Our grandson turned 11 today, amazing me at how fast the time flies and at how very lucky we are.
Mark's birth was a difficult one and we came frightenly closed to losing both him and his mother. In the end, the doctor had to use forceps and all his strength to deliver this child. The forceps scarred the right side of his head and (we found out later) damaged a number of facial muscles. He was born with a thick head of black hair and, with the scar, looked like a pirate. (The scar has faded until it is almost invisible.) I lost count of how many medical staff were there trying to help with the birth -- at least seven, plus my wife and the doctor. During the delivery, my daughter's blood pressure zeroed out. I consider it a miracle that mother and child made it through that ordeal alive.
Mark was born with a number of holes in his heart -- seven, maybe nine, I can't remember. This evidently can happen and is a cause for concern but not necessarily worry. Over the first few months, the holes closed one by one as he grew. A larger concern was his development. He seemed unable to drink from a cup or to form words. He was tested and at fifteen months had the development of a nine-month baby. Much of this problem seemed to stem from the damage of his forcep delivery.
We found an early intervention program. Three times a week, we took Mark to therapy, where we played with bubbles and tried to train his facial muscles; we taught him basic sign language so that he could express some of his needs. (A significant fear was that he would become frustrated and angry if he had no way of communicating.) Mark's first word was "bubbles".
Soon he was ready for the next step in early childhood intervention. Our daughter Christina took him to the corner of her street and watched he two-year old son climb alone on a school bus with a backpack containing diapers and his bottle. After a half day of school, the school bus dropped him back on the corner. Five days a week. Mark's progress was rapid, although it seemed agonizingly slow to us. Christina cried when she first heard him say "Mommy"; he was two and a half.
It was during these early years that his teachers had a glimpse of his personality: he was cheerful, curious, patient, and kind. He made friends easily. By the time he began pre-school, he could name and differentiate at least 30 kinds of dinosaurs and 20 kinds of sharks. When he entered kindergarten, there was no sign that he ever needed early intervention.
Mark loves animals and is the proud owner of a ball python. He has been taught to be respectful of animals and helps take care of the menangery at home (three dogs, one cat, the python, two goats, eight fish -- all soon to be joined by chickens, I'm told).
Mark is all boy. He climbs ever higher in the tree in our back yard. He runs like the wind. (In second grade he proudly told us he was the "next fastest" in his class.) He enjoys team sports. He's a good offensive soccer player who prefers defense. He does well on the lacrosse field. Because he is one of the smaller kids his age, he didn't really care for football, although he gave a large effort when he played. He loved wrestling. (His first wrestling match had him stunned though. His opponent was a boy with no arms and no legs. While Mark stood stunned and wondering what to do with this kid with no arms and no legs, his opponent charged on his stubs and pinned Mark. This is a story that will follow Mark for the rest of his life.) Mark loves to go fishing with his other grandfather and his grandfather loves to take him. Mark was slow to take to swimming, but he worked hard and getting better and better at it.
He does well in school, also. He gets along well with everyone and is even polite to the mean kid. He earnestly practices his bells (sort of a xylophone; you have to start off on bells in order to move on to drums in the school orchestra) and was super proud that he was chosen to play three different instuments at the Holiday concert (public schools no longer have Christmas concerts). He will be taking all advanced classes when he enters middle school in the fall.
Yes, I am a proud grandfather. This kid is a delight and a joy. His laugh is infectious and his smile will melt your heart. He loves River Monsters, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Ghost Hunters. Bugs and snakes fascinate him; girls (eww!) do not. He is warm and kind and loving. He actually cares for his younger sister. He loves to laugh. He's eleven.
And soon he'll be twelve, then thirteen, and so on until he is ready to go out into the world and make it a much better place. This world needs a lot more Marks in it. Luckily, there are Marks all over the place. I happen to be focused on my particular Mark, but if you look you'll find many other Marks, needing to be nurtured and loved. And they are the glorious future.
Happy birthday, Mark. We love you.