This was the day a Beautiful boy would rock my world. He was HUGE, sick, and alert as a three-month old. Of course being born on February 2, although due December 23rd might have given him a little extra time for maturing. This ten pound seven ounce baby looked like a giant in the neonatal nursery at Clayton General Hospital! Especially when they placed his little bed next to the preemie weighing only two pounds. My boy was very sick, with an infection from the fluids in the womb and Jaundice. To compound issues, one of the nurses there was sure he had Down Syndrome. Which clearly he doesn’t. Stephen was born with what appeared a simian crease in his hand. Only one dominant line. He also had a lot of fat. He weighed ten pounds seven ounces. The nurse I mentioned said there was a redundunt skin roll in the back of his neck. I thought his whole neck was chunky! But she was really upsetting me by being so matter of fact. She said there were help groups available and I should contact one so they could help me decide whether to on raise this child or put him in a facility. This blew me away!!! Stephen was at the hospital ten days! Snce he wasn’t in a room, they had thrown a Barco lounger in a closet for me to set up camp. It was easier to stay there as I was nursing him. When she had this discussion with me, I remember walking to the cafeteria with tears streaming down my face, and I sat alone in the most private corner. There was no way to find out definitively immediately. The test they sent off would take a couple of weeks. But, I KNEW she was wrong. This child didn’t look like anyone I had ever seen who had down syndrome. His eyes were badly bruised from birth. But I could just tell. Mother’s instinct, I guess. Later that week, I was in the nursery getting ready to hold and feed him, and the head of one of the departments (I think it was radiology, but my memory fails) came up to me and asked if I was Stephen’s mom. I said, “Yes, Sir” . Wondering , what now? He was so nice. He showed me his hand. He had a simian crease. He told that he had heard about this possible down syndrome baby and wanted to see him. He said I have no worries! This child is going to test negative. He does not have it. He said if I have not already done the tests, don’t bother. WHEW! What a relief! That was my angel sent from heaven.
This boy came home the tenth day. Bright eyed and smiling so big. What a blessing in my life. So dependent on me. Would I be a good mom? From the time I brought him home, his needs or even wants are more important than mine. Ahhh, Motherhood. Stephen had some reflux issues. It was an enigma! he was gaining weight because he threw up so much. The ongoing joke with my sister’s was Yeah, I’ll babysit, just let me get my slicker and rain bonnet on. Because sometimes it was projectile type. My sister, Margie, counted six times of throwing up in just the time it took her to get up from the couch and walk across the room to get the remote control for the T.V.. Yet, his pediatrician said not to worry. He would outgrow it. He is thriving and gaining weight.
As Stephen grew he picked up on things very fast. He had an amazing vocabulary before the age of two. I remember a conversation with him about his second birthday party. He was describing his cake and what kind of balloons he wanted. I couldn’t believe how smart this little guy was. He was already proficient at working our VCR . He always knew which movies he wanted to watch each day. He and I had a lot of One-on-One time before the arrival of his little sister, Erin. So, I was afraid he might be a little jealous. And he was, a little, which is normal. But I was so happy he embraced her and seemed to really love her from the beginning. Stephen was a sweet child.
From four to five, this was the early l990’s and y’all know what that meant. BRAVES were HOT. Or getting hot. It was an exciting time for baseball. And little Stephen Hammond was a Braves fan from a very early age. Stephen had never gone to preschool or a nursery because I wanted to spend that precious time with him . We lived next door to Dennis’ parents. We also lived a house over from my Dad. His mom was so good about having him over when he wanted. Of course she always had a Yoo Hoo or Hug in a Jug in the Fridge for him. That is what Grandma’s do, isn’t it? Spoil the grandkids with goodies. Stephen would sit with his Pop (D’s dad) outside as he would peel an apple with his pocket knife and cut him bites. Those were the days. Both my kids were so blessed being raised next door to such wonderful Grandparents. We miss them dearly. Although Stephen had no formal schooling at this point in his life, I had taught him his alphabet and numbers, and when he was in kindergarten he was putting words together and reading. At the age of five he would go to the mailbox to get the mail and the newspaper. He would spread the paper all over the living room floor and dig for the sports section. Then check out his favorite Braves players and their line scores or stats. Of course with his love of Baseball, he also wanted to play. We started him in little league when he was about five. He started playing Muppet soccer when he first turned four. At one point he was wrestling with the Coweta Cobra’s, playing soccer, and baseball. One Saturday he had all three events in one day. A wrestling match that a.m. , an afternoon baseball game, and a late afternoon soccer game. He LOVED it. It was a lot of planning and work for me as I had to pack coolers and uniform changes and try to hydrate and feed him properly. His grades were always extremely good and never suffered through all the extra curricular activities. Stephen was a very motivated child. He asked for an alarm clock when in elementary school. He set it to wake up and get ready for school on his own. I think he enjoyed it. Or at least resolved to go as he knew he had no choice in the matter. He was also very good with money. He would ration his birthday money or Christmas money so that it lasted until the next occasion he would receive money. He earned money as a referee for CCSA at the age of fourteen. He collected our cans for extra money as well as doing other jobs for money. He also had his regular chores he did which did not pay anything but a “well done” from his parents. He was pretty good at doing his part. Once when we first built our new house back in 1999, we asked Stephen if he thought we should build a swimming pool. He gave it some thought and got back to us. He told us he just didn’t have time in his schedule to keep a pool up. He realized he would be responsible for a lot of the upkeep and didn’t want to take this on. He enjoyed his sports and knew his classes were just going to get tougher. He was able to handle his tough classes and Ace them. His grades always made us so proud. He graduated with high honors from Newnan High School. That is where he met his Sweetheart, Katie. I remember thinking there is something about her. I could tell there was a spark that day we were standing in line at the DMV to get Stephen’s learner’s permit. Katie was there with her dad, Mike. Stephen and Katie both have birthday’s in February. Stephen kept turning around to smile at her. I believe that was 2002. They graduated three times together. Once from Newnan High. Twice from Mercer. First time at Mercer for their College diploma, Stephen completed his Doctor of Pharmacy program and Katie for her Masters. They got married in 2009. Stephen is a Pharmacist for CVS. He is also a Spanish major which helps since his CVS has a lot of customers whose main language is Spanish. Katie teaches Advanced Placement History at Newnan High. An interesting note about Stephen’s school career from Kindergarten through twelfth grade; he was only counted absent once! This was when he signed out to attend a friend’s father’s funeral. And with block scheduling he was not counted present for that day.
