On the occasion of someone else’s 16th birthday

Thomas with his parents in Toledo, Spain. June, 2007.

Thomas with his parents in Toledo, Spain. June, 2007.


Today is 16th birthday of our son: Thomas Sutherland McPhee.

16 years ago today, we were in Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis introducing a red, wrinkled little lizard boy to the world.

He was healthy but small (3 pounds, 12 ounces), and his size landed him in the neo-natal ICU for several weeks. We spent his first Chrismas in that NICU. Another family spent that day together behind a screen at the end of the room, saying goodbye to the last of a set of triplets. It was the only time we saw that child outside of its incubator, and the only time we saw the family hold it.

That day still shines bright, like my eyes when I think of it.

On my dresser is a photo of Tom at Thanksgiving when he’s two or three, eyes wide like his smile. To be honest, I don’t really remember the that kid. Those years have largely slipped away, turning into photos in an album.

No doubt more will join them.

But there’s so much I do remember. Places we’ve been. Things we’ve done. Pieces of who he is, assembling.

Reading together. Dr. Seuss. Haroun & the Sea of Stories. Early Harry Potter. Inkheart. Plenty of room between the trees.

Realizing that he’d somehow learned to read when no one was watching. (Still not sure how that happened.)

Realizing that reading out loud at night was just too slow. One of the first steps towards inevitable independence.

Walking together in our sabbatical year in Birmingham, talking about religion, and how eyes work. He was six or seven.

Writing songs and performing together. “Fat fly”, “Crab grass”, “Taco Man”. Open Mic. The Mutant Variety Show.

His wonderful attitude during the long series of rabies shots after The Bat Incident.

Our time in Italy. Gelato & pizza. Learning to spot annunciation paintings from a mile away. Deciding he’d seen about all the churches he needed for quite a while.

The family trip to Alaska. Climbing the hills around Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park; the wind cutting past us as we gazed out over that awesome valley. Celebrating Mac & Mutti’s 50th anniversary in Seward. His laughter, and grumpiness, and goofiness.

The way he made friends and settled in so quickly during both our sabbaticals in the UK. And the long hours on Facebook keeping up with his friends back home.

Our time in Spain. Going out for breakfast together in the morning. A wonderful day together in Madrid. “Guernica”. The “Black Paintings” of Goya. A day he planned.

Walking to school together talking about stuff, large and small. Waving at folks driving by.

Listening to music together. Discussing lyrics, and beats, and color. That high kid voice in our promo spots for the radio station, and the much lower voice I hear when listening to this year’s solo radio shows.

The many, many play performances. And band. And choir. And pretty much any opportunity to be on a stage.

6th in the State in Poetry Out Loud last year, and last year’s amazing One Act.

Dying your hair cool colors.

And so, so much more.

Today he’s sixteen.

He writes lines I would be proud to call my own.

He’s taller than his mother (but not yet taller than me).

He sings bass (or tenor – it all depends on the context).

He shaves, if not very often.

His room is a mess, but so is my office, so I’d best not throw stones.

He’s getting recruiting material from colleges, another sign that he won’t live in this house forever.

He’s old enough to drive, but not to go to the Doomtree blowout (and it’s not clear which he’d choose if it came down to it).

He cares. About the world. About others. About Making Things Better.

He’s our son, and a joy to have in our lives.

Happy birthday, Thomas. It’s been a fun and exciting 16 years, and we’re all looking forward to many more!

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One Response to On the occasion of someone else’s 16th birthday

  1. Brent says:

    Happy Birthday Thomas! 16 is a great age. And it only gets better. It’s cliche to write this, but I thought just yesterday you were two and not talking.

    p.s. I hope Nic can dig up some of those old KUMM promos where you gave the station ID and post them somewhere public — at the time, they were widly popular with us college kids!

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