Nine years old

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Dear Whit,

Nine.  Nine!  Seriously?  I’m know that I am the world’s most ridiculous cliche, but honestly, I can’t believe it.  Seems like moments ago, that dark night when I labored with you alone, knowing you were coming, swaying side to side as I leaned over our bed, reading Ina May, Grace sleeping quietly next door.  When Dad got home he recognized the gravity of the situation and hurried us to the hospital.  He wasn’t wrong: my wish to have you at home would have come true, though inadvertently, if he hadn’t done that.  You were born 25 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.

You, with your head of blond hair, your blue eyes, and your incontrovertible boy-ness.  All three were shocks to me, I admit, after your dark-haired, dark-eyed sister arrived two years before.  But you were born on inauguration day and we brought you home in a historic blizzard, and you’ve been a diplomatic lover of both attention and snow ever since.

This is the last year we’ll have someone in our house who’s in the single digits.  The sheer fact of that takes my breath away.  For better or for worse, you’ll always be my last child, and therefore, my baby.  I still like to carry you to bed once in a while, and while your long, gangly legs bang against mine you still turn your face against my neck, and the ghost of years past floats over us like gauze.

Years ago I wrote about how the last vestiges of babyhood clung to you, and now it’s your little boy-ness that does that, as the angles and planes of your young man’s face emerge alongside your passions and predispositions.  We’re beginning to glimpse who you’re going to be, Whit, and I adore who I see.  I never doubted I would, but the personality you’ve begun to display, in its technicolor wisdom, humor, and curiosity, is more dazzling than I ever imagined.

Above all else, you are fascinated by how things work.  The earliest sign of this was in the Orange Room in nursery school, when you crouched under the sink in the bathroom and felt the hot and cold water running through the pipes.  When asked what you want to be when you grow up you answer always, and immediately, “an engineer.”  Unsurprisingly, your favorite question is “why.”  You chose Leonardo da Vinci for your 3rd grade biography project, and you said he was important because he “inspired people to make new things.”

You love experiments of all kinds, and we recently spent a happy Saturday afternoon in the kitchen doing Chemistry projects.  Your favorite books are about the periodic table, Physics, and Indiana Jones.  You were Indiana for Halloween.  A few days before Halloween I overheard you answering a friend who asked what you were dressing up as.  Your friend did not know who Indiana Jones was.  “He’s an archaeologist,” you responded, your tone conveying that archaeology was the height of cool.  May you keep this conviction: I happen to agree with you that science is as cool as it gets.  This past fall you and your best friend participated in a Lego/robotics after school activity that culminated in a competition.  I have rarely been prouder of you than when you walked to the table to demonstrate your Lego robot, proudly wearing your “thinking cap” (a metal kitchen strainer with various things attached to it).

On weekend mornings, when Dad and I sleep in a bit, you often creep downstairs and climb into our bed.  You still love to snuggle and when I tuck you in sometimes you scoot over and pat the bed next to you, asking me without words to lie down with you for a few minutes.  You still ask me to do the Ghostie Dance at bedtime and to give you a sweet dreams head rub, and I do, before whispering a final “I’ll see you in the morning,” giving you our secret sign that means I love you, and turning on your lullabye CD.

There’s a seam of sensitivity running through you that reminds me of, well, me.  You and Grace share this, this predilection towards sentimentality, this way of being in the world that manifests in both awestruck wonder and deep, surprising sadness.  You are keenly aware of time’s passage and you express your feelings easily and fluently.  Recently you told me that you loved me more than books and legos combined.  You can also be irascible and crabby when you feel hurt or wounded but can’t quite articulate why.  One of the things I worry most about is protecting this part of you in a world where I know boys are told not to show weakness or, in fact, emotion at all.

Your innate spontaneity actually flourishes in an environment where you can rely on order and routine.  You often ask me at night to tell you what tomorrow’s “map of the day” is.  The traditions that have worn grooves into our family’s calendar year comfort and delight you, from Storyland to trimming the Christmas tree to Sunday night family dinners.  You have a mind like a steel trap or an elephant: you never forget anything.  Constantly, you refer back to things that I said or did months and months ago, often small things I’ve forgotten and can’t believe you remember.  You’re also profoundly thoughtful.  When you walk in the door after school you ask, “how was that meeting you had today, mummy?” and when we saw my parents for the first time after Pops’ death, you looked my father in the eye and said, “Poppy, I’m sorry your father died.”

You play hockey and baseball and tennis, with varying degrees of passion and enthusiasm depending on the day.  You’re not very tall, and are sometimes mistaken for a younger boy.  You correct other people when they say “less” instead of fewer or “good” instead of “well,” or if they use an extraneous “like.”  Your nickname at school is the Grammar Police and I know where that comes from.  I’m both proud and irritated by your habit.  Recently you corrected me, and you were right, and you crowed in the backseat, thrilled: “I don’t get to correct you very often, Mummy!”

