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Posts tagged: Alex

Turning 20 ~ Happy Birthday, Alex

My son turns 20 today. He did not ask permission – he just marched right out of his teen years and into his new decade. I am neither sad nor happy, just a bit bewildered. When I look at him I see not one age, but many.

The infant, who snuggled into my chest, plugging his mouth with his thumb while his other hand stroked my neck, rests deep within the young man. When he snuggled as a toddler, he continued to rub my neck, cooing, “I whike your warm, Mommy.”  But soon he found comfort in his own space, making forts and imagining characters no one else could see. We hauled blankets and cushions and boxes and old clothes, tipping chairs on their sides to keep the wild world out.

When we did venture out, his dark wavy hair seemed a magnet for anyone who came near him. He once admonished a stranger who reached for his head, “Stop that!” They did. Don’t mess with him.

The child grew and could rarely sit still in class, when learning was too exacting. Memorization of trite data felt ridiculous early on without imagination. But when lessons defined, improved, healed or threatened relationships, that kid listened. He kept details of Rosa Parks close and asked for years, “Mom, when did you or Dad stand up for justice?” He keeps us accountable.

His entrance into our lives came not on his birthday, but 135 days later when we landed in his birth country and met him face to face. And no wonder he loves the stage – arriving in America down a Jetway to waiting applause of loved ones.  A family star.  He checked us out for days with his furrowed brow, as if to say, “Who are you and where do we go from here?” He took us far. Our hearts traveling together.

When I look at the young man, I see the boy who wrote and drew his feelings into flowers and hearts and later sang them in the shower as I listened silently outside the bathroom door. He sings on stage now and tells me I will probably cry when I hear him. But mostly I hold my breath as if I could stop the moment, freezing it in time forever. I cannot.

He reminds us to continue our “family traditions,” rituals occurring through his whole life, but seem a recent add-on to me. On my birthday, he wrote and hid the clues, leading me to hunt for my gift. “Just like you do all the time for me, Mom!” Time teases us both.

My son turns 20 today and I do wish I could simply tip chairs on their sides to protect him from the inevitable uncertainty of impending adulthood.  Even if possible, this young man would have none of it.

Still, I dream. Just the other night my sleep filled up with his toddler self – the giggles, the long loose curls bouncing as he ran down the hallway. I reached for him and scooped him up into my arms, but he squirmed in protest and wiggled toward the floor.

“Let me go!” he insisted.


(S-R archive photo)


Graduation…a mother’s blessing

My son graduates today…we will gather with friends and sit in the auditorium and cheer. He asks me if I will cry. Of course.  But first, in the intimacy of our home, I will read these words, a look back, a blessing forward. With love, Mom…

We are here – graduation day – when we celebrate you: Alexander.

Somehow the years carried us to this moment: with you growing from an infant, to a toddler, then a child, now a young man. We have marched too quickly in this parade of life.

When you were three, I called you, “Son.”  You smiled at me and asked, “Like sun-shine?”  Yes, like sunshine…and still like sunshine through 19 years.

School may have taught you what you need for life, most likely not. The quizzes and papers and tests feel more like hurdles then bridges today. No matter, you never let school discourage your passion. Nice work! A+

May you take with you some life lessons learned along the way, lessons we discovered in our journey through your childhood.

Together, we discovered time is precious – so why waste it on chores when we could build forts, swim at the pool and read books? The weeds and dusting waited patiently while we played. Our days filled up with laughter and giggles and imaginative journeys to distant lands. We traveled together– through forts and Moon Horse rides into the night.

Sometimes, we had to travel through real-life sadness – losing Grandpa, Uncle Art and Sister Carolyn. You brought kindness on those trips, easing our way.

You taught me simple gestures of love transform us: when you were five, you insisted we take flowers to the hospital patients who were not discharged home for Christmas. You took carnations and put them in paper-cup vases; you brought joy to the bedside. I learned of your tremendous compassion for strangers.

In second grade, you asked if I ever stood up for justice like Martin Luther King, Jr or Rosa Parks; and did I ever meet Rosa Parks and what did I actually say to her?  In that moment, I learned people are more important to you than theories and your heart understands suffering.  You remain a wise soul seeking what is right in the world.  

While the classroom often confined you, the stage has not. Cast as an iguana, a carriage driver, a dyno-bug, Amonasro – and many other characters – you delighted us and found self-confidence.  While singing in Fame, Footloose and Phantom, you found your own voice at Creative Theatre Experience, Kids at Play and in the Catskills. Your courage to listen to your own spirit taught me to listen more closely to my own voice. I am grateful.

God has blessed you with gifts you will soon share with the world. Today I offer these gifts for you:

For your journey, may you take faith – for times of joy and confusion – knowing our God who created you, walks with you – always.

May you take hope – for all your dreams and adventures. You have taught us to see possibilities when discouraging voices whispered into our life. May your hopeful heart guide you to joy-filled destinations.

May you take love – many people loved you through these years - and left their love within your heart. May their love inspire and comfort you, may that love give you strength and delight.

No matter where your dreams lead you: to school, the stage, with new friends and places: our love follows - through eternity into forever.


Congratulations, Alex!  Love, Mom

(S-R archives photo)

A male’s mail call

Our ballots for voting came in the mail today – and my heart did a little dance.

Not because I am eager to vote – although I am – but because this time there were three ballots in our mailbox. Our son, Alex, will vote for the first time.

When I asked him to watch the first presidential debate with me, he stayed 10 minutes. He detested the tone of “yelling” he perceived and announced, “I know who I am going to vote for anyway” and left the room.

 I don’t know if he perceives the privilege that voting offers. And I wonder how to impart that wisdom. As a student, traveling in 1976, I experienced some lack of freedom in other countries: a whistle blew as a fellow student paused in Prague, kneeling down to tie his shoe. He was admonished and told to get up and keep moving. In Moscow, I left the group and meandered through Gumms, a large department store. When I stopped to snap a photo with my Kodak Instamatic, a guard appeared and shook his finger at me, “Nichts!” Of course, these are simple actions. Still, it was Communism that governed and its citizens did not enjoy democracy.

 These stories matter not to my son, who wants only to vote for the candidates who will make life just for others. Even when he was a toddler, Alex often asked about a person’s character. When Becky showed him a statue of President Lincoln, he asked her, “Did he like children?”  We vet our candidates according to our values.  

I plan to sit down with Alex, his ballot, the voter’s pamphlet and probably a cheese pizza. Not because I will tell him how to vote, but to answer questions and watch him as he ponders choices, a privilege that never ceases to amaze me. No bloodshed or coups, instead we elect our leaders through a peaceful, informed process, with information at hand - served with a main course of pizza and, hopefully, a healthy side dish of enlightenment.

(S-R archives photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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