Tag Archives: mothers and sons

A note to my boy, who is NINE today

spaceboyDear Declan,

Now we begin your tenth orbit around the sun. It’s the last year that your age will be identified with a single digit, the closing of your time as a primary student, the beginning of who knows what? You are an ennead of enchanted and perplexing years. Everything is possible.

Nine is beautiful and mysterious. A stitch in time is said to save it, and isn’t that the truth? Dante said there are nine rings of hell, while Tolkien wrote of nine rings of power. There are nine consciousnesses in Buddhism, nine months in human gestation, nine innings in a regulation game of baseball, nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and nine squares on each side of the Rubik’s cube that you are so enamored with these days. Mathematically, it’s a square number, a composite number, a lucky number, a Motzkin number, an exponential factorial and a bunch of other things you seem to be really interested in. It’s the atomic number of Fluorine, which is some pretty scary, toxic stuff. I know, because I once read to you about it at bedtime by your request and thought to myself “if this isn’t a mother’s love, what is?”

When I was pregnant with you I drank water from the Castalian spring on Mount Parnassus in Greece, the consecrated ground of Apollo and the nine muses. Everyone who knows you knows that you have the inspiration of Urania, the muse of astronomy. But those who know you best know that poetry, dancing, music, theater and history give you joy as well. I suspect you will draw encouragement from all nine muses in time, my sweet, sweet boy.

When I asked you what you remembered best from this past year, it was mostly about the world around you. It was things like the confirmation of new element 115, temporarily called “Ununpentium,” which made you dance all over the house when you heard the news. Or the steps toward a unified theory of everything humanity made when it was announced that the signatures of gravitational waves were detected by a team of scientists led by your religion teacher’s brother.

You remember the conversations you have been lucky enough to have with OSU astronomers and physicists and the day you surprised math professors when you discovered a new configuration in their circle-packing game. And that you finally saw meteors one night in Woodstock last August, as one after another streaked the sky.

I remember a lot of things, too. Like the way you thought you’d need my help when you tried ice skating for the first time, but got out there on your own and felt so fast. Last summer we wandered through Manhattan together for the fourth summer in a row and you lit up on the rocks of Central Park, a place so familiar and comfortable to you now. We laid down on the floor of the Guggenheim to look at James Turrell’s installation and the American Museum of Natural History to stare up at the blue whale. I hope we can lay down on the floor of the Louvre or the Uffizi together someday.

I remember when you shook Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s hand sweetly and gently last fall and smiled with your whole head. We took a couple of containers full of nightcrawlers home from his teaching for a “life release” practice and buried them outside of my bedroom window, liberating them from their sentence as fish bait. Almost every creature from the bug world makes you uneasy, but for days after, you spoke to them through the glass.

“I hope you have a good life now, worms,” you told them. “I hope the soil is rich. You’re free!”

You were a d-brane from M-theory for Halloween, which had you lamenting the lack of physicists in the neighborhood on beggar’s night. You researched the possibility of warp drive for your project at the school Interest Fair. Right now, you are learning to knit from a woman who deeply impressed you with her hyperbolic plane made of yarn.

At Christmastime, you were cast as “the voice of God” in a school play and projected your lines like a pro, then sang “Away in a Manger” all by yourself in front of a church packed with people. You are so brave. You made a special book to give to friends and family that you named “Declan’s theories and other things he likes to think about.”

And when it comes to wisdom you are no slouch. Once, when I asked you about how you respond to children at school in a conflict, you were thoughtful about it.

“I try to let people be who they are and hope that they shape themselves into someone kind,” you said, pausing for a moment. “Unless they’re sociopaths.”

Your humor isn’t bad either. You reenacted the birth of the universe as you cracked a glow stick into action one night. As its blue light emerged, you waved it around and said “hey mom – do you know what chemical element is in this thing?” I said I did not.

“It’s hilarium! Because it’s a glow schtick.”

You look out for me. When I took you to see the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, I flinched during the violent parts, so you covered my eyes. I was roller skating too fast for your liking a few weeks ago. “You could get really, really hurt,” you said, and insisted that I slow down and hold your hand for a few laps.

