You are 8 today. Eight.
Eight is the atomic number of oxygen. There are eight spokes on the Wheel of Dharma, which symbolize the interdependent principles on the path to self-liberation. It’s the billiard ball that you don’t want to sink, the number of drivers required in every Mario Kart race and the second magic number in nuclear physics (I don’t really know what that means, but you probably will soon).
Kick eight on its side and you have the infinity symbol, which suits you, my boy. There seems to be no end to the things you already know and continually thirst to understand. I can hardly imagine what you will teach me in the future. Your mind is limitless.
Infinity is one of our favorite words. We make the symbol with our hands. It’s how much we say we love each other every day. At the classroom doorway or snuggled up at bedtime, we whisper to each other: I love you infinity.
Every year, when I write you one of these letters for your birthday, I seem to tell you how much you love babies and dogs. You still do. Sometimes when we can’t get rid of a particularly scary thought, we spend time looking at Cute Overload, where there are babies and dogs. And baby dogs. Baby pigs too. Hedgehogs, even.
I also always seem to tell you how kind you are. And you still are. To your Giga, to other kids – to everyone, really – but especially to your mom. You bolt in my direction and fling your arms around my waist like you haven’t seen me in weeks every time that I pick you up from school. If I shed a tear in your presence, your arms are wrapped around my neck in under a second. You invent secret handshakes for us. And you still blow kisses to me from the back seat. When you sang at a concert two weeks ago, they told everyone it was time to stop waving at their parents. You beamed right in my direction and winked at me instead.
Some great things have happened during your eighth tour around the sun. We drove to Alabama and joined my dad (you call him Papa), for Space Camp, a place where grown men who hold day jobs as accountants or computer technicians can safely wear flight suits without an iota of shame. We did space shuttle and International Space Station simulations, launched rockets and nearly had a heart attack watching your grandfather spin inside of a geodesic human eggbeater contraption.
Last November I took you with me, like I always do, as I exercised my right to vote at the early voting center. I snapped an image of you with a voting sticker on your palm, which landed – by way of an old college friend – in the hands of an ABC news producer. The day after the election, your sweet face moved slowly across the screen during Good Morning America. When I told you that four million people watch that show, your face went pale. But all of your color returned when you told your friends at school what had happened. They made you feel like four million bucks.
We’ve done some empirical research together, like trying to figure out whether Dr. John or Tom Waits has a “growlier” voice. And we talked about all kinds of song lyrics at length because nary a word can get past you. It can get pretty tricky at times. Trying to explain the meaning of your grandmother’s “ART SLUT” mug felt particularly tricky. But we seem to have agreed that there are no bad words just bad ways to use them – particularly if it’s to inflict pain on another – so “stupid” and “jerk” are as bad as any.
You also played a lot of Minecraft. And you spoke a lot of Minecraft to in-the-know peers as well as several confused elders. You speak Mario, too, but a lot of adults understand that.
You grew our your hair out like a medieval knight, which seems to have made one gown-up after another believe that you are a girl. But it doesn’t seem to bother you. One winter afternoon, a barista in a Downtown coffeeshop brought you a cup of hot chocolate and referred to us as “ladies.”
“I am a boy,” you told him clearly, looking him in the eye. Then, seeing his face begin to redden, you quickly added: “It’s okay. I’m not upset.”
“I admire that attitude!” He said to you, giving you a big thumbs up.
We had some down moments too, but our struggles were much more ordinary than the string of deaths and losses we experienced when you were five and six. When I asked you about things that you felt had been important about being seven the other day, you told me that you don’t have as many fears as you used to. You’ve been working on those.
The other night I shared some of my fears with you. One of them is how scared I get sometimes that I’m not doing a good enough job at being your mom.
You grabbed my hand and pulled it to your heart. “You shouldn’t,” you told me sternly. “You are.”
The librarian at your school stopped me one day to tell me about a report you had done about birds. There was a question on a worksheet about mother birds and their young.
“If mother birds are like my mother,” you had told her, “then they must protect their babies. My mom always does everything she can to protect me and make me safe.”
Declan, somewhere in the time since you made me a mom, I began to learn and really understand that we always have the power within us to make others feel good or valued or heard or seen, and that actively practicing living that way always elevates us. We always have the power to make people feel bad, too, but that’s easy, especially if we’re careless, and that usually ends up hurting us more than anyone else.
Love and kindness are things I have to practice to do well, but you make them seem effortless. You are a tender, gentle soul. Even when you’re whirling and jumping and seem not to be paying attention, I find that you pick up more detail about those around you than most people. You don’t ask for much, materially speaking. Your most formal, serious requests to me have been for time and attention. You are grateful for what you have.
You make me feel like being your mom is something I’m pretty good at. Whenever my life gets rough or painful, I see how loved you feel and I feel like a success.
I love you infinity, my sweet, sweet son.