Yesterday you turned eight. I don’t even have words to express my incredulity at this fact. I’ve written before about how the fact of your boy-ness shocked me in the delivery room, and it did, and still sometimes when I gaze at you my emotions shuttle back and forth between sheer wonder at the fact that I’m raising a boy and an overwhelming sense of responsibility to do so right.
Grace is familiar – so familiar sometimes it feels disorienting, like staring into a funhouse mirror and seeing a million reflections of myself and her. With you, probably because you’re a boy, but also because you’re you, it’s different. You beguile me and enchant me, you infuriate me and aggravate me, you make me laugh every single day. I know so clearly what I want for Grace: to be smart and brave. Of course there’s so much more I want for her, and for you, too. I think if I had to name one thing I wish for you, though, it’s that I hope you never stop feeling comfortable expressing yourself, always remember that your feelings are both valid and valuable. I don’t want you to grow to fear either your emotions, which the world might tell you are weakness, or your strength.
You are a deeply sensitive guy, and it’s easy to miss that, because on the surface you are all boy bluster and energy. Your sense of humor is the first thing anyone who meets you remarks upon, and it’s true that you are really, really funny. We don’t know where this came from (neither your Dad nor I is particularly funny), but we’re glad it did. Every family needs a comedian. But you also exhibit a seam of melancholy for which I feel responsible. I’m sorry to have given you that inheritance, though I console myself that your predilection towards sorrow will also mean you feel great joy. I know this first-hand.
This sensitivity manifests most often at bedtime. One night shortly after we returned from Legoland last summer you couldn’t sleep, and you lay in your bed weeping and weeping that something you had anticipated for so long was over. Another night, years ago, you dissolved into tears about the fact that you weren’t a baby anymore. Crying, you bemoaned time’s swift passage, the fact that we can’t “go back.” We spent a long time going through baby pictures of you, finding your baby socks and the hat you came home from the hospital in. I was trying to make you feel better, but the truth is I felt the loss so profoundly it felt like the wind was knocked out of me.
Right now your world spins around hockey. I am so proud of the way you’ve thrown yourself into a very demanding sport. You practice two or three nights a week, and you leap out of bed at 5 or 6am on Sunday mornings for games. You literally can’t get enough. While I know you personally love the sport, your team, and your coaches, I also know that part of your joy comes from knowing you’re following in your father’s (large) footsteps. As you have gotten older, it’s become clearer and clearer to me how much you adore and esteem – perhaps idolize is not too strong a word – him. You tell anyone who will listen that you are number fourteen, and the reason is that because that was your father’s number.
The biggest challenge we have is getting you to do things when you don’t want to. Unlike your sister, who does something just because an authority figure asked her to, you need to understand why, and why right now, and then you need to understand again. You ask a lot of questions, and seek to understand the world around you. This fall you were curious about how the world came to be (what’s the Big Bang?), why water spins going down the drain, and how they get trains, once they’ve made them, onto the tracks. Luckily we have my father, who we call The Answer Man, to ask, because many of these questions are already well over my head.
You are physically affectionate, and offer me ready hugs. You love receiving a sweet dreams head-rub before bed and often choose to curl up on the couch right next to me. We are in the middle of Harry Potter #3, and it is an absolute pleasure to share the world of Hogwarts with you. I know you’re as smitten as I am: this year you chose to be Harry for Halloween, and you often refer to things from Harry’s world out of the blue, apropos of nothing: The Mirror of Erised and Quidditch bludgers have made recent appearances in our conversations.
You’re just starting to feel self-conscious about your mother hugging and kissing you in front of your friends. At school, when I drop you off, you prefer to throw a smile and a wave my way these days, and I learned the hard way that banging on the glass and blowing kisses is NOT what a hockey player wants his mother to do during practice. I could see your red cheeks through your helmet. I promise, Whit, to try my best not to embarrass you. I’m pretty sure I’ll fail some of the time, but I promise to try.
You’re a very good reader, though finding books you like is a challenge. When immersed in a story you’re interested in, you’ll sit happily and read for thirty minutes or more. When you’re bored by something, it’s a different story (see the relentless questions, above). Right now you’re reading R.L. Stine’s Rotten School series, and you also have an insatiable appetite for non-fiction books about building, rockets, science, and how things work.
You want to be an engineer when you grow up. For years I’ve described you as having an “3D orientation” towards the world, and your continuing passion for LEGOs is just one example of this. You love to do experiments at home with electrical circuits and are beginning to explore small motorized LEGOs. Watching you at work on one of your projects, I’m often hit with a wave of adoration, and in its wake always comes the remembered awareness that another person is an absolute mystery. I wish I could spend an hour inside your head, Whit. I’m confident it’s a technicolor place, with fascinating science experiments and brand-new inventions piled in every corner.
I wish I could convey how much I love you, but I know I can’t. That day when you arrived in a snowstorm, after 4 hours of intense labor that I experienced mainly by myself, feels like yesterday. I was shocked by the fact that you were blond, that you were blue-eyed, and that you were a BOY, and I still wonder at all three of these things every day. I find you inscrutable and extraordinary, hilarious and challenging, beautiful, affectionate, and stubborn. You’re a picky eater, you refuse to drink carbonated beverages (I am interested to see how this plays out in college), you sleep always and exclusively in boxer briefs, you still hold your well-loved monkey (named Beloved) every night, your favorite picture book, that we still read, is Space Boy, and you look an awful lot like pictures of your father as a kid.
My last baby, my only boy, I love you. I cannot imagine my life without you in it. I’ll never stop loving you. No matter what. Happy, happy birthday.