Today is Tim’s 11th birthday. He will have to forgive me someday when he realizes that I abandoned the yearly habit of writing him a long letter on his birthday sometime around year 5 or 6. (And I abandoned the monthly habit of writing him a medium-sized letter somewhere around six months!) Best intentions, and all that.
Well, I wrote a book about him, along with dozens of essays that have been published in various newspapers – he’ll just have to be content with that. (Or, as some of my readers who are also parents have pointed out to me, I should consider myself lucky if “content” is how he’d describe his feelings about some of my essays. Come on, doesn’t every mom at some point write an essay about her son’s fascination with his athletic protective gear?)
I love celebrating Tim’s birthday. I love the memories it brings back and the sense of accomplishment it engenders. Eleven years of Tim – tell me that’s not an accomplishment. A blessing, to be sure, but an accomplishment as well. I love him, but I certainly do not always understand him. Last June, while I was at the Aspen Summer Words writers’ conference, I had such an interesting discussion with author/writing instructor Bill Loizeaux. We discovered we’d both had the inexplicable experience of meeting our daughters at the moment of their birth and knowing certain things about their personalities at that instant that turned out, years later, to be absolutely accurate. I actually wrote in my journal, still in the hospital, when Holly was one day old, about the kind of person I already knew her to be: generous, kind and good-natured as long as you don’t step on her toes, in which case she’ll be uncompromising about defining her space and making sure you stay out of it.
I laughed as I wrote, knowing I couldn’t possibly have any idea what her personality would be: I was either purely imagining or else projecting, describing the daughter I subconsciously wanted to have. And yet seven years later I know that the description really was Holly. Something about her newborn squawks and sighs, her scrunchy pink face, her curious dark blue eyes – I knew. I knew her character in those minutes after birth. And Bill had the same experience with his daughters.
After he and I discussed it, I thought about the conversation again and realized something I’d left out: But it wasn’t like that with Tim. I don’t remember inferring his personality on the day he was born, or the days when he was an infant. I remember – and I’ve written about – gazing into his eyes, and him gazing back into mine, as we both wondered what it would be like getting to know each other and spending our lives together. But I didn’t know his soul the way I did with Holly. And, I realized as I thought about it that day in Aspen, the amazing thing is I still don’t. Tim is still a mystery to me. I know his preferences – fantasy fiction, baseball, crisp lettuce doused in vinegar, sleeping late on weekends – but I don’t absolutely know what makes him tick. I don’t know how he thinks or who he will someday be. I didn’t eleven years ago, and I don’t now.
But it’s always such a pleasure on his birthday to think about all the celebrations we’ve had for him since his birth and all the ways in which he’s changed. His one-year-old party, on a sunny day in our pretty little yard in Framingham, when we invited all our friends – because he didn’t have his own friends yet – and celebrated the fact that we’d made it through the first year. His four-year-old birthday, when he and his preschool classmates were hoisted into a Peter Pan sling at One Stop Fun to sail through the air. His seven-year-old birthday, ten friends at the Spinners game, the sky clearing after a day of gusts and rain which we did not fully realize then were the outermost edges of Hurricane Katrina. (We held his party two weeks early that year because the Spinners, a minor league team, end their season on Labor Day.) His nine-year-old party, just his friend Austin with us in Maine, when Rick prepared a lobster- and clambake.
This year he wants to do laser tag; for various reasons we’re postponing it until next month, but he doesn’t mind. Tonight my parents took us out to dinner at Tim’s favorite restaurant. He ate all the crab Rangoon he could hold; I ate masaman curry and thought about how much tastier it was than the turkey sandwich a nurse offered me on Tim’s original birth day (since I’m a vegetarian, it turned into a lettuce sandwich for me. Not terribly satisfying after giving birth.). Then we all went back to the house for his favorite dessert, chocolate mousse pie, which I had made earlier in the day. He’s a happy 11-year-old; I’m a happy mom. I may not understand him really well, but I certainly do love having him as a son.