You say thank you in unexpected moments. You try not to take things for granted.

Parenting becomes less and less about the choices I make for you every year. I try to put you in the best places that I can find to feed your thoughtful and curious spirit, but you are making your world happen, finding your own confidence, discovering and expressing your own feelings and convictions. It’s such an honor to witness your becoming.

A friend of mine told me he could see my imprint on you. “You circle all around him like a field of (William) Blake’s angels,” he told me. “He knows, absolutely, that he is loved. It’s safe for him to become who he is.”

God I hope that’s true, now and always.

I know that being your mom has helped me become kinder to my imperfect self, less afraid and more accepting of the life I have, even when it hasn’t gone the way I thought it should. I believe that might make anyone better at loving others.

I love you so, so much Declan and I couldn’t be prouder of how you you are.

Love \infty


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An interdimensional mother-son story


Juniper’s Big Adventure

By Declan and his mom

Declan and I wrote this together by hand, passing the notebook back and forth, each taking a turn at contributing a line or two. He’s excited to share it. We hope you like it. 

Once upon a time, there was a jackal named Juniper, and he loved to bark at birds.

One day a toucan named Alfonso Frederico la Vesta visited him, carrying a mysterious briefcase.

Juniper attacked, as usual.

Alfonso Frederico la Vesta bopped Juniper on the head with his briefcase, which exploded into 100,000 pieces of glitter and 600 silver balloons.

Juniper hadn’t a ghost of an idea what was happening. He ran away.

The balloons followed him. The glitter swirled into a massive shiny funnel cloud.

After a while, the funnel cloud reached and picked up the jackal. He flew up into the sky and bounced on top of the funnel cloud like Super Mario™ for 317 miles. Then the funnel cloud flattened and lowered down to the ground.

Juniper landed in a strange place that had a chocolate marsh and trees that were made of staple guns and jigsaws.  They started to grow rapidly as the jackal came down.

Out of nowhere, a glowy castle emerged from the chocolate marsh. It had a moat that was made of liquid rainbow Skittles™. If you tried to swim across, the castle would catapult TNT jawbreakers, which exploded in a hot gooey mess. The castle seemed to enjoy targeting a particularly cranky bunny rabbit that was practicing ballet on the other side of the moat.

Juniper fell onto his bottom in awe, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. His eyes rolled back into his head for a moment.

A drawbridge made of Jolly Rancher™ candy dropped in front of Juniper that seemed to be just for him. As he walked into the castle, a giant Burple* monster with polka dots — which actually turned out to be UFO warp engines that were friendly — appeared.

One of the UFOs approached Juniper. The warp engine smiled at him, stuck out its tongue and licked the jackal on the nose, giving him the ability to make the moment become marshmallows. These marshmallows had tritanium in them, which made you fit and healthy.

“Wow, the present moment sure is sticky,” said Juniper. “But I feel like a million pronghorn bucks that have eaten unicorn milk that was impregnated by an interdimensional creature.**  Thanks!!!”

And so he went into the 2, 248th dimension, where everything flew by pooping rainbows from dimension zero.

“I feel kind of hungry for a pork chop,” thought Juniper.

Just at that moment, a cardboard foot flew into his mouth, but it tasted like lemonade.

“Delicious!” he thought.

Then Willy Wonka™ appeared and handed Juniper an infinite, updated version of his meal gum. He chomped it in his jaws and tasted the most delicious pork chop with applesauce that he had ever tasted. There was also steamed broccoli, a glass of high-pulp, fresh squeezed, not-from-concentrate orange juice and rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.  He turned the shape of each food, but quickly sprang back into jackal form.

He decided to make a video/life portal to the Cookieverse™. He was so full of rhubarb pie, having just been rhubarb pie, that he simply gazed at the cookies lovingly.

Reluctantly (although he knew he could come back), he went out of there and onto television.

Whoosh! Juniper felt his body flicker. Suddenly he was transported onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise-E, next to Lieutenant Commander Data. He blinked and looked down and saw that he was wearing a red Starfleet shirt from the original series.  They were searching for the Borg.

“I wonder if this means I am nothing more than an incidental character – an infinitesimal membrane – in the universe…?” thought Juniper.


