What a Nice Young Man

I hear that a lot about Thomas, our youngest. From teachers to neighbors to his co-workers, he impresses everyone with his sweetness, his kindness. He is really a wonderful kid.

I met him when he was 4 years old. I dreamed of him years before I met him, though, in one of my more profound, startlingly accurate prophetic dreams. In the dream, I met him when he was 4 years old, when Tim walked back into my life, walked into the theater in which I worked in the dream, the theater located in our hometown, where I was not living when I had the dream. We ended up back in this hometown in real life, to raise the kids. Thomas ended up working in that theater.

Sometimes remembering that dream freaks me out.

When I met Thomas, he was a very confused kid. His parents had split the winter before, he didn’t understand–how could he?–who this woman was that his daddy was holding hands with. He fought it. He fought me, though in a very quiet way, never obvious. It was the first time I’d had any difficulty with a child, my whole life. With the two older kids, I had become a seasoned mother–but more than that, I’d spent many, many hours with children; as a babysitter, as a camp counselor. I’d never had a child shy away from me. But these circumstances were completely different, and completely understandable. My heart broke for this kid who just had his whole world ripped apart.

I hesitate to say too much about his life with his mother. That mess is why I’ve kept mum on Thomas, because it’s so integral to my relationship with him, and to who he is, and, to a great extent, the path our lives have taken as a family. Thomas’ privacy is paramount, however, so let me just leave it at this: Thomas’ life with his mother was unstable, erratic, unhealthy, and, at times, dangerous.

I took the relationship slow, at his pace. There were moments of defiance–politely stated, but defiance, nonetheless. When life with his mother became untenable during his freshman year of high school, he made the decision to come live with us.

That’s when everything changed.

His first year with us was very difficult for him, but with a little stability, consistency and humor, he turned into a different person. No longer wary, suspicious, exhausted from staying strong in adversity, he started being a kid again. His natural humor–normally targeted at teachers and administrators, evinced by numerous stains on his record–flowered at home, and he became the center of our family meals.

Thomas' sense of humor.

He started excelling  at the one subject he used to hate–English–and discovered an untapped well of verbal expression that helped him communicate in ways we could finally understand. He went from being angry, hurt, resentful and impatient to his true nature; sweet, kind, funny, compassionate and helpful.

When my oldest son made Eagle Scout, I was very proud of him. He had worked very hard to achieve that goal–through tons of adversity–and proved he could navigate through messy political waters to get what he wanted. When my daughter decided last summer to pursue a different school than the one she initially settled on, I was very proud of her for taking her life into her own hands, deciding for herself what was best for her–despite the inconvenience for anyone else.

But the kind of pride I have in Thomas is wholly different–just as powerful, but a completely different quality. What he has had to overcome is vastly more difficult psychologically than what the other two had to do. His problems stemmed from a flawed internal structure, issues conferred upon him by people whose job it was to protect him, people who instead damaged him. For those issues, I may never be able to forgive his mother. Just to get to a point of normalcy, he has had to work so much harder than anyone knows.

Seeing Thomas soar as he is doing right now–lead trumpet in two bands, getting almost straight As in school, holding down a demanding job, maintaining a sweet relationship with a very nice girlfriend–is so impressive I can’t even express it.

The other day, out of the blue, he thanked me for caring so much about him. It’s never been difficult to care about him–so hurt and vulnerable as he was. But he’s grown so much, changed so much that he can now see and receive that love, and trust that it comes without strings, without expectations. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for him to know.

He IS a nice young man. But he really is so much more.

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