I think you were six the first time I wrote you a birthday letter. Today, you are fifteen. You just texted me from your first day of school (which you are exceedingly bummed landed on your actual birthday) to tell me you are sitting in Driver’s Ed. Here’s hoping that surprise makes up for the fact we had to celebrate your birthday a day early.
In measurable time, it’s been a few years since you surpassed me in height and I started having to look up to you. The truth is, my son, I have looked up to you for much longer than that. There are sweet details of your life and our journey together as parent and child in many of your birthday letters- your entry into the world, enchanting copper eyelashes only a hint of what was to come—your sturdy legs and first determined steps, your arms that never (ever!) hung at your sides, but were always (always!) held out, ready to grab the world and wrestle some joy and happiness.
Today, I watch you move through the world, still sturdy and determined, but also touched with a wry sense of humor, a kindness that comes from knowing pain, an empathy that comes from knowing loss and sorrow. The path you have had to walk has not been easy, especially not for someone so young and still tender. I do not believe the colloquialism everything happens for a reason. Some things simply have no reason. But what does matter is what we do with the hard, painful things. That’s where we find grace and mercy. Do we let things embitter us? Or do we learn, tucking those lessons away so we can better care for others, to ease and lift the hearts of those we love? That is where we punctuate life with joy and happiness, and where the windows of heaven open and rain down.
I watch how you care for your siblings, and for Bean in particular. You have always had a grand, hero-heart. You have always cared for the underdog, and wanted life to be fair, even as you struggled with your own natural desire for the lion’s share. The beauty was (and is) in that struggle, son. You are generous with your affection, your laughter is boisterous, easy and natural. You are kind. That’s important.
It’s a very strange thing as a mother to feel our roles adjusting, turning softly and perfectly in-time, like the well oiled gears of a clock. I recognize this as right, even as I can do nothing to stop or change it. Your whole life I have guided, protected and sheltered you, and I can feel you ever so gradually stepping into your own light. It’s a slow dance; beautiful, and bittersweet, and the just order of life. I am proud to call you my son.
In the meantime, I am still the mama, and I can still take your phone away if I catch you on it after hours, or if you have a sassy mouth and forget to say you’re sorry.
Keep your grades up. Go to college. Call your mama.
Happy birthday, darling boy. Mama loves you.