You sleep with a stuffed monkey that you’ve had since birth clutched to your chest.  His name is Beloved, and he has a twin, because when you were a baby I bought a second monkey, just in case.  Every morning you line Beloved, Beloved’s brother, and a small stuffed teddy bear that is very special up on your pillow.  Almost every day I walk into your room and look at the three animals, lined up and comfortable, awaiting your return.  The sight of them, against your robot-print sheets, brings tears to my eyes.  Every single time.

My last baby, my first boy, my mysterious, unknown and yet deeply known son, I love you, always and forever,

 

Mum

Past birthday letters to Whit are here: eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two.


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20 Comments

  1. Posted January 20, 2014 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    What a gift all of these posts will be, to Whit and to you.

    Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Posted January 20, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday to Whit! Thank you for giving me a glimpse of what having a boy would be like –just delightful. Enjoy the day!

  3. Posted January 20, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Such a gorgeous and moving letter, Lindsey. I admit, that line about the last year with a child with single digits got me, and my youngest is only 4! Happy Birthday to Whit! xoxo

  4. Posted January 20, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Happy birthday to you both! He will treasure these letters!

  5. Posted January 20, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your love of your son with us. Happy birthday to your special guy.

  6. Posted January 20, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Oh, Lindsey, my son is only 2.5 and I teared up just thinking about him “growing up” and arriving in the double digits. So beautiful. And, yes, such a gift to Whit. A gift to understand how deeply his mother understands and loves him.

  7. Posted January 20, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday, sweet boy! The other day I was trying to remember what it felt like to have my boys sneak into bed with me and Dave — and all those nights we let them stay because it felt so good to have their little warm bodies next to us — no safer place. I don’t remember when that stopped. I will never be able to recall the “last time” that happened. All I know is that they are growing up feeling loved — and will always feel safe with our family — so much like you and yours. I hope you enjoy Whit’s birthday as much as he does — its a celebration of you as well.

  8. Posted January 20, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    these letters are such a gift to your children. i’m not sure how you write them, lindsey. i’d be a weeping mess.

  9. Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday, Whit!

    As always,you capture the essence of your children in these birthday letters, Lindsey. Simply beautiful.

  10. Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Happy Birthday to Whit! How lucky he is to have you as his mum and how blessed he will be to read these posts one day…

  11. Amy VanEchaute
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    “This is the last year we’ll have someone in our house who’s in the single digits. The sheer fact of that takes my breath away. For better or for worse, you’ll always be my last child, and therefore, my baby. I still like to carry you to bed once in a while, and while your long, gangly legs bang against mine you still turn your face against my neck, and the ghost of years past floats over us like gauze.”

    Lindsey, you’ve so beautifully captured your darling Whit and the sweet impermanence of this moment in his life, in your life. His recent assertion that he loves you “more than books and Legos combined” is just the dearest, sincerest protestation of boyish love, such a wonderful tribute to the role you play in his life.

    Happy birthday to Whit, and blessings to each of you as you celebrate his special day. xo

  12. Posted January 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Happy Birthday to Whit (and to you!)! I really enjoyed reading this and getting a window into his personality. There’s a lot about him that reminds me of Abra: endlessly, curiously asking, “Why?” An astounding memory. It’ll be fun to be at your stage of the game and see how it all unfolds even further. Hope you have a great day celebrating.

  13. Kathie Wachs
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    So beautiful! Happy Birthday to Whit! xo

  14. Posted January 20, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful picture of a beautiful boy. Hugs from the cornfields!

  15. Posted January 20, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    As the mama of a nearly nine year old (in less than a month) boy who is, by all counts, incredibly similar to your Whit, this brought tears to my eyes. Incredibly beautiful writing Leah. So many lines I wanted to underline, to say yes to, to keep. Because they’re all so true. You captured the feeling exactly–of having a boy, and having him turn nine, and watching him grow up. Thank you. <3

  16. Posted January 20, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Also, LINDSEY! Not Leah. I don’t know why I wrote that. It auto corrected. So sorry for all the comment span tonight. xo.

  17. Posted January 20, 2014 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful tradition you’ve created with these birthday letters! He sounds like an amazing little man and I look forward to reading this yearly letter to see how he has grown.

    Happy birthday, Whit!

  18. Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    If we were neighbors, our January boys could be great friends. Happy (bittersweet) birthing day to you.

  19. Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Happy Happy Birthday! What a gift you are writing here for them. xoxo

  20. Margo
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Oh no, this means I am 8 short weeks from this milestone myself with Colin… It’s a thrill to have seen all of this development you note in your amazing son. We miss him dearly in our daily lives and hope to create a new annual tradition for the boys to reconnect. Happy Birthday to Whit from all of us!!