* A color that only exists in alternate dimensions.

** The unicorn milk is what was impregnated here, not the unicorn.

The collage/illustration is also a TZT & Declan collaboration.

P.S. Declan was very enthusiastic about writing this story, so please feel free to share it or leave him a comment if you are at all inclined.

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It’s such a good feeling

My son and I have been watching old episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood lately. It’s much easier than I realized to get engrossed in the land of make-believe and film footage of the crayon factory as an adult. But it’s even easier to rest in Fred’s compassion.

“He seems like a question answerer, conscious child idea conceiver Carl Sagan,” said Declan, looking for (and finding) the right words.

The man understood how hard it can be to be a person, especially a child. That’s been tough work for us lately, so I’m glad to be parenting in a digital age that can take us back in time.

Whether he was singing about liking people for true reasons, or his daily celebration of the fact that we’re alive and growing inside, he had this way of creating safety and space. Even though he has passed, I’m amazed to see that the shows still hold that power for my son.

In one episode, someone in the land of make-believe had invented a machine that could see into people, see something true about them, like the warmth of their heart or their love of chair-making.

When it was over, and the camera began panning above Mr. Roger’s colorful neighborhood houses and toy cars, Declan snuggled his face into my neck and pretended to look into me.

“There is lots and lots and lots of love,” he said. “And lots and lots of art, writing especially. Buddhism. The ocean. Me.”

He stopped, leaned back, and smiled at that thought for a moment. Then he snuggled back in and continued.

“All the art you’ve ever seen in museums. All the music you’ve ever listened to. Not just me but everybody you’ve ever known or loved. All the trees and flowers you’ve ever seen or smelled. All the places you’ve lived. Dogs and dolphins and other animals you loved. Blue sky. Clouds. Rain. Storms. Hurricanes. Your reflections.”

“My reflections?”

“Yes – both kinds. The ones you’ve actually seen and.. your thoughts.”

And that one. That one from my son, inspired by Fred Rogers. That’s a reflection I want to keep forever.


More Fred, because even if you think you outgrew him, you didn’t:

His touching 1969 Senate hearing testimony in defense of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which includes his reading of “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

You can watch or listen to most of his songs on the PBS web site.

Fred’s goodbye on his final program, which is especially sweet for parents who grew up watching him.

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I don’t sleep so well. Every other night, I find myself awake at odd hours to warm a mug of milk, stretch my hips or play racquetball with difficult thoughts to try and find my way back into slumber. Sometimes I succeed easily and wake up refreshed, other times it’s an all-night battle.

My son hates to be late to school. He got that from me. He also hates being in certain parts of the house alone.

I was dragging the other morning after a particularly rough night.  He was dressed and ready for breakfast, fully aware that I still had his lunch to pack. And he was impatient.

“Mom…. MOM,” he repeated insistently, agitating the carpet with his booted feet.

“I know I’m slow this morning, but nagging me isn’t going to help me go any faster,” I snapped.

I watched the tone of my voice sting his sweet six-year-old cheeks.  His nose twitched, his lip quivered and his eyes welled up.  One fat tear began to roll out of his eye.

I had him in my arms before it fell.  I picked him up, wrangled his legs around my waist and held him close.

“That’s the last thing I wanted to do,” I whispered to him, flashing on images of him being at school, doubting even for a moment that I love him absolutely; picking apart my coldness in therapy sessions as an adult.

“I didn’t mean to sound so mean. It had nothing to do with you,” I said. “Mommy is very tired and not feeling good. Usually when people sound mad or mean it’s because they feel bad, not because of anything you did. Do you understand that?”

His face was snuggled into my neck, moist and warm. I felt him nod.

“It makes me cry that I made you cry,” I whispered. “I am sorry.”

I held him there for several minutes, rocking his body back and forth. He stayed close, patting my hair. He calmed down much sooner than I did.

We were late.  It didn’t matter.

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A note to my boy, who is six today

Dear Declan,

You are six today. Six!

That’s halfway to twelve.

That’s one-third of the way to 18.

