FLINT - Eighteen years ago last Sunday, I was watching the regrettable Tonya Harding skate in the Olympics, a month after the knee-whacking attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan.
She started her routine then stopped after a turn around the ice with a shoelace malfunction. I remember her skating over to the judges, her face an odd mix of makeup and dismay.
As she pleaded tearfully for another chance, the lovely yet formidable Marcia, who was lying next to me on the pull-out couch in the living room of our first ever home, moaned softly.
"Contraction?" I said.
She nodded, grim-faced.
"Should we go in?" I said, hoping she'd nod yes this time. The snow had been piling up outside - first three inches, then six, then eight - and I was worried the car would get stuck. I pictured myself dragging her to the ER on a kiddie sled or me delivering the baby en route. I could see the headline: "Mom gives birth in snow bank - dad may never recover."
She shook her head no, as I knew she would, and we eventually fell into an uneasy doze around midnight. Six hours and a mad dash to the hospital later, he came, and we called him Sam.
It means "told by God" in Hebrew, but we picked it because it sounded nice. I think 'told by God" has turned out to be pretty apt, though. He was told by God, we figure, to "go forth and amaze, amuse, enrapture and sometimes annoy those two peaceful married people there who have no kids yet" and he has dutifully and energetically followed orders ever since.
Thank God, too. Kids, after all, are creatures you can't imagine what you'll do with once you have them, but once you have them you can't imagine what you did without them.
Or at least I can't. As Sam opened his presents Sunday, I found myself feeling a both happy and sad. Happy, of course, because he's a great kid who has enriched my life beyond belief. Sad because he's leaving. In the fall, he'll start college somewhere, and I'm a sappy enough dad to get a head start on missing him.
I've told him a dozen times already that I'm moving into the dorm with him this fall, and each time he laughs. But there's a hint of nervousness there, as in, "You don't really mean that, right?"
Of course I don't. I know it's the natural order of things. Baby bird grows, leaps from nest, and soars to freedom. Parents weep and smile.
Then again, the last gift he opened from Marcia and I was "Oh, the Places You'll Go," by Dr. Seuss, which begins, "Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to great places! You're off and away."
And while the bigger part of me was focused on the joy of the moment and the promise of his future, I have to admit that a small part of me was thinking, "Can you take me with you?"
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.