My son stands in the door way, framed by the morning light. He has paused to look in at the baby before heading to the bathroom. He is so scrawny and gawky now. His thin arms seemed to bend awkwardly at the elbows. His skinny knees turned in towards each other. His ribs protrude out over his enclaved stomach. I often joke that he looks like a starved child. This morning his thinness does make me laugh or joke. It makes my breath catch in my throat. Early morning risings for this child always make me nervous, anxious. Is he about to fall to the ground in a seizure? If I ask if he's okay, he'll roll his eyes and say "Yess...mom." in an annoyed preteen voice. But today it's more than just that anxiety. I can't talk for a moment overcome with the vulnerability he excludes. My heart is breaking as I wave him over, and he comes to closer to our room.
I love you, I whisper.
He smiles, his teeth too big for his face, no doubt needing braces.
I love you too. He grins again, shy around this intense love. He pauses and then coos "I love the baby too." The said baby, smiles and coos at him. Like his other sisters, she's already in love with him.
He leaves for the bathroom, and I cry softly as I nurse the baby. My son is so fragile. His preteen years compounded by the seizures. I think he is one of the most beautiful creatures to grace this Earth but I worry that others will not see this. They will see the way his arms seem to turn into his body and how his legs bend instead of laying straight. I worry they will see him seize one day and find it horrifying. I worry that they will mistake that vulnerability as some kind of affront to the stupid notions of masculinity that fill our society.
Love is not an easy emotion. This love I feel for him is unconditional but filled with anxiety. I know that others do not see our children as we see them. I worry that other boys will see my son, who does not wrestle or play sports, as something less than a man. I struggle because I don't want Umberto to be a man in that way. I appreciate my son's compassion, his quiet ways, his gentleness. I do not wish him to be a jockish type guy who not only plays sports but watches them constantly. But I of course worry that being this type of man will be hard. I worry about his health. I worry about a future where the epilepsy will not go away and he will have to keep taking ever stronger drugs with worst side effects. And I wonder what effect this will have on him finding love.
He comes out of the bathroom and looks in one more time. His eyes are glowing with some kind of mischief. "I'm going to sneak up on Dad." He grins widely, like a ten year old boy is apt to do.