You’ve grown so much this year. Taller. Wiser. Kinder.  More confident, and though I didn’t think it was possible, more curious. Aggressively curious, even. And infectiously thrilled by every new thing that you learn.

You wander around the house, wondering aloud, asking questions I don’t know the answers to, like “Why is Qatar so small?” Or quasi-rhetorical ones, like “3.5 billion years isn’t a very long time for life to take to evolve, is it mom?” (Props to Carl Sagan.)  You quiz me to find out if I know which continents use the most electricity, or sit up with a start, just moments after waking, and tell me “I just got what plasma actually is.”

On Mother’s Day, you explained how the Himalayas were formed to three separate audiences, how they are folded and getting taller every year. No wonder I got so excited when I found a DNA stencil at the craft store yesterday.

We’ve traded in bedtime storybooks for brief tomes about Silicon, Chlorine, Fluorine & Iodine, and Sulfur. Then you always manage to extract sciencey, psychedelic stories from my imagination in which you are the star (sometimes of the plasma variety) before you fall asleep.  Thankfully, you return to storybooks now and then when I grow weary of molecules. When there are pictures or short chapters, you do most of the bedtime reading.

All that, and I can still say silly things like “hey, my son turned into a pink punch balloon” at the dining room table, watch you peek over said balloon and say to me in earnest, “no mom, I’m right here.”

Earlier in the school year, you started asking me six times four, three times seven, nine times ten from the back seat of the car, using your fingers like the Montessori chains.  “I’m not sure if it’s safe for mommy to do math and drive,” I told you.  You kept testing my multiplication skills anyway.

A few weeks ago, you sat down at the dining room table with me and asked “what is 122 times 365?” I thought you were just seeing what I could do in my head, but you had a greater purpose. I leaned on my phone calculator for an answer. You repeated the number I read — 44, 530 — and looked thoughtful for a moment before you declared: “that’s how many days the oldest person who ever lived was alive.”

I am always a little stunned, although I shouldn’t be at this point, at the things you understand – like the kind of math you have to do in order to find that number. And then I’m a little sad, because I also understand why the length of a life might be of such interest to you. You watched your Grandfafa fade away last summer, and bravely read a book at his funeral.  The last year has taken us to a plethora of hospitals and funeral homes. You know I spend every Saturday morning with someone else who will be passing soon. You dive-bomb me with hugs and kisses the moment you sense any sadness.

Sometimes, I am overcome with worry around 4 a.m., feeling this is all much too much for you – deaths, illnesses, separated parents – all this while you’re figuring out how to keep your feet clean in the muddy world of playground politics. But we’re good about talking right now, you and me. We share and work through things.  We feel sad when we need to. We rebound. It feels like most of what we do when we are together is laugh.

I try to remember to stop and breathe you in the way I did when you were a baby, to breathe in these fleeting moments when I can still carry you, still snuggle you so that you can feel little and safe.

The real reason I imagine that you want to know how many days are possible in a lifetime is because you are busy calculating how to make each one count. And you do. You really do. More than anyone I have ever met.

Declan, I love you so spectacularly much that my heart can hardly stand it.

Happy sixth birthday.

I love you infinity,


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The perfect heart

The other night, Declan decided he wanted to make one big special valentine for his father. I pulled out a sheet of paper, folded it and drew half of a heart for him. It was art paper, so cutting it was tough. He switched scissors a couple of times. He got frustrated. Then he took a couple of deep breaths and finished it. He spread it open on the table and looked at it proudly.

He wrote his dad’s full name on the big heart. He filled the space around it with rocket stickers and gems and glitter. Then he tried to draw a heart. It was sweet and soft and curvy, like dough that swells beyond the edges your cookie cutter promised when it bakes.

He hated it. He hit it with his fist.

I loved it. I thought it was so precious and perfectly four, perfectly him.

He covered it with a dog sticker and tried again. He didn’t like the new heart either, so he covered it with another dog sticker, ran into the living room and threw himself into the couch cushions.

I tried to reason with him that I knew his daddy would love it, that I could see it was a heart and that there were lots of kinds of hearts. He was frustrated. He told me no. It needed to be perfect. It needed to look “right.”

