Nine. Nine! Seriously? I’m know that I am the world’s most ridiculous cliche, but honestly, I can’t believe it. Seems like moments ago, that dark night when I labored with you alone, knowing you were coming, swaying side to side as I leaned over our bed, reading Ina May, Grace sleeping quietly next door. When Dad got home he recognized the gravity of the situation and hurried us to the hospital. He wasn’t wrong: my wish to have you at home would have come true, though inadvertently, if he hadn’t done that. You were born 25 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.
You, with your head of blond hair, your blue eyes, and your incontrovertible boy-ness. All three were shocks to me, I admit, after your dark-haired, dark-eyed sister arrived two years before. But you were born on inauguration day and we brought you home in a historic blizzard, and you’ve been a diplomatic lover of both attention and snow ever since.
This is the last year we’ll have someone in our house who’s in the single digits. The sheer fact of that takes my breath away. For better or for worse, you’ll always be my last child, and therefore, my baby. I still like to carry you to bed once in a while, and while your long, gangly legs bang against mine you still turn your face against my neck, and the ghost of years past floats over us like gauze.
Years ago I wrote about how the last vestiges of babyhood clung to you, and now it’s your little boy-ness that does that, as the angles and planes of your young man’s face emerge alongside your passions and predispositions. We’re beginning to glimpse who you’re going to be, Whit, and I adore who I see. I never doubted I would, but the personality you’ve begun to display, in its technicolor wisdom, humor, and curiosity, is more dazzling than I ever imagined.
Above all else, you are fascinated by how things work. The earliest sign of this was in the Orange Room in nursery school, when you crouched under the sink in the bathroom and felt the hot and cold water running through the pipes. When asked what you want to be when you grow up you answer always, and immediately, “an engineer.” Unsurprisingly, your favorite question is “why.” You chose Leonardo da Vinci for your 3rd grade biography project, and you said he was important because he “inspired people to make new things.”
You love experiments of all kinds, and we recently spent a happy Saturday afternoon in the kitchen doing Chemistry projects. Your favorite books are about the periodic table, Physics, and Indiana Jones. You were Indiana for Halloween. A few days before Halloween I overheard you answering a friend who asked what you were dressing up as. Your friend did not know who Indiana Jones was. “He’s an archaeologist,” you responded, your tone conveying that archaeology was the height of cool. May you keep this conviction: I happen to agree with you that science is as cool as it gets. This past fall you and your best friend participated in a Lego/robotics after school activity that culminated in a competition. I have rarely been prouder of you than when you walked to the table to demonstrate your Lego robot, proudly wearing your “thinking cap” (a metal kitchen strainer with various things attached to it).
On weekend mornings, when Dad and I sleep in a bit, you often creep downstairs and climb into our bed. You still love to snuggle and when I tuck you in sometimes you scoot over and pat the bed next to you, asking me without words to lie down with you for a few minutes. You still ask me to do the Ghostie Dance at bedtime and to give you a sweet dreams head rub, and I do, before whispering a final “I’ll see you in the morning,” giving you our secret sign that means I love you, and turning on your lullabye CD.
There’s a seam of sensitivity running through you that reminds me of, well, me. You and Grace share this, this predilection towards sentimentality, this way of being in the world that manifests in both awestruck wonder and deep, surprising sadness. You are keenly aware of time’s passage and you express your feelings easily and fluently. Recently you told me that you loved me more than books and legos combined. You can also be irascible and crabby when you feel hurt or wounded but can’t quite articulate why. One of the things I worry most about is protecting this part of you in a world where I know boys are told not to show weakness or, in fact, emotion at all.
Your innate spontaneity actually flourishes in an environment where you can rely on order and routine. You often ask me at night to tell you what tomorrow’s “map of the day” is. The traditions that have worn grooves into our family’s calendar year comfort and delight you, from Storyland to trimming the Christmas tree to Sunday night family dinners. You have a mind like a steel trap or an elephant: you never forget anything. Constantly, you refer back to things that I said or did months and months ago, often small things I’ve forgotten and can’t believe you remember. You’re also profoundly thoughtful. When you walk in the door after school you ask, “how was that meeting you had today, mummy?” and when we saw my parents for the first time after Pops’ death, you looked my father in the eye and said, “Poppy, I’m sorry your father died.”
You play hockey and baseball and tennis, with varying degrees of passion and enthusiasm depending on the day. You’re not very tall, and are sometimes mistaken for a younger boy. You correct other people when they say “less” instead of fewer or “good” instead of “well,” or if they use an extraneous “like.” Your nickname at school is the Grammar Police and I know where that comes from. I’m both proud and irritated by your habit. Recently you corrected me, and you were right, and you crowed in the backseat, thrilled: “I don’t get to correct you very often, Mummy!”
You sleep with a stuffed monkey that you’ve had since birth clutched to your chest. His name is Beloved, and he has a twin, because when you were a baby I bought a second monkey, just in case. Every morning you line Beloved, Beloved’s brother, and a small stuffed teddy bear that is very special up on your pillow. Almost every day I walk into your room and look at the three animals, lined up and comfortable, awaiting your return. The sight of them, against your robot-print sheets, brings tears to my eyes. Every single time.
My last baby, my first boy, my mysterious, unknown and yet deeply known son, I love you, always and forever,