Anne Notations

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Baby, the last time

Is this the little [child] I carried,
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older,
When did [he]?
Sunrise, sunset; Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly fly the years …

Here's our boy – Baby Keckie, as his toddler sister called him some 16 years ago; Kevin from Heaven as dubbed by his Grandma Sally, "Diffles" per his 7th grade classmates; now "Diff" among his male peers, like his father and uncles and boy cousins before him. Kevin.

The Fiddler lyrics are slightly maudlin but somehow right for a bittersweet milestone like this. Sweet, because we're launching the last of our children out of the nest and into his new, adult life. Bitter, because I have enjoyed motherhood in all its forms – step-, adoptive, and biological – more than anything else this life has graced us with.

And so begins tomorrow the long-awaited graduation week with its hoopla and solemnity stretched out over four days. We've done all this before; now we'll do it one last time: the last senior liturgy, the last senior banquet at the legendary Venus de Milo, the last beautiful graduation ceremony in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in downtown Providence. For this is our baby, our last child to make his way through the halls of La Salle Academy and don the maroon gown and mortarboard and gold tassel with his classmates on an evening in June.

I didn't cry at Andrés's (2005) and Melinda's (2008) La Salle graduations. I was excited and happy for them; each achieved beyond anyone's expectations, and I was proud, giddy even, to watch the formal ceremonies and snap their photographs on those nights.

This may be the year I cry in the cathedral. Kevin's path to his graduation week has been more fraught, more hair-raising (hair-graying may be more apt) for me than I could have predicted. My bright, beautiful boy has been the classic underachiever. His standardized test scores are fairly dazzling, but his grades were all over the map, mostly (alas) south of the border. He was actually expelled after his sophomore year, but was readmitted after passing some summer school courses and pledging his best intentions to Principal Kavanagh. His diagnosis with severe ADHD that same summer helped us get him an education plan and some medication that did help with his focus, but not with motivation. That part was up to him, and it was a moving target. Junior year he made second honors on his report cards. Senior year he failed four subjects one quarter. He had to get very high grades on his final exams and in his last quarter just to graduate ... and he did it.

In late August he'll be off to Curry College in Milton, Mass., seven miles from downtown Boston. He was lucky to be accepted by three good schools; he was rejected by six other colleges. Curry is small (2,000 undergraduates, no graduate programs), on a lovely estate-like campus in a pretty suburb, and has a gorgeous new campus center/gymnasium and an excellent program in communications and journalism. He decided against two larger schools with higher visibility because, thank God, my son knows himself and understands what he needs to do well. "I thought I'd be able to focus better in a small school where the faculty get to know you really well." Exactly.

Kevin was a squally, unhappy baby; I think "fussy" and "agitated" were words Dr. Utter, our beloved pediatrician used. I had to give him simethicone drops for gas, Augmentin for recurrent ear infections beginning at three weeks old, Aveeno oatmeal soaks and silver nitrate ointment for raw-red diaper rash (probably yeast infections caused by the antibiotics for the ear infections). He did not sleep through the night until he was three years old. He wanted to be held and nursed, and I did my best but also returned to work part-time after a few months, due to my dear boss/mentor's unexpected stroke. Kevin loved and wanted me so much, he would lunge at my shoulder like a shark as I held him upright and sink his milk teeth into my flesh, leaving crescent-shaped bruise lines and sometimes even a mosaic of blood. He exhausted me and sank an anchor into my heart. He was devoted beyond all reason to his enormous collection of stuffed animals and Beanie Babies.

When Kevin finally began to say more than "no", "Mama", "Papa", and "hot!", around age two, he spoke immediately in full, grammatical sentences, as if he'd been watching us and waiting until he had it right before he went verbal. And verbal he was, often in odd and surprising ways. I kept a small lined notebook to record his quirky utterances:

• "How old is God? Is he older than that guy who planted the apple seeds?"

• "Guess what I'm going to be for Halloween next year. … Jesus!"
• "I hate soccer." (Note: He loved playing soccer but was angry at not scoring a goal.) "It's a plump rock."
• "When we say the Hail Mary in school, I sing this: Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony."
[Watching trucks tearing up our street for repaving] "I'm not sure I like those trucks. I'm very concerned with that."
• "I'm as tired as a snake!"
• "Peanuts [his Beanie Baby elephant] likes raw, dead corn."
• [Watching me cook supper] "Fortunately, my magic markers smell better than that chicken."
• "Holy chickens of the Lord's death!"
• "Next Halloween I don't want to be Jesus." [Me: "That's fine, honey."] "I want to be Mary."
[At Fred's Barbershop with Michael for haircuts] "I get to go first because I don't have any patience."
• [Furious at me for something] "You're just a shack!"
• Me: "Did you talk to anyone at soccer camp today?" Kevin: "Yes. I called the other team names."
[At Prospect Park in Providence, where RISD students were sitting on the grass playing medieval instruments] "Mommy! That sounds like ducks fainting on a hot day."
• [Drawing a dinosaur:] "I'm terrible at drawing T. Rexes. Look at this! It looks like a person in a bathrobe with a pig nose and no eyeballs."
• Michael: "Boys can be naked with other boys [in the pool club showers], and girls can be naked with girls. But boys and girls shouldn't be naked together. They only do that when they're married."
Kevin: "I'm not going to get married! I'm going to kill myself!"