At his school, they often ask him about his feelings and put them in a note. I started writing one to him. He watched my hand and circled me.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m writing you a note to tell you how I feel,” I told him.

“What does it say?”

“Dear Declan,

Every time you write, it does not need to be perfect. Whatever you write is something I love because it is perfectly Declan. I love you. I want you to be kind to yourself.


He looked at me calmly, unmoved.

“Let me have that for a minute,” he said.

I handed him the notebook and he carried it into another room, grabbing a marker on his way. I heard it flop onto the floor. I heard the sound of the pen on the paper. He came right back and handed me the notebook, a big pink X over my entire note.

“I didn’t like it so I put an X on it,” he explained. “Because I want everything to look right.”

I fought back feeling hurt by his x-mark and wrote what he said down on the note. I told him that I understand that feeling. I do.

I understand that feeling so well.

Then he went and got another piece of paper and asked me to make a heart that he could look at while he drew another. I made a small one and handed him the marker, reminding him of the advice his teacher gave us about trying to hold a pencil steady: “Pinch it.”

He took the notebook behind our piano and brought a new heart back to me. It was puffy too. Puffy and curvy and beautiful and, to my eye, not terribly different than the ones he had rejected.

“This one looks right,” he said. “See?”

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We went to a little boy’s birthday party at a park this weekend. Every kid got a cool Styrofoam sword that made sounds and flashed red lights for showing up. Declan hid under my shirt before accepting the gift, but once it was cast into his hands, he took off and began battling with two other boys like a samurai.

They whacked the Styrofoam until the plastic straws that held the lights inside cracked and fell out, and the blades got noodly. They laughed and yelled and then the smallest of the three got whacked in the face. They all lowered their weapons and took a step backwards.

“That was too rough!” The boy yelled, rubbing his cheek.

“I’m sorry,” the boy who landed the blow offered.

“Are you okay?” he and Declan chorused. “Do you still want to play?”

“I do. Just not so rough.”

They agreed, and resumed fighting with a little less edge. Soon, Declan started dying on the field instead, then gave up the battle all together before deciding that he’d rather eat fruit salad and chat with some of these new, four-year-old friends.

Honestly, my son is better at conflict resolution than I am.

I learn so much by watching the way he is in the world.

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Baby’s first punch in the head

We spent some time on the playground today after camp – a common ritual for us. Declan spent much of the time playing spirited games with a group of kids, during which a crater in the dirt became a massive, sucking black hole they had to escape from (Dec’s idea) which became a giant’s hand that they had to escape from (another boy’s idea) because the giant would throw them into the black hole.

After most of the kids were out of mortal peril, Declan approached an older, bigger boy who was mid-play and started talking to him, putting his hands on the toy he was using. The boy seemed to have a problem with this. After a few words of protest, he reached over and popped Dec on the forehead with a downward fist.

Declan took a step backward.

“Why did you do that?” he said, and retreated to another part of the playground as I started to swoop in, as did the other boy’s mommy. I saw Dec’s lip quiver as he walked away, blinking back tears. I asked if he was okay and he fell silent, running his fingers over the chain-link fence. After a moment or two of not responding to me, or to the other mom’s questions about whether or not he was okay, he turned to me, and asked, quietly:

“Mommy, was _____ trying to hit someone that was behind me?”

“No, I… I think he meant to hit you,” I said, honestly.

“Why? Why would he do that?” he asked, clearly hurt by my answer.

“I don’t know, honey… I think he was having a hard time finding his words. But I think it’s good you walked away. No one should ever hurt you. You can say ‘don’t do that’ or ‘stop.’ Or get a grown-up to help you. You have the right to keep your body safe.”

He didn’t want to talk to the other boy about how he felt, or say anything much at all to anyone after that. The other boy and his mother left. Dec walked alone in swervy lines and ignored a littler boy who came up to him and asked “do you need someone to play with?” the kind of invitation that Dec is usually receptive to. Finally, he dragged me by my hand, with a “let’s go mom.” And so we did.

We went down the street to get some lunch, coincidentally, at the restaurant where the other boy and his mom had also retreated. Declan pointed this out to me without any hint of fear or animosity, just another one of those “wow, that person likes something I like/does something I do” discoveries, which seem to be such an endless source of fascination for him lately.

