As my son approached his eleventh birthday, I found myself sounding like those women who used to stop me on the street as I was walking with my newborn so many years ago: “Oh, sweetheart, what a beautiful baby! It goes by so quickly. Soak in every minute of it. I can still remember when my boys learned to walk like it was yesterday…”
Yes, it does go by quickly. One evening this summer, as the four of us took an after-dinner walk, I looked at my older son, whose head now reaches my chin, and asked my husband, “When do you think he’ll be taller than me?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe two summers. But maybe next year.”
Each birthday brings an acute awareness of the passage of time. Then the memories tumble in, as they always do on the threshold of a transition.
I see him as a newborn, wrapped up in his yellow towel with the ducks across the hood, blue eyes peering out adoringly into my adoring eyes.
I see him at two, fresh-faced, inventing games and telling stories.
I see him at four, coming out of his shell of shyness after moving to the house where we now live, running across our land, playing at the creek, discovering that the world isn’t a scary place after all.
I see him at nearly five when his little brother was born, and the first thing he did was stretch tape across our banisters to keep his brother safe.
I see him across the years, and cry at the passage time, weep that we can’t stop it, yet knowing that I would never want to stop it as I would miss the wonder of every age. What I do wish is that I could wrap time up and hold him back through the years: the delicious newborn (oh, how I miss that stage of purity and being); the curious toddler; the inventive little boy; the mature, generous big boy. But it’s a futile wish – to wish against time. In the end, as always, I surrender in the only way I know how: I cry. I grieve for the passage of years. I weep for the speed at which its passing. And then I cry sweet tears of gratitude. Each moment lost is also a moment gained. It’s the law of transitions.
It’s the strangest thing: babies growing into kids growing into adults. Every parent goes through these transitions, and yet when it’s happening to you it feels like you’re the first person to bear this bittersweet pain and joy. How can it be that the baby is still the eleven-year old? His essence is exactly the same; it’s only the form that has changed. The him of him will never change. And yet I cry. Something is lost as he grows up. And it’s just painful.
It’s always been painful; it’s the nature of living life as a highly sensitive person. From the moment a baby is born, we’re aware that the moment that is will never be again. We document to try to hold on. We think that if we scrapbook and photograph enough, we will freeze time. I look literally thousands of photographs of my son’s first year of life – made so easy in this digital age – and I know that, at least in part, the actions stemmed from a compulsion to try to immortalize a moment in time.
But we also document to help us let go and align ourselves with the flow of life. As with so many things, the intention informs the outcome: we can document to try to control time (futile) or we can document to express the beauty or frailty of the moment. And when we create from this mindset, we spiritually immortalize a moment. The creative expression brings us into connection with the in-breath and out-breath of the universe, we find our place in time, and, thus, we stop fighting its passage and instead rest in acceptance. It’s why I write. I think of each document – a poem, a letter, a journal entry, an article, a blog post – as a thank-you note to God.
I travel back through the years, and then I return to now, the present moment. He’s still so sweet, for which I’m immensely grateful. Every night as we’re saying goodnight he asks me, “How can I help you tomorrow?” He still craves the three of us close to him, and clamors for time alone with my husband or me. I wonder for how much longer he’ll want us this close. Will he be one of those teenagers who throws his lanky, awkward body across our laps as we’re watching a movie? Or will he sequester himself away in his bedroom for hours at a time, door locked, navigating his angsty, adolescent world alone? Time will tell. For now, we revel in his sweetness and his pure expressions of love. I can still see the baby that I knew in his face and eyes, which is both heartbreaking and heart-opening. Somehow I trust that I will always be able to find him, even if he stretches the invisible umbilical cord that connects us through bonds of attachment as far as possible.
And they will go far. His plans to become a pilot that materialized so early in his life have never wavered. He longs to travel the world, to touch down onto every country, to learn languages and get to know each corner of this planet. He has plans to invent a solar-powered airplane that generates energy from its own sources (I can’t even explain it but he has it all mapped out) so that his dream of flying doesn’t contribute to global pollution. He dreams of helping, inventing, creating, adventuring, and each day he moves closer to making those dreams a reality.
Whatever he does, wherever he goes, we will hold hands across eternity. We are connected at the level of heart and soul, a bond that began in utero and has strengthened with each passing day, each passing year. He will fly away, literally and metaphorically, one day. He will pilot his own plane, literally and metaphorically. But today he’s still our little boy: close to the nest, holding our hands, a divine blessing for which we offer prayers of gratitude each day and night, and especially on this day, the day of his birth. Happy birthday, my angel.