Ben, number four, turns 17 today. At our house, birthdays are pretty well set: we gather around for a favorite dish (Chicken Parmesan is what he requested), cake, presents and the traditional "What I like about you."
What will I say? Ben is a work horse. It was Ben, in fact, who confirmed my suspicions that kids come with internal wiring.
This time last year we were pulling into Florida from New York with quite a caravan. (http://www.margiesims.com/blog/2011/07/27/All-This-Stuff.aspx). Ben was a trooper, though, spending his 16th birthday unloading the moving truck with his dad, who was less than Captain Fun on that day (even the Captain has an off day now and then). Nevertheless, Ben didn't complain too much.
When Ben was 8, he had his tonsils out. It was a tough, painful recovery. "Help me" he scribbled on a piece of paper when he woke up and saw the Captain and me standing by his bed, adding "I want to go home please," a few minutes later. I believe I still have that piece of paper somewhere in a memory box.
We took him home and got him comfortable on the couch with, ahem, all the video games and Popsicles a kid could hold. After 48 hours of recovery, he got up and started cleaning up the den. "What are you doing?" I asked.
"It's a mess in here," he replied in a hoarsy whisper. A true statement, but with a post op boy and three older siblings, and let's see, his younger siblings being six, five, three and (as Loretta Lynn sings) one on the way, I was doing the best I could. Nevertheless, Ben cleaned up the room until I made him lie down again.
When he was twelve, he inherited the chore of cutting the grass. Older brother Matthew had held the job for a good three years, and gladly passed the lawn mowing down. Ben relished the first time he got to cut the grass--and the second, and the third. Even when we moved to upstate NY and he had acres and acres to mow, I could still hear him celebrating as he rode on the mower, singing loudly with his ear phones in place.
Ben's middle name is initiative. At the beach he helps his dad haul umbrellas, chairs and towels for ten--without being asked. And at our house when its boys night to do the dishes, the joke is you better eat fast, because Ben will take your plate before you're done.
His greatest flaw? He has to be fed. Mounds of food. Several times a day. Every day. "There's the woman I love," he said yesterday when he came home from his daily summer football workout. "Only because I feed you," I laughed. He agreed.
What happens when I don't feed him? You don't want to know but I will tell you. Familiar with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? The Hulk? Gorillas in the Midst? That's what happens. He was in 7th grade when we discovered his tendency toward low blood sugar, and it took the whole school year to pinpoint it. It didn't dawn on us until the very end of his basketball season, as almost every game he would shut down with an Eeyore-like cloud over his head. Then we started feeding him just before the games. He hasn't been the same since.
But when he eats on time, he is in tune with everything around him. "You okay?" he often asks me out of the blue.
Be sure and write about his high voltage smile, Mom Dot says, and that as long as you've got Ben, you've got all the help you need. In fact, Mom Dot likes to make up bumper stickers. "Here's one for ya," she said a few years ago when Ben was being his usual helpful self: Got Ben?
Yes, we've got Ben. And we are sure glad we do.