Twenty-one years ago January 5 I went to sleep at about 8:00 A.M. after a staggeringly difficult all-night labor and delivery. The payoff for my trouble was my son, Sean Thomas Olivares, 7 pounds and 10 ounces and 19" of healthy, all-American boy.
From that moment on, Sean scorned doing things the easy way.
His infancy was fraught with serial ear infections and a struggle with pneumonia before the end of his first year. Yet he was always an adventurer; he could get out of his car seat himself at 10 months of age.
My marriage, troubled for several years, finally imploded and collapsed in upon itself also during Sean's first year. The move away from our home in California to my mother's home in Salt Lake City was hard on us all, but Sean seemed to treat every new encounter as an adventure. It didn't take long before we had a new home, a new church, and a new pre-school to explore.
Our new home suited Sean right away. He learned, at 18 months, how to climb on top of the kitchen counter to reach the cupboards where the goodies were kept. I don't know how often he did it, but I do know how loudly I gasped when I walked in and caught him the first and last time I ever watched him do it. (I think it scared him enough to never do it again)
Sean has always had good friends, too, starting with our next-door neighbor, Cade. Cade was about six months Sean's senior and just as active. One day I looked into the room where they'd been playing, as it had become a little too quiet for my comfort. Sean had enlarged a hole in his window screen and, after throwing a number of toys down from the second story window to the front lawn where Cade waited, was about to climb out himself.
I won't go into any of the emergency room visits or frantic "missing" child searches or the 911 call after the Vicks Vapo-Rub adventure. They all turned out satisfactorily in the end, and I had the pleasure of getting well-acquainted with nurses, firefighters, principals, and counselors. ("So good to see you again, Ms. Marshall. It doesn't look like Sean will need stitches with this one.")
It's a good thing that Sean has had the life that he has. It has helped him develop any amount of courage and good judgment, not to mention a coolness in the face of adversity that would be considered admirable in a man much older in years. Some of his lessons he has learned the hard way, it's true.
Take compassion. Sean has never turned a deaf ear to a friend who needed his help in any way. No wonder that, when asked to travel to Southern California last week to tend his hospitalized father, he agreed to go because he was needed.
Sean gave up his plans for his twenty-first birthday here at home with his friends, he gave up nearly all of his winter break, he gave up some critical job-searching time as well as the chance to see his friends who were here in Davis before returning out-of-state to their own colleges in order to be the home caregiver his dad needed when he was released from the hospital. Well, that was nearly two weeks ago and his dad is still in the hospital.
So he has spent the past weeks cleaning his father's apartment, throwing out the old food left from before Christmas when he was first taken ill, going through files to find old Army papers which will help get his dad into much-needed V.A. care, getting stranded twice with his dad's car breaking down, and going to a Chinese restaurant with two elderly aunts he barely knows for his birthday. And did I mention he had tea?
He has also sat by his dad's side as he has slid downhill to an unknown and murky prognosis, and walked him through physical therapy to be able to move from bed, to walker, to chair and back again. He has negotiated his way around a strange town, largely isolated, shopping for and preparing his dinner-for-one, and spending nights alone in his dad's empty apartment. Through it all he has shown maturity, grace, and compassion. Compared to a night of drinking and roistering around which so many young men equate with coming of age, Sean's experience has certainly been the more meaningful.
I am so proud of this merciful, compassionate man who is my son. And, yes, I anticipate his homecoming this Saturday with great joy. I look forward to hugging him, to cooking him the best steak dinner he's ever had, and to buying him a drink at Woodstock's here in Davis. Then I'll leave him in the company of trusty friends to enjoy what I imagine will be a night of possibly more reflection and less roistering than it might have been.