I’m kind of glad that his reaction after his initial hurt feelings was in the spectrum of “maybe this didn’t have to do with me.” It’s not that I want him to be naive or easy to blindside, but I do think that when we believe that the world – or particular people – are out to get us, and we behave as though we believe that, we invite discord and bring unhappiness upon ourselves. We turn another person’s bad day or their poor communication skills or their lack of confidence or their aversion to orange shirts into something that’s entirely about us when none, or very little of it, actually is. On the whole, I think I’ve seen more damage done in reaction to perceived harms than I have in premeditated ones, at least in my personal experience.

The first year of preschool has taught me a lot. I know and care about and have tried to understand the behavior of a lot of young children. Six months ago, I think I would have had a hard time seeing another kid hit mine without wanting to throw that boy or girl over the fence. Today, I honestly felt hurt for both boys immediately, and for the other mom, who had been in the middle of sharing a bagel with me and telling me about some truly hard things that had been happening in their family when it happened. With so many people around, I hated that she might feel judged. (Moms judging other moms harshly or second-guessing their parenting abilities – I know it’s common fodder for the blogosphere, but I may have to take a crack at it sometime. It makes me so uncomfortable.)

Tonight, Declan amazed me just before he went to sleep, when he suddenly cracked open about his whole day. While the incident left him confused, he was more upset over an argument he had with a friend at camp that he’s known for some time.

“He doesn’t know how to use words, he just yells at me when he doesn’t like something. Today we were just arguing and arguing,” he told me. “Why do people get mad when they have different ideas? Why do people just want to be left alone sometimes?”

I reminded him about the little boy who asked him to play when he was feeling bad today, and how he didn’t really respond. I told him that sometimes people need time to figure out what they are feeling. Or that maybe they are feeling bad because of something we have no idea about – like they pinched their finger on the tool bench or had a nightmare the night before or are coming down with a bad case of diarrhea and aren’t feeling so good.

To which he responded: “why do people get diarrhea if they eat snow?”

Ah, life’s biggest questions, percolating daily.

We also watched this today and laughed a whole lot.

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A note to my boy, who is four today…

My little boy is four today. Four.

I feel like I’m supposed to say that I can’t believe he’s four already, and in some ways that’s true, but mostly it isn’t. I feel like I’ve been awake in motherhood, probably more than any other role I’ve played in my life. I’ve been present with him in these years. Lately I’ve had to remind myself what I was doing in the others, to seek out evidence of who I was before.

When I look at pictures of that chubby-cheeked mystery of a baby I gave birth to four years ago, I may feel nostalgic to hold that tiny body or dress him in those little clothes, but I don’t see a person that I miss. I see someone I’ve felt privileged to know and excited to watch unfold. Yesterday, for a moment when we hugged each other and he kissed me sweetly, I said, haphazardly, “I love your smooches and hugs so much. I hope you’ll always have smooches and hugs for me.” He looked at me strangely, and kind of sympathetically before he said “I will always hug you.” I thought, well, he won’t, but that will be another time and place and this is today. Or maybe he will. He is a master of surprises.

In true mother blogging fashion, here are some thoughts I wanted to write down for my son, to let him know some of the things that I see when I look at him, things that I’m coming to understand are just a fragment of who he is.

Dear Declan,
You are four today. You are amazing. You are tall and healthy and strong and kind and warm and well-loved by a remarkable number of people. This is the last week of your first year of preschool, where you surprised everyone by learning all the names of your classmates within the first couple of weeks, and then started on the parents. You knew the names of several of the moms and dads before I did.

You know more of the neighbors than I do, too. They ask you to eat dinner with them and plant beans in their yards because they enjoy your company. How lucky they are to learn so much about the solar system and the workings of the digestive system from you. How lucky we are to live on a block with adults who see and try to understand and appreciate you for you.

So far, you haven’t met a word you weren’t willing to try to use in a sentence. You sneak sweets at your two grandmothers’ houses and then tell me you know they aren’t nutritious. You looked at the painting a four-year-old friend gave you as a birthday gift last night and became delighted all over again that it’s now yours. “It’s very expensive,” you told me, I think because you understand the word to mean something you really, really like that’s hard to get. And then: “We make expensive paintings at our house sometimes too, right mommy?”

