Happy Birthday, Big Brother Quinn!

A lifetime ago, Jeff and I met in Atlanta. He was working as an artisanal frame maker and I was a professional running a gallery in North Carolina- one day I drove down with a stack of artwork to frame, and he stepped out of the back room to ask the owner a question. We locked eyes. He was spotted with gesso and rabbit skin glue and glinted here and there with tiny bits of gold leaf. And I knew. Later, he told me that it was just Dutch gold. But I didn't care, and I still don't.

We dated long-distance for a couple of years, he moved closer, and we got engaged on my birthday in August of 1995. Then... we had a few plot twists.

My mother, long sick with cancer, died 8 days later. Jeff's cat Opus got run over by a car in my neighborhood and died. The seamstress, recommended to me by my dead mother, died in her sleep with my wedding dress partially sewn on the mannequin in her house. I know, right? But the French are right: bad things come in threes, because then we turned a metaphorical corner.

We were married on Jeff's birthday in December of that same year, and just two months later, guess what? I was pregnant! Quinn (because we loved that name) Elder (my mother's maiden name) Waites was born in November 1996. And that little guy? Is 5'11" and turning 18 TODAY. Whatttttt?

Quinn was born with a bilateral cleft lip & palate, and we spent much of our time over his first few years with his team of 8 craniofacial specialists at the hospital. He had an orthodontist before he had milk teeth, a social worker before he could talk, years of speech therapy once he could talk, three surgeries before his first birthday, and has had many more since.

Losing my mother so close to my wedding, Quinn's birth (he would have been the first of her grandchildren), and his medical problems turned me into a worrier. I mostly worried about how people would view Quinn's lip scars - tiny as they were - and if his self esteem would suffer.

Middle sister Lucca was born two years after Quinn. During my ultrasound, Jeff brought Quinn in to see the baby - after looking at the monitor for a minute, he ran outside and threw up. And then Lu was born, and there were two to worry about. And then a third, the Romanator, four years after that.

We moved to Maine when Quinn was eight, and I worried about him making friends in his new school. Until I drove to pick him up that first year and he was huddled outside in the snow with two other boys- they were all laughing their heads off. When he finally saw me and got in the car, I asked him what was so funny. They had gotten hold of a mood ring, and were trying to make it turn all the colors in the guide. Each kid tried wearing the ring, they licked it, jammed it in the snow, and then ran out of ideas until one kid farted on it, and it turned BROWN. "And that! Color! Wasn't even! In the! GUIDE!," he choked out between laughs. I love his sense of humor.

That same year, Quinn and his sister were biking around our new neighborhood and 6-year old Lucca wiped out at the bottom of a steep hill. Quinn carried her all the way home. He's held Roman while he was having seizures, babysat both siblings, staged epic Nerf gun battles in the house, learned how to snowboard, got certified to scuba dive at age 13, mowed our yard in the summer, snowblowed our driveway in the winter, and generally been a caregiver as much as a big brother.

Calm under pressure, he spoke beautifully at his grandfather's funeral this past spring. He answered the door to a police officer last night, asking if we had an autistic son. Roman was out with his in-home support staff, they had been in a car accident, and everyone was fine. While I was frozen and crying at the door, Quinn hugged me and called to sort out the details of collecting Roman.

Analytical, he's our resident Ikea assembly expert, and uses his "cut-knife" to open Roman's Playmobils at Christmas and put all the pieces together.

Big-hearted, he mentored an elementary schooler last year, and volunteers on Sundays to teach Roman adaptive ice skating. Quinn is Roman's best friend.

He's athletic, playing soccer and running cross country, skateboarding in the driveway in his free time. He and Jeff hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon - and back up - this summer.

Creative and talented, he has interesting ideas for inventions, is great at drawing, is teaching himself to play the guitar, and white-knuckled it through the summer with *us* to film our documentary.

Responsible, he gets Roman off the bus on days when I can't, and drives himself to the dentist.

Most appreciated though, is that he is funny as hell- rarely a day passes when he fails to crack me up.

I worried about him driving when he got his license two years ago. Now I am worrying about him getting into college. He's writing his essay, trying to figure out "an issue of personal significance" that can be related to his interest in engineering. "What about something to do with cleft palate repair?," I ask. "Mom," he says dismissively, "that's just something that happened to me a long time ago. That's not who I am." Noted.

Sometimes I think of our family like a strange starfish, partially exposed and clinging onto a rock somewhere, buffeted by cold water and high waves, then soaking in the sun at low tides. But I imagine the two brotherly arms as growing closer together, and I worry what it will do to both of them, and to all of us, once Quinn separates himself to go to college this summer. We'll have a Quinn-shaped crater in our lives, our whole way of being will change, and we will all have to adapt.

It's a cliché, but this is life's lesson- letting go. A little. I love that part in the movie Parenthood when Jason Robards explains to his onscreen son Steve Martin that being a parent is endless: you never get to spike the ball and walk off the field. So I guess Quinn is stuck with me until he isn't, but one thing? Maybe I shouldn't worry so much.

I love you, Quinn Elder Waites. Happy 18!


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