Today you are six. It is so appallingly cliched of me, but let me just say that I cannot believe it. Six years ago you arrived, your birth in the middle of the night the complete opposite of, and antidote to, your sister’s long, arduous labor. You were not, in fact, as they’d scared me with late-stage ultrasounds and fear-mongering about my not having gained enough weight, a dwarf (I had been told at 38 weeks there was a 25% chance you had dwarfism). No, you were 6 days early and weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces. Two things about you immediately shocked me: your white-blond hair and the fact of your boyness. We hadn’t found out the gender in either pregnancy, but I realized when you arrived that I had assumed you were a girl. You were going to be Phoebe, and, I imagined, a colicky baby with a shock of black hair like your sister.
Your personality was as different from Grace’s as was your hair color. My father has always maintained that children are about 95% nature, and I didn’t believe that until I had a second child. You were a calm, mellow baby, easy to be around, quick to sleep, delighted to cuddle all day long. You healed many of the wounds I hadn’t even known I was carrying from your sister’s infancy.
From the very beginning, we all adored you. This photograph of the first time Grace met you reminds me of William Blake’s famous line that “we are here to learn to endure the beams of love.” You’ve been loved, fiercely, every single minute of your life. Your father wept when you were born, taken aback by the intensity of his reaction, never having acknowledged to himself how much he wanted to have a son. Your sister was passionately attached from the first minute; one of my early memories is of her coming in the front door, being handed her favorite doll to play with, and wailing, “But I want to play with the REAL BABY!” And me, well, I fell in love with you from the first moment I saw you. With you I enjoyed, for the first and only time in my life, that blissful bonding with a newborn. Thank you for giving me that experience, for showing me that it wasn’t out of my reach, that I could, in fact, be overwhelmed by the instinct to mother. Maybe I could do this after all.
These days you are less placid, less quiet, but no less amenable. You’re game for any adventure. You are physically bold, something I was reminded of this past weekend when we skiied. Helmet covering your two-sets-of-stitches scar, you pointed downhill and simply took off. You are fast and limber and flexible. You are absolutely fearless. You love to run and climb and kick and roll and shout and dig; you are, to use another cliched expression, “all boy.” Sometimes I joke that you need to be run every day, like a dog. And you do.
You’ve been growing into the sense of humor that we glimpsed early on. You are just plain funny. You remember things and bring them up months later, weaving them into a joke or a question, often startling me with your recall and with how closely you are paying attention. You make puns and are often laugh-out-loud clever. One thing I worry about, Whit, is making sure that you know there are many things about you other than your sense of humor that are wonderful. People love and esteem you for far more than just being funny. I promise. Please don’t hide behind being the clown – don’t ever stop making me laugh, my beloved, but at the same time please know I adore all the other facets of your personality too (well, most of them).
Whit, you can be remarkably sensitive, and your keen memory for detail serves you well here. You have demonstrated an awareness of what’s going on in a room, with other people, that’s often taken me aback. You have wept for missing friends, places, and stages of your life, your tangible heartbreak seeming to emanate from a much older and more mature person.
You are loyal and loving towards your sister, even though you aggravate her, break her Lego contraptions, and draw on her pieces of paper almost daily. One of my favorite things the two of you do is speak to each other through the heating vent that goes through the walls; each of your rooms has a grate that opens into the vent. When you’re in your rooms alone, you often whisper to each other, and it makes my heart swell, the way you just want to make sure the other is there. You always wake up before Grace does and your very, very favorite thing to do is to wake her up by crawling into her bed and snuggling next to her, whispering “I love you, Grace” into her tousled dark hair.
It takes a while to earn your trust, but once that is done it is tenacious and sturdy. Your favorite person in the entire world is Christina, who was your teacher last year. You knew one of your two Kindergarten teachers, Miss Greene, before this year because you knew she was a friend of Christina’s. The other teacher was new to you. In November, this other teacher pulled you aside and asked you why you had trouble listening to her; apparently you were much more open to input and direction from Miss Greene. You looked right at your teacher and said, “I don’t know you yet. I need to know you before I can listen.” While I think you need to learn that teachers and other authority figures should be treated with respect, I appreciate very much that you don’t automatically assume that those in “power” are right, and I also value the way your esteem for someone is built over time.
Whitman, I adore you with all of my heart. You are a comedian with a deep sensitive streak running through you, and that combination both endears and entertains me. I look forward to many more years of adventures together, and hope you will never lose your unique outlook on the world, informed by both wonder and practicality, equal parts convention and ostentatious individuality.
Happy sixth birthday, my only son, my favorite boy in the whole wide world. I love you.