Happy birthday, times sixteen
Six pounds, one ounce.
That’s how much you weighed the day you were born. Oh, you were so tiny! And perfect. Let’s not forget the perfect part. Sure, there were complications. Life is nothing but complications – some scary, some hilarious, some frustrating or tense or wondrous, or some odd combination that makes you want to dance and cry and run, all at the same time. It’s all there and we have such a very short time to teach you how to face those complications with grace.
On the day you were born, there was pain – more pain than I could ever have imagined a person could bear without dying and yet I did. The drugs helped and the anticipation of you – that surprised me, how much it helped. I could have sworn my fear was stronger than my hope – I was wrong. There was fear – of the unknown, of the known and of the infinite list of “what if” that played in my head like a loud mariachi band – all brass and blaring and rhythmic thrumming. My heart raced along its notes of flattened tin, chased by a Pitocin drip.
On the day you were born, there was your father – so frightened, just as scared as I was. I, at least, was a major player in the drama of your birth. He was an extra, getting in the way of the doctors and the cords and tubes and monitors and the scalpels that emerged eventually, hours into the pain and the fear and what we had thought was drama, but turned out to be merely the lead in. He could only witness, only hold my hand through all of it, which would have been miracle enough – except, when you were finally born, when you were finally announcing your entry into the world at large with a great and glorious cry, as soon as you were cleaned and swaddled and tiny – God, so tiny! – for the first time that long day, your father left my side, rushing to hold you.
And then he danced.
He cradled you with infinite tenderness and infinite love, close to his chest, swallowing you in his huge hands, so that your head rested against his beating heart, so that you could hear its steady pounding – an electric, constant pulsing beat that was so like the one that had sustained you in me until this day of your birth – and he danced. The drama fell away then, into the wings, behind the scrim. No disappearing act, merely waiting for its next cue. He danced you in a slow circle and the universe fell away then. Or perhaps the universe existed only in the space between the two of you and God dwelt in the air you shared, in your breath and your touch.
He danced with you, with infinite slowness and infinite care and he raised you high – up and out and high – as high as he could lift you, nestled so surely in his hands and showed your face to God. And just when he was sure that you would forever know the face of God, he brought you back to his hear and then to me. I had carried you for nine long months – now I could hold you – touch you, breathe in your newness and nearness, feel the weight of you on my arms instead of bearing down on my belly, feel the mist of your breath on my skin.
Complicated. Dramatic. Perfect, my beloved boy. Ever and always.
You no longer fit in the cradle of your father’s hands. Where you used to fit, with room to spare, on a quartered baby blanket, you are now barely contained on your bed. You sprawl, tangled in a comforter, feet and arms dangling loosely over the edges. You no longer fit in the small and contained and safe-as-we-can-make-it world of your childhood. Not that your childhood is over! Not that you ever fit as comfortably and safely as we tried. There were hurts and aches. Some were healed with a kiss – some with Bactine and a Band Aid, but they were relatively small and easy complications. You’re straddling worlds now, balancing between the comfortable fields of boyhood and the unexplored vastness of the rest of your life, wearing seven league boots. Every step takes you farther and further into the life you are creating, into the man you are becoming.
You are not so tiny any longer. Everything about you is bigger – your heart, your dreams, your kindness. Your fear. You hurt bigger. You feel deeper. You love more. I am awed at your grace, your kindness, your anger, your stubbornness, your hope. Life is no less complicated for you today than on the day you were born. I can’t shield you as I once did, my beloved boy. Let me rephrase that – as I once tried to shield you. I don’t know that I ever really did, but I like to think that at least I was able to give you some comfort, perhaps take away the biting sting.
Already you are finding new paths, new hurts and heartaches that I cannot even begin to know, let alone heal. But there you are, diving in on your own, kicking through the muddied waters and breaking through to the surface every so often, gulping in air and light before diving in once more.
There is a world of wonder and joy and kindness and grace for you to explore. You will undoubtedly find broken trust and fractured promises as well. You will rage at injustice and taste the bitter wine of despair. You wear your heart on your sleeve and it gets bruised and beaten so easily.There is no protection from the hurt. But here’s the secret – with any luck, you will find the courage to look beyond that pain and find the strength already so present within you, so that you can walk through the pain to the other side.
It’s such a difficult task, to find that courage, to take those steps! You’ve been building your own “what if” list since you could think and wonder and question and cry. Here’s the thing – bad things are going to happen. No matter how still you hold yourself, willing the universe to behave, stuff happens. Sometimes the monsters under the bed are real.
You are the Captain of Happy, my beloved. You will find fellow travelers along the way – some will journey with you into the forever; some will shine a light for a moment before turning left. They will offer you gifts unimaginable, of strength and comfort and respite and love, but remember: it is you who must leap, you who have the power to soar.
Oh, my beloved boy – you are filled with such stumbling grace! You no longer fit in your childhood, or in your father’s large hands. You have grown and moved past and begun to leap. You will forever fit, my darling boy, in the space of my heart. nestled, loved, forever dancing.
Happy, merry birthday.