In our house, the Donnas’ “New Kid in School” is known as the song with the ‘A’ word in it. It’s a word Sophie and Jacob have heard hundred of times, as their father spits out profanity like Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story. We hear “New Kid in School” quite a bit in the house these days; it’s become one of Jacob’s favorite tracks to play on Rock Band. His affinity for this song, as well as classics by the Clash, Ramones and Replacements, confirms what I’ve suspected for a couple of years now: My boy likes his music fast and loud.
Since the days when he’d jump around carrying a ukulele like a guitar during Springsteen’s “The Rising,” Jake has always been a boisterous little kid. His voice booms throughout the house whenever he’s happy (or angry, or sad). One of the reasons I believe he’s so loud is because of his breathing treatments. Twice a day the buzzing of his nebulizer machine and the vibrating noise of his Vest take over the house. It’s hard for me to hear when I’m standing at the other end of the house; imagine what it must be like sitting right next to the machines. Add to that the constant hissing of the misting medicine he has to breathe in and the whole experience must feel quite claustrophobic. When you take this into consideration, is it any wonder that Jake’s voice thunders from room to room?
I wouldn’t change that one bit, because with that booming voice comes his magical laugh, one that not only fills the house but also fills your soul with such warmth that this joyous sound stops you in your tracks. I’ve grown up with people telling me I laugh too loudly and sometimes it can rub me the wrong way. I guess a hearty laugh can cause your friends or wife to miss some jokes during a funny sitcom; I understand. No matter what his future friends and family tell him, I hope that Jake knows that he’ll always be allowed to come home and laugh his ‘A’ word off in his parent’s house.
Jacob recently told us that he plans to live with his mom and me forever. It’s tempting to imagine keeping him with us, to protect him and make sure he’ll take his meds and do his breathing treatments. I will do everything I can to ensure that Jake lives a long, long, long, long healthy life. But I know that he won’t live with us forever; he’s got an independent streak that’s a mile long. He’s already rebelling, fighting us on taking his meds and doing his breathers. He screams “Why am I the only one with CF? You don’t understand what it’s like!” I don’t have answers for him — at least, not answers that will appease him. Telling him that his medicines keep him healthy when he feels just fine doesn’t make sense to his young brain. The best I can do is to try to soothe him, either through movies and idiotic antics that distract him — and, of course, there’s the music.
Jacob turns eight on Saturday. Birthdays for my children are bittersweet for me. As each year passes I watch Jake grow, filled with pride and love as he’s maturing into a smart, caring, empathetic person, the kind of individual that can make the world a better place. Yet that good emotion is tinged with melancholy as I realize that he’s growing up. At some point, Jake will be using the “A” word in his everyday language. It’s only a matter of time that he starts looking at me, with my graying hair, caterpillar eyebrows and creaking joints and think of me as just “his dad,” as opposed to lovingly referring to me as “his DAD.”
Until that time, I will treasure our times playing air guitar in the kitchen to the Clash, our visits to the comic book store, grabbing some fries through the Wendy’s drive-through, the way he reaches for my hand in parking lots and on the way to school. I will embrace each moment he wants to watch Batman together or draw Ben 10 aliens. And I will always… always, under any circumstance, sit down to crank up the music and jam to the Donnas whenever he wants to hear “New Kid in School.”
Happy Birthday, pal.