Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thomas J. Hillery (warning: sentimental meandering from a mom grieving the loss of her son's babyhood)

Thomas turned 16 years old yesterday. February 17th, 1993 is his birthday. It was very cold. I remember seeing the bank thermometer read 21 degrees as we drove to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. Back in those days we lived in seminary housing in Fort Worth, Texas.

What a miracle. What fascination as we felt kicks and squirms in my belly and watched little baby roll around. We eagerly painted my old baby crib, measuring to be sure the slats were not too widely placed. We bought gender neutral baby blankets and baby curtains and baby t-shirts and stacks and stacks of pristine white cloth diapers. We read books on natural childbirth and parenting and every single chapter in the WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING book. I got very interested in nutrition and learned that what I ate fed the little baby as well, so I greatly altered my diet to include whole grains and meats and fresh fruits and veggies and plenty of vitamins. We were in awe when the doctor did the sonogram and we saw a real human baby, thumb, legs and cute little ears.

Philip was on hand to "assist" during the c-section. I can almost see his eyes when the doctor said the famous words "It's a boy!" The squirming little rolling ball in my tummy now had an identity. He was Thomas! Thomas was Philip's uncle, my professor and mentor in college and James was Philip's middle name, his father's middle name and my grandfather's name. His big eyes looked like they belonged to a wise old man. Our firstborn.

We spent hours studying Thomas's face, his fists, his chubby little toes and legs. We agonized over every night he cried. We were shocked and delighted over every new little thing he did. I still have fond memories of carrying him out to the seminary housing clotheslines in the over the shoulder baby holder, hanging out those diapers on the line.

Before you know it, Philip finished his MDIV and we were off to Japan for two years, baby Thomas in tow. He was the hit of the party. In the city of Tokuyama-shi, Yamaguchi prefecture, very few residents had much contact with blond little boys. People would stop their cars in the middle of the street to say their hellos to Thomas in the stroller. They would give him little toys and fruits. When Thomas was old enough to hold on tightly, we fitted our bikes with a baby seat. The three of us would cycle all over our city. I would carry as many bags of groceries as would fit on the handle bars, Thomas in bike seat and me holding umbrella in hand, cruising through the busy town. He loved our little Japanese table on the floor and would toddle around it, just his size. He loved sticky rice and curry and tofu and especially crispy seaweed and squid. Our english students adored their little friend Thomas-kun.

Those memories are so precious to me because it was such a unique world, Philip, Thomas and me. We have so many other memories. I guess we never thought that it might be too much to travel around with a little baby. Before we headed to Japan, we traveled in our little blue pickup, camping across the United States. New Mexico, Arizona, San Francisco, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and all the way East to New Jersey, New York and back down to Texas. Two years in Japan, with a visit to Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium somewhere in the middle. Thomas was a celebrity when he, his father and grandfather celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Luxembourg. Three generations. Thomas journeyed with us to S. Korea, to Sinagpore and Malaysia, to Hawaii. Always the happy camper. Always smiling at fellow journeymen, bowing and shaking hands.

Patrick was born and then we were four. Thomas grew to be an attentive big brother. He would cry out to us, "Check him, Mommy, check him!" anytime Patrick would wimper in his crib. This was in Buchanan Dam, Texas. We moved back to Fort Worth, Texas. The Thomas train tracks followed us, as did the big stacks of books. He always loved to look at books from the moment he could hold them in his chubbly little hands. He also loved to put stuff together, and more importantly, take things apart. Legos have always been a big part of his world. So have bugs. He and Maggie, when very little, would spend afternoons collecting bugs in their bug collectors.

Just yesterday I asked Thomas what type of work he would enjoy doing this year. He said demolition. He absolutely loves helping people take down old shelves, old boards, ripping out walls and cabinets. He has been very helpful in that department in our own home renovation. I am hoping that his love of insects will translate into a love of beekeeping.

Thomas loves big city life and trips to New York. He loves to watch TV (whenever he gets to be around one!), and reads more books in a month than most adults read in a lifetime. He is creative and writes stories in his head on a regular basis. I hope he will decide to get a few of those stories on paper. He enjoys drawing and music, fires and big explosions and eating. He is a great hand in the kitchen and will start apprenticing under me in the baking department this year. He doesn't much care for farm life, but nonetheless has shoveled and wheelbarrowed his share of manure. He loves his cat, Zaccheus. He loves to sleep. Doesn't much like getting up in the mornings, unfortunately for both of us. He loves the Sr. High youth group at Church of the Holy Spirit. He loves to talk about movies and books. A sure way to know if he likes you is to see him chatting nonstop with you.

Our world is much different now. The cozy little three of us is now a noisy seven. There is a lot more opportunity to learn and practice grace and forgiveness. I guess I am sorry for Thomas having to be the first born and deal with a couple of parents who didn't know a thing about parenting. Not that we know much more now. Even so, he has a unique position. The firstborn son. Now growing into man.

Thomas, I love you so much. I am so glad you were born. I look forward to hanging out with you and seeing you grow into a man who fills his role in this earth. You are unique and created to do many good things. There are many many more things I could write about you, but the clock is ticking and I must make your breakfast. You are a very good boy growing to be a very good man. May this 16th year be a year full of surprise, delight and accomplishment. May you learn everything you need to learn this year. May your joy bless many others this year. May the Lord grant you the journeys you desire and many oppportunities to do good. Big hugs from your mom.


Anonymous said...

Thomas, stand up tall and be so very proud to be of the Hillery clan. Rowe and Conner too don't forget. We are very proud of our grandson. Wish I could read as fast as you do. Maybe one day you will start putting all those stories on paper for the rest of us.
love you, Mamaw

Debbie Millman said...

Happy Birthday, Thomas! Now I know so much more about you! Your mom is a great writer...maybe you need your own blog to put some of YOUR writing on! I'd be one of your top readers.
Love, Mrs. Millman