Four years ago, I said goodbye to my son and started a blog. While that young man graduates with honors from Macalester in St. Paul, Minnesota, I am still here in Geneva, Switzerland telling stories. Though I won’t be present for the ceremony, words keep me connected.
Decades ago, the happiest and scariest moment of my life was when a doctor announced, “Congratulations it’s a boy!” From Nic’s treacherous toddlerhood, to his turbulent teens, my life has been filled with honor and anxiety ever since, so proud to have bore a son, so petrified something would harm him.
Nic was more boy than we bargained for. Stitched up twice by the age of two, he bounced off walls of our tiny Parisian flat. Age four, he head butted his aunt and broke her nose one Christmas Eve with an over exuberant hug. In boyhood, he endured a pine cone in the eye, dislocated ribs, and a shattered ankle, results of a rough and tumble life.
As a three-year-old, when Nic’s teacher punished him for being afraid in her unruly class, we removed him from school for a semester. He has complained about school ever since, yet excels in class. Though he writes so well that his college history dissertation on the Dakotas and Native Americans merited publication in historical journals, he still emailed papers to me at 1 am to tweak. Even after his patience has been tested working with underprivileged students as a part of Athletes for Education program, he still wants to enter the teaching profession.
As a boy he gave me homemade gifts – an ornament, a wall hanging, a framed photo –then took them back when he got mad – but no matter what, at night he would curl up in my lap to read stories and talk about our day.
“I don’t want to get braces, allergies, or glasses,” he stated as a six-year-old. When I explained you don’t have any choice in the matter, he reasoned, “Okay, I wouldn’t mind braces. It’s like wearing a necklace in your mouth.”
Ever so perceptive, a few years later, he announced, “We are growing up too fast, in five years Nathalie won’t live here anymore.”
With a wonderful sense of humor, Nic entertained us with his famous one-liners with his perfect sense of timing. As a kid, pointing to his plate, wrinkling his nose, he’d ask, “What’s that?”
“Fish,” I’d say.
“Oh no, not junk food for dinner again.”
Grateful for glimpses into his boyhood, I became better at understanding male competition, saving face, and how to coach guys. During rides to practice, shooting sessions and late night talks, our time together gave me invaluable insight into helping my students.
Like most 21st century kids, weaned on electronics if there was a button, he’d push it; if there was gadget, he’d bust it – accidentally.
While “helping” tidy up, he broke my reclining chair and the remote control.
“Send him to my house to help clean,” my sister insisted, “I need a new vacuum cleaner.”
As a mom I would do anything to shield him from pain, to protect that little boy in my memory. Silly me. Today he is a tall, strong, intelligent, man; I am not sure he ever needed my protection. Yet, his dad’s and my love is there always in a whisper, an invisible force of strength every step of his way.
As he enters the future, we remain behind marveling at how that kid, who now towers above us, grew up so fast when we weren’t looking. In a blink, he is gone from our day-to-day lives, but never far from our hearts where he remains cherished at every stage.
In keeping with French tradition, he bears his grandfathers’ names; I see a blend of his American, French, and Norwegian ancestry. He shows the pride of Grand Papie Elie who led the troops down the Champs Elysées at the end of WWII, the courage of Great Grandpa Olson who sailed from Norway to a new life in America and the strong character of Great Grandpa Mac, who coached college football in his nineties.
As Nic grew, he adopted the qualities of the men in his life. The industriousness of Papie Guy, the kindheartedness of Grandpa Jim, the perceptiveness of Uncle Doug, the playfulness of Uncle Dick, the handiness of Uncle Cliff, and the integrity of his father.
Nearly a quarter of century ago, I carried my 3-week-old baby on the Metro to the Embassy in Paris to attain his American passport. The civil servant read his birth certificate aloud,
“Nicolas James-Ralph Guy Lechault – such a big name for such a little lad.”