You’re becoming a Dadaist. You make jokes like “Why did the chicken cross the kitchen?” Answer: “Tweet tweet!” and you ring people’s bellies like doorbells until they say “Who’s there?” which you answer with nonsense words or silence. When we’re home together and you want my attention, you bust out with a nonsequitur like “a wild purple pansy has five petals.” You never hesitate when you name a new stuffed animal. Your teddy bear is Baljoulth. Your cat Pipapupa. Your dog Shoop. When I think you won’t possibly remember the name you concocted five days later, you always do. Silly, as you say, makes you a man.

You are compassionate. You’re a little uncertain about bugs in general, but when we went to the butterfly exhibit this year, you bravely approached the chrysalis case and watched some new wings fluttering behind glass. As we got ready to enter the biome where they fly freely, we heard multiple warnings not to touch them, especially with the palms of our hands, or they could get hurt. “What would happen?” you asked me. I tried to explain how the oils on our hands could weigh them down. “What if one lands on me and I hurt it?” You asked. Your outfit had no pockets, so I suggested folding your arms. As we walked in, we saw a butterfly on the path ahead of us, struggling and unable to fly. “What happened to it?” you asked me, tight sadness creeping into your voice. “Did someone touch it?” This was too much for your heart to bear and you buried yourself in my chest, hands clasped together, and ordered us to leave. You couldn’t bear to hurt one yourself. (Ants and spiders are, of course, a different story.)

You are kind. You sidle up to my elderly stepfather, your Grandfafa, whose hand tremors and shakes more each time we visit, and insist that he partake in the joy you know as Crocodile Dentist. You pat his knee. You dance for him. You talk to him about the things you’ve learned lately and try to get him to throw a foam football with you from the armchair he rarely leaves. You demand that Giga get him a bib at dinner. You kiss and hug him. Aging and debilitating illness can be scary, so I think we would try and understand if you were afraid, but so far, you are not. You are just light in the day of a person whose life is darkly clouding.

You rock a party hat. Or any hat. Or sunglasses. Or the hand-me-down green jean jacket that your best bud at school gave you. Another mom at school admires your sense of fashion. “He gets it,” she told me one day. “You wear one signature item with confidence – that’s the essence of style.”

Your curiosity is epic. Some people marvel at your intelligence, but it’s your questions and your imagination and the connections you make that routinely bowl me over. Every time I think they might wane, or that your interests may shift to playground endeavors, you surprise me by returning to space – outer and inner, turning so many of the perceptions that I had often thought safe inside out. Your thinking is magical and scientific. I can’t imagine why it is that you notice when we come home on different roads than we took to our destination. I don’t know why you always notice when we pass the confluence of Columbus’ two rivers. You can find our house from space on Google Earth, along with your school, Perkins Observatory, COSI and the Statehouse.

We are thinking of going to Chicago this summer and while we have museums and a planetarium in mind, the thing you most want to see is the patch of grass where the man sleeps on the blanket in Powers of Ten. This is the perspective you can’t seem to get enough of – these journeys from our little patch of earth to the edges of the known universe, and all the way back into us, where cells and atoms and chromosomes and DNA seem just as infinite. (By the way, you just played a space trivia board game with your dad meant for seven year olds and you completely hosed him in the first round.)

The only accurate expectation I had of parenthood was that your influence on me would be as great or even stronger than the one I had on you. In a culture where I think too many people talk at or down to kids instead of listening to and speaking with them, you manage to bring so many people to your level. I watched as people came to wish you well the other day – adults and children who took such great care to give you heartfelt gifts that reflected the person they see. You were gleeful and unbelieving that all of that stuff was for meant for you. You were as appreciative and excited as any gift-giver could be and even an attentive host who made certain his friends were festooned with a lei. You sow the seeds of kindness and wonder so naturally.

I can’t wait to find out what else we get to learn from you as we enter your fifth revolution around the sun. I love you so much, my sweet boy.

Happy birthday.


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