor of the YMCA, having taken a break from running on the track to call my doctor and discuss the results of a recent MRI, I learn that I have a tear in one of the four tendons making up the rotator cuff. My supraspinata is ripped almost completely through, and the bursa is bursting with fluid. I imagine the tendon’s halves hanging together by a few remaining bits of sinew, rending completely one day when I lift a twenty-pound weight over my head or reach for the KitchenAid mixer, stored on a high shelf. The doctor is referring me to an orthopedist.

When I hang up with her, I call home, wanting to update Byron.

Paco answers. I ask him if he would like to hear my results and convey them to Dad–or if he just wants to go get Dad.

“You can tell me,” his soft voice says.

I give him the report. As I speak, he gasps, winces audibly.

“Oh, Mom,” he tells me. “That sounds so painful. I’m really sorry.”

Paco Collage VIA few days after we see the new Star Wars movie, I am bidding him goodnight, backing towards the door, reaching for the light switch. As usual, this is the moment when Paco unleashes one last blast of daily download.

“You know how I think Kylo Ren is the best, right?”

Yes. I may have heard a thing or two about that.

“Well, his character’s only going to get more interesting as the next movies continue the story. See, he thinks he moved himself more to the dark side by killing his father, but eventually he’s going to discover that carrying out such a terrible act actually moved him closer to the light–because it showed him how much he can feel things. It gave him a taste of regret.”


Paco Collage VIIEvery day after school, Paco takes off his coat, hangs his backpack on its hook, and settles in for a latte and biscotti. As I noodle around the kitchen, foaming our milk, he asks, “How was your day, Mom?”

Usually, I am able to tell him, “It was really good. Thanks for asking, Pup.”

Resting his chin in his hand, he crooks his head and adds, “What did you do, and why did it feel good?”

Paco Collage VIII

I call him from one of Allegra’s ski meets and inform him, “I won’t be home by 1:00 after all–because Allegra finished 7th, and Emily won the JV race, so they want to go to the awards ceremony, which won’t happen until after the varsity races. So we’re going to run out and grab some lunch and then head back to the meet in time for the awards.”

Inhaling with awe, Paco, home alone for the afternoon, responds, “Wow! They must be so happy. Please tell them both that they did great and that I think they’re amazing.”

Paco Collage XI

The afternoon before he turns 13, Paco–contemplating the imminent joys of having his favorite friends gather at a gaming store where they will spend a few hours under the guidance of an official Dungeon Master as they play Dungeons & Dragons–announces, “I want to tire myself out today and then stay up really late so that I sleep for a long time tomorrow morning. I don’t know how I’m going to get through all of tomorrow until my party starts at 4:00. That’s a lot of hours to fill! And I’m just so excited for my party. I want it to be starting right now. So I really gotta work at tiring myself out.”

Paco Collage XIHeading to his birthday party, he looks at Byron, who’s getting bundled up. “Is that one of the new scarves you got for your birthday, Dad?”


“It’s so nice. It looks really good on you.”


Paco Collage Activity

He was a beautiful, gentle, thoughtful little boy, full of spirit and goofiness and affection.

Paco Collage Smiles

Now, he is a beautiful, gentle, thoughtful young man.

He is the gift of lifetime.


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