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A Letter to My Littlest Son on His 8th Birthday
People told me the days are long, but the years are short—and now I understand.
You wake up at 6:30 and come downstairs to the living room, where I am drinking tea and reading a book in the fleeting solitude of the early morning hours. You announce that you’re now eight and you feel “totally different and definitely taller.” Perhaps I look skeptical because you bend your knees to demonstrate where you were yesterday—and it is substantially shorter.
“But I feel sad, too,” you tell me, cozying up for a snuggle. “I liked being seven. It was the best year, and now it’ll never come back again. I might even cry today.”
I tell you that’s OK, that even the happiest of feelings come with mixed emotions. I think about the words I just read in Susan Cain’s new book, Bittersweet, that very morning: “What once was will never be again.”
As if reading my thoughts, you whisper, “Goodbye, seven. Hello, eight.”
The contemplative mood does not last. You inspect the heap of presents on the dining table, but agree to wait to open them until the rest of the family is awake. Then you grab Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from the shelf and say, “Maybe I can read faster now that I’m eight.” A few minutes later you admit that your reading speed has not been affected by turning eight. You interrupt me to read aloud some of Fred and George Weasley’s antics. You ask me how to pronounce Alicia Spinnet and sarcastically.
Then, unable to focus on reading for long, you randomly ask for a joke, so I wrack my brain and say, “What’s black and white and read all over?” thinking, surely, you’d complain and ask for something less lame. But to my surprise, you haven’t heard it before. Answer number one (“a newspaper”) earns a nod of understanding. But when I repeat the joke again, you’re riveted and alert (how many jokes have two answers?), and answer number two (“a zebra with diaper rash”) elicits peals of laughter. Then we sit in companionable silence, both with our books, sharing sips of my lukewarm Earl Grey tea, your small warm body tucked in beside mine as we wait for the day to start.
You find swings everywhere we go, and insist always on stopping. (Island of Krk, Croatia, 2022)
Later that day—on your last day of being seven, of me ever being the mother of a seven-year-old—we go to the beach because it is 25 degrees Celsius outside, gorgeously and unseasonably warm. I lie in my bathing suit, pale winter skin soaking up the sunshine, while you frolick nearby. You and your friends build a teepee out of driftwood. I watch you try to climb inside before it collapses on your head. Your expression of indignation quickly turns to laughter. You disappear into the creek for a while, emerging with splatters of mud on your face and arms. You race into Lake Huron’s frigid water and do a belly flop, eyes wide with shock. You bolt out of the waves to grab a towel.
From the perspective of my beach blanket, I marvel at your perfection, your lithe little body, your animated expressions and movements that pulsate with pent-up energy. You remind me of a squirrel, fast-moving and endlessly curious, inspecting marks in the sand and logs and dune grass with equal fascination. You play with an intensity that I envy, shouting strange and colourful ideas at your siblings and friends, throwing yourself into the game as if your life depends on it. In a way, it does. Your life is play, and to play well is to live well.
As I watch you, I think about how you’re at the peak of childhood, existing in a beautiful yet fleeting stage of life where you have the physical ability to explore and achieve things without any of the self-consciousness, fears, and burdens that come with time. Revel in it. Make the most of it. Keep reminding me of what’s important in life.
Jumping into the lake at your grandparents’ house. You could do this all day long.
Back home, we sit down to eat the smoked pork ribs you requested for a birthday meal. They are terrible, but everyone is polite. I had to buy a different cut of meat at the store because they were out of what I wanted, and these are difficult to eat. As we gnaw awkwardly, barbecue juices running down our hands and faces, you offer up a random tidbit of information, out of the blue.
“A girl in my class thinks that babies are made when parents kiss each other seven times, and on the seventh time the baby starts growing.”
I almost choke on my pork rib but manage to keep a straight face. “What did you tell her?”
“I said she was wrong! That’s not how babies are made.”
“Do you know how babies are made?”
You sound impatient. “Mom, you’ve told me, like, a thousand times. Yuck. It’s so gross. I would never tell her that. Ew!” But then you look conspiratorially at me and say, “My other friend knows, though. He said he knows the truth.”
“Well, if you have any questions, let me know,” I say through a mouthful of pork. You ignore me and ask how the birthday cake is coming along.
You have been going to Grandma’s art shows since you were 10 weeks old (Huntsville, ON, 2015)
Is there an age at which a child ceases to be spectacular to their parent? Surely there is. I doubt my own parents look at me and feel the same surge of wonder and delight that I feel when I look at you. (I asked them once and they laughed ambiguously.)
But it’s so hard—heartbreaking, even—to imagine you someday losing your miraculous sheen, to witness your newness slowly clouding over with cynicism brought on by life’s trials. Part of me wants to freeze you in time, to keep you like this forever, but then I’m also aware of how I love you and your brothers more as time passes, as I get to know you all better, as we spend more of this short life together.
When I tuck you into bed later that night, I say, “You are my extra baby, the one I didn’t think I’d have—except that, deep down, I knew someone was missing from our family. And it was you!”
Your face beams with joy as you soak it all in. You’ve heard it before, and you never get tired of it. Then you say, “Mommy, we used to be the same person. When I was inside you, I used to send kisses all the way up to your lips.”
You ask me to sing your favourite lullaby, Train to Morning Town, and stroke your hair as you close your eyes and end your first day as an eight-year-old.
I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.
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