Earlier tonight Frank and I joined our daughter, Julie, her hubby, Scott and the kids – Mark, Cameron and Ella for dinner. The occasion? It was Mark’s special birthday dinner. Many years ago, Julie and Scott started a family tradition. As part of their birthday celebration, Mom and Dad let the birthday child pick a restaurant to celebrate. Mark picked Friendly’s.
This was no ordinary birthday for Mark. He turned 17 on the 17th. Sometimes referred to as a “champagne” birthday, “Urban Dictionary,” defines it:
Another term for a “golden birthday” which means you turn the same age as the day you were born;
Mark is our oldest grandchild. He’s a special kid for a lot of reasons. He is probably one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet. He’s smart, respectful, athletic, good looking and did I mention almost perfect? All kidding aside, it’s difficult for me to describe the special bond we share. You know the old saying, “there are angels among us?” Well, in many ways, Mark is my special angel and he doesn’t even know it.
Mark was born just before midnight on Sunday, July 17, 1994. He came into our lives at a very important time. I fell in love the moment I saw him. He was so tiny in the hospital bassinet. I knew he was an angel God sent to bring Julie and me together again.
I met Julie in the summer of 1984 when she was 10, the oldest of Frank’s 3 biological children. She gushed over me and begged me to marry her dad. I was instantly enamored of this pretty little girl who seemed to adore me. Who wouldn’t be? We had a great time together as we forged our new life. It seemed perfect for a few years.
But somewhere between her 16th and 17th birthday things between us started to change. We argued constantly. During those years I tried desperately to be her mother. But her biological mother was in her daily life. I felt totally insecure. I spent hours in counseling trying to figure out this teenager who lived with me. In hindsight I can see how it might have been normal mother/daughter teenage trauma. Except I wasn’t her “real” mother and I hated the term, “stepmother.” The resentment between us was bigger than the Berlin Wall. I felt like Lady Tremaine and she was poor Cinderella. A bit dramatic maybe, but have you met me?
I get sad when I think of those days when Julie and I were estranged. She moved out of our house when she was 17 and went to stay full-time with her mom. It broke Frank’s heart. I faithfully continued my counseling and avoided her as much as possible, thereby reducing the likelihood of confrontation. It was a painful couple of years. I wondered how we would make it through.
I look back and wish I had done things differently, though I’m not sure I could have.
When she was 18, Julie met Scott. She seemed to fall head over heels in love. When she was 19 and he was 20, they announced they were getting married. Frank and I worried. They both came from divorced families. What were they thinking?
And then came Mark. Beautiful, angelic Mark. The love of our lives. The baby who would mend our broken hearts and finally make us a family. For years I tried so hard being Julie’s “other mother.” I never seemed to get it right. But when Julie became a mother, things began to change.
Julie watched me change Mark’s diaper in the hospital.We still brag that I was the first family member to change his diaper. She was just 20 and seemed to appreciate all the help we were willing to give. She also seemed to see me in a different light. It was almost as if she understood my pain and insecurity. I certainly began to understand hers. Somehow, with Mark a part of our lives, all was forgiven and we knew it would be okay.
Mark spent so much time at our house. Frank and I loved it. I couldn’t wait to see him between visits. I used to call him “Pumpkin Baby.” I remember making a sweatshirt with that lettering. When he started talking, Julie would ask him what I called him and he would say, “Punkin Baby.” When I wasn’t calling him by that nickname, I would refer to him as a “silly goose.” He giggled in delight when I chased him around the house or cuddled him. Julie and I began to understand each other in a way we never had. Our connection seemed secure and unbreakable and we had Mark to thank.
Mark gave Frank and me our grandpa/grandma “names.” Frank is Ta and I am Moma. It stuck. Ten grandchildren later we are still Moma and Ta.
Over the years Mark and I have shared many special times. When he was too big to call, Pumpkin Baby or Silly Goose, I started to think of other nicknames. I call him “Marcus Aurelius” to this day. Just me. I like that. I hope he doesn’t mind. I don’t think he minds. And, if he does, he’s too much of a good kid to say so.
The summer he turned 12, Mark and I went on an adventure. He picked. We packed up my car, and the two of us set off for Chicago to visit my brother and his family. Our road trip was nothing short of eventful. We played the usual car games. We looked for and recorded as many state license plates as we could find. I don’t recall how many we found but I remember he seemed pleased with our finds. We even inadvertently went through a toll plaza in Chicago! Dazed and confused by the Illinois toll road system, I called Chuck who let me know I should probably pull over and figure out how to get the toll paid. Mark and I finally figured it out and had a good laugh over it.
While we vacationed in Chicago, Mark loved having Uncle Chuck and Aunt Kathy fuss over him. We went into the City to the Museum of Science and Industry. We spent time at Navy Pier and forced Mark and his cousin, AJ, to ride the gigantic ferris wheel. Uncle Chuck treated us to a Chinese acrobatic show. We went to the beach with his cousin, AJ. Uncle Chuck made Mark a special birthday dinner and Mark got to pick the menu. We even went up to the top of Sears Tower. Unfortunately it was a foggy, rainy day but we did it anyway!
A couple of years later Mark got to see a skyline from a skyscraper when he went to the top of the Empire State Building with his Uncle Bryan and cousin, Anna Rose. The three of them went to a Yankees game when the new stadium opened. Mark was thrilled to go with Bryan and I was thrilled for him!
So now this little guy is a big guy as you can see by the picture. When he was little, I used to tell him I was going to put a brick on his head so he would stop growing. Now he’s taller than I am. He is finishing up his Driver’s Ed summer course and soon he’ll take his drivers test. How did this happen?
I need a glass of champagne. A toast to a special kid who will always be in my heart. I love you Mark, (Marky, Pumpkin Baby, Silly Goose, Marcus Aurelius). Thanks for loving me the way you do. You will never know what an angel you are. And to your beautiful mother, Julie, and your wonderful father, Scott, thank you for doing such a terrific job! I love you all.