The certainty and physicality of you were evident–your beach-ball perch on my lower abdomen made people reach out and touch you. You were charismatic and magnetic, even in utero.
Eight years ago, I filled my brain with questions surrounding your birth, your delivery and your arrival to this spot on our spinning, kaleidoscope of life. Who would you be? What would it be like to be a mother to you, a son?
The eve before your birth, Daddy and I drove to the hospital with our potent anticipation of your arrival as our companion. Heat filled the heavy, June, Arkansas night. Eight years ago, my body housed you, fed you, supported you and kept you warm. I felt each movement and turn.
Eight years ago, you entered my world and lodged yourself securely into my soul, becoming an anchor whose presence I hadn’t previously known was missing. Oh, I thought as I reached out and took you from the doctor’s hands, as I saw your scrawny body for the first time, Oh, you. There you are.
Recently, someone asked me to describe you. How, I wondered, do I wrap the essence of you into a byte-sized blurb?
Your curiosity and drive to understand the workings of the world are powerful. If I could shrink myself down and follow the contours of your creative, cerebral activity, I would. Any random afternoon will find you building a thing–a sword, a contraption– or breaking down a thing–a box, a pencil, a container, a lego structure. When you sit down to create a painting or drawing, when I ask what you’re making, your reply is, “I’m not sure. I’m just making it.” The results are always unique and usually beautiful.
You spend long stretches looking out the window, quietly thinking and then, suddenly, you’ll ask me a question such as, “Who was the first person on Earth?” or, “When you look at this wall, do you see the same things, do they look the same to you, as they do to me?”, or “What does an ovary do again?”
I remember once we were in a children’s hospital waiting room, awaiting a meeting with a doctor. You were two, maybe two and a half, and you kept watching a teenager who sat in the waiting room, too. This boy’s head hung down, his chin almost rested on his chest. His shoulders slumped, rounding his back in defeat. You, Henry, without even looking at me first, waddled over to this boy. You, in your round, sturdy body walked over the industrial, low pile carpet and to him. You stood right in front of him, in the stark, fluorescent light. The boy did nothing. You walked closer, so calmly (and trust me, calm really wasn’t your thing at this age), and you placed your chubby, dimpled hands on each of his brooding knees. You watched him until he slowly lifted his head, heavy with his angst and mood. Your eyes met. You, Henry, I swear you pierced his dark cloud and gave him a moment to smile, even if it was the slightest, shruggiest smile I’d seen. You gave him kindness.
You carry this in your heart and your eyes and you pass it along to most people you meet.
When I was a young, new mother, I thought my job was to protect Abby and you from harm. This primordial instinct kicked-in before you were born, when you and I coexisted in symbiotic togetherness. At that point, I could shield you from the bold world. Then you were born and the brazen world loomed. I shielded you from sun, bugs, infections, poisons, accidents, carcinogens and rough clothes. I provided a safe haven, a place for you to come into yourself. But now, I see that I only had part of my job description correct.
I know, now, that I can only, and should only, protect you to a point. Yes, I still protect you from obvious harm. But I have to let you live life. My job, now, is to help you navigate the inevitable bumps of life. The hurts. The heartaches. The disappointments. Sharp words, worry and friendship conundrums. Fights with your sister. Fights with yourself. It’s all normal and while this may seem counter-intuitive, it is GOOD. I am going to hold your hand as long as I can and teach you that this is all an essential part of life.
Imagine a bruise, tender to your touch. Purpley bluish evidence of a strike or blow. It is an oddly shaped a spot to be avoided as it heals. It morphs from blue to yellow, indicating its healing progress. Sometimes, you’ll see the bruises on your body but other times, the bruises will be internal, seen only by your heart, given credence by your emotions. I promise that while these may take longer to heal, they, too, will yield fresh, tender renewal. Yes, you will hurt. Sometimes, you will be brought to your knees. And much to my maternal chagrin, I cannot, and should not, protect you from the very things that will strengthen and embolden you.
Yes, these experiences will bring you bruises. But they’ll also yield tenderness and grace. Your seventh year provided many opportunities for you to learn this very lesson. To hurt, heal, and grow.
A move away from the only home you’ve known to a new city, school, house and friends. New everything. Then, this winter, a skiing accident and a spiral tibial fracture, yielding eight weeks of crutches and just as many of physical therapy. Not only did your leg break, but you bruised your spirit a bit.
And now. Just days after your eighth birthday celebrations have ended, I want you to know this: I see you. I see the strength in your stance. I see experience and wonder in your eyes. I see a stronger, more able-bodied version of you. Not in spite of your experiences–but BECAUSE of them. And you.
I love you forever.
Thanks to my friend Lindsey for the inspiration to write a birthday letter post.