Stephen started Kindergarten at Moreland Elementary. He began Cub Scouts in the first grade and stuck with it through fifth grade. I was one of his Pack leaders. He worked hard at this and anything we ever involved him. He had such a competitive spirit and a wish to learn. He cultivated some friendships at Moreland that he still has to this day. His best man at his wedding was a grammar school buddy, who he had also been on his little league baseball team as well. Moreland Elementary was a wonderful school with excellent teachers who really cared about the children. I feel blessed that my children attended that school.
Middle school would bring exciting times. He was able to play school soccer in the seventh grade. And of course we all know about those middle school dances. Stephen had not hit a growth spurt and was a bit shorter than his date. But he was so handsome. He was always smiling and had such a likeable personality, and still does.
One thing I remember about middle school is a talk Stephen had with his Dad. He came to him and said school was boring. He felt he wasn’t being challenged….he needed more. That is how hungry he was to learn. His dad contacted some of his teachers and they gave Stephen extra work. Some said he would not get credit, but that really didn’t matter to Stephen. He also became active with First Baptist Church in Newnan. He enjoyed the youth programs. One year he and sister Erin, traveled to N.Y. on a mission trip. He actually got to travel to Costa Rica with a select group of young men through a church mission program. He developed a friendship with the Youth Minister, Drew Porterfield. Even though this person was not associated with First Baptist when Stephen was ready for Baptism, he agreed to baptize Stephen. This took place at his friend Seth’s Grandparent’s, pool in our neighborhood in Moreland.
Stephen received an academic scholarship to attend Mercer University at Macon. He was inducted into Pi kappa Phi Fraternity. Affiliated with an organization called Push America. n 2007, my son, Stephen, raised around $5,500, for Push America, an organization that exists to improve lives of those with disabilities, in an event called Journey of Hope. He bicycled as part of a 30 man team from San Francisco, CA to Washington, DC. It was a 63 day journey stopping daily to volunteer and interact with people with disabilities. Dennis, Erin, Katie, and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet him as he pedaled in to finish this journey. He was fortunate to not have any illness or bicycle malfunctions that would inhibit this journey. He was able to pedal every mile of that journey. Something to be proud of. He did have some stomach issues, but none that were severe enough to keep him off the trail.
Well, I have so many stories about Stephen I could share. I could go on an on. He kept us all entertained. He was good at that. We all still remember his special words for certain things that he made up when he was little. Erin thought these were the real words for these things and when she found out they were bogus via using them in front of friends, she was pretty mad. I guess we just took it for granted she knew Stephen made them up. Words like Dadoo for Apple, and Pootah for Foot. I don’t even know where he got these words because from a young age he could articulate. He also made up a “ditty” or two we all still sing from time to time. His most famous video as a child is “There’s a Spider outside”. I love this video because it showcases both my babies. Erin as a newborn. Stephen as one of the cutest little guys ever. Trying to talk his mama into letting him take his shirt off in October.
I hope I have inculcated a love of music to my children. I always had music playing when they were young. I introduced them to music of many genres. I picked up on some of Stephen’s musical favorites when he was in high school. We have attended several concerts together. Music is very important in my life and I am so glad Stephen enjoys music.
Although Stephen rarely ever disobeyed or gave us any trouble whatsoever. We had rules and most of the time he followed these rules. I stumbled upon some video of he and some of his friends recently and it was truly funny at this point. But had I known then, he probably would have been in trouble…well for breaking a rule or two. In these videos he was lighting tennis balls and slinging them, riding the four-wheeler wildly with no helmet. Many other shenanigans. Priceless, boys will be boys type stuff.
I am so proud of Stephen. He is an intrinsically good person….and very handsome. Even though each Ground Hog Day marks another year that he is older, I still think of him as my son, my boy. He has grown into such a wonderful man. In closing I want to give his dad a lot of credit for being such an exemplary father. He was always leading by example. A good role model who always put his kids first. I think this was a huge influence on Stephen. I will close with a quote I recently sent Erin after the birth of her second son, Bennett. It is a quote that touched my heart…..it is so true. Stephen, I hope you know I love you.
“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world.
It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.