• "Melinda and I made up a TV show. It's called He-Man and His Little Pet Bunny. He's supposed to be strong, but he's just dumb."

• [Discussing Career Day at school, with Andrés] "After I'm done being a pro hockey player, I'm going to be a scientist."
• [At breakfast, watching our parakeets Patty and Laurie in their cage] "Laurie looks like a graduate student."

We had just left the NCAA women's national hockey championship game in Boston, which Brown lost narrowly to Minnesota. Michael grumbled that he'd seen two of the referees joking around, not taking the game seriously.
Kevin, indignant: "I know! I heard one say to the other, 'Why did the cow cross the road?'!!"
• "I could never play the violin. If I tried to play the violin, I would scribble."

Daisy had just galloped downstairs in the morning. "She sounds like an elephant on tiptoe."

The kid can still turn a phrase, although no longer in such delightfully unorthodox ways as when he was a boy without a self-censor. As someone who lives to make words flow and sing and communicate clearly, I could not be more thrilled that Kevin got the writing gene. Little did I know he would also grow into a passionate (and fairly well informed) debater, an unabashed leftist liberal who would have fit right in with Dorothy Day's Catholic Workers Movement, a poised orator at Mass and on the Mock Trial team, a nimble and persistent conversationalist, and (yay) an avid reader of the daily newspaper – not just the sports section, which he reads from cover to cover, but also of the news and editorial pages. He recently wrote a letter to the editor about the misplaced priorities of our nation: Why fight wars in areas of the world where no one wants us? Why not spend that money – OUR money – on better school for all children, not just those whose parents can afford (as we managed to do) private and parochial tuitions, or homes in pricey suburbs?

Kevin (second from left) and his "bros" before the junior prom, May 2009.

This is our son, Kevin from Heaven, or somewhere, from whence he arrived in my 41st year: not quite a good enough hockey player to make varsity, but potentially a great sports reporter; not the blue-eyed blond tot I'd imagined I'd produce, but his father's Armenian son – dark and handsome and well-built. Tolerated and beloved by his sister and brother. More and more, understood and guided by Michael, perhaps better than I can guide a teenaged boy at this stage in his development. And utterly cherished by his weary, protective, ever hopeful mother.

Let the festivities begin, one last time! Here comes my son, the almost grown-up, the former underachiever, the writer and thinker and mordantly funny commentator. Kevin, I love you so much. Your grandmother angels will be watching over you as you walk into your future.

Photo at right: Kevin and date Livia before the senior prom, June 4, 2010.


  • What a wonderful piece, Anne. This should be preserved. Printed and bound and given to Kevin to be kept forever. I laughed out loud at the things he said as a child. He is a wonderful person. Congratulations.

    By Anonymous Sue, at Mon Jun 07, 06:16:00 AM EDT  

  • Wow. This is vintage Diffily writing--graceful, elegaic, and humorous, all at the same time. Good luck with the emotions this week. You and Michael are capping off 40 years of child-rearing--that's gotta be some kind of record. (I also have to say that my "word verification" to add this comment sounds like something Kevin would have made up as a five-year-old: Dimberbo. "That dude is a dimberbo." Thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger Katherine Hinds, at Mon Jun 07, 06:24:00 AM EDT  

  • Congrats to Kevin, and to you, for graduating!!! Wow, I am in awe.

    By Anonymous Caren, at Mon Jun 07, 09:01:00 AM EDT  

  • What a loving tribute from mother to son! I feel privileged to read it.

    By Blogger ptp65, at Mon Jun 07, 11:01:00 AM EDT  

  • A job well done by you and Michael. A job well begun by Kevin. Congratulations.

    By Blogger Tracie, at Mon Jun 07, 11:14:00 AM EDT  

  • That was a wonderful love letter to your son. I loved his trenchant observations on life. Congratulations to Kevin on his graduation and I wish him much success at college. And for you, I wish a lovely, restful, peaceful summer.

    By Blogger bozoette, at Mon Jun 07, 02:04:00 PM EDT  

  • I sit here bawling in my office reading this. What a gorgeous tribute to not only your handsome, life-bursting boy, but to the beautiful mom you are and the family you've raised. Do something with this piece, Anne. Post it other places and keep writing. I'll be reading.

    By Anonymous Rae, at Mon Jun 07, 04:12:00 PM EDT  

  • Great post....I loved it. You and your family are amazing.

    By Blogger Michael A. Golrick, at Mon Jun 07, 08:41:00 PM EDT  

  • I also enjoyed your tribute to Kevin. Where did the time go...
    Anne, I truly enjoy your writing. I hope you continue to do so. Your fan club recognizes your talent with words!!!

    By Blogger r_weeks, at Wed Jun 09, 07:04:00 AM EDT  

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