I think you had a pretty good sixth birthday.
You lost a tooth, your second in three days. You went snorkeling. Your eyes lit up as you jumped off the back of the sailboat and into the ocean, the only person on the boat to take the plunge in such dramatic fashion. You pet a shark and giggled as you did it. One of the boat hands gave a deep chuckle. “Brave little man,” he said. You had dinner that night, sun-kissed and happy, sitting at your own table with Reid and your two cousins.
Part of your pretty good day was due to vacation, of course. There would have been no snorkeling, no sharks and no sunshine if we’d been home in Chicago. I’m not trying to take credit for your day. This is about you. And there’s no denying it. You have officially become a boy, more than deserving to be called a little man by a boat hand or anyone else.
While we were on vacation, I read The Guts by Roddy Doyle. He’s Irish and funny. The main character in the book, Jimmy Rabitte, has cancer, a wife, kids and a business he’s trying to save. So, he’s emotional. During the course of the story, he says and thinks a couple of things about parenthood that felt like they were being said and thought right at me.
“The anger never lasted. But the sadness the grief, had never left him. Like losing the kids, them growing up and away from him, one by one.”
Later in the book, there’s this.
“He was sick of the tears. He just wished the kids would stop growing up. Or, Brian anyway. He’d have been happy enough to have one child to hold onto.”
This is a big year for you. You’ve started school and that is the real beginning of the growing up and the growing away from us. You have friends and do things and have countless conversations I am not part of. There are moments now, nearly every day, where you do something and I sit there thinking, “Where did that come from?”
A couple of times on this trip, we ate at Fido’s, a restaurant I like because they serve rolled tacos and you can see the ocean, You like the rubber shark eating a scuba diver that hangs from the ceiling. There’s a stage, set in a dark corner, that you and Reid and your cousins took one night. There were maybe twenty people in the place. You held an invisible microphone to your mouth and introduced the group of them, then the four of you danced to music only the four of you heard.
My father once said to me, after I had been working for a couple of years, that he was surprised that I hadn’t packed up and moved across the country. “There is a bit of gypsy in you,” he told me. This is a quality I think we share, a kind of restless energy. You don’t just want, you need to go look and explore and see things on your own.
Hold onto that as long as you possibly can, but be less practical than I was. Because your you-ness will take you places I have never been.
If there is a great “what if” in my life, it happened a year after I graduated college. My job at the time was menial at best, a customer service representative for a company that sold mailing lists to public relations agencies. It’s the kind of job that can barely exist any more, because the need to mail things to reporters has all but disappeared thanks to email and the internet.
My closest friend at the time, Ken, had just graduated and he called me at work. We had a mutual friend, Stephan, a tall Austrian engineering student who loved cheese-less pizza. “That’s not pizza,” I would tell him. “It’s crust.” Ken was leaving to spend three months living in Austria, skiing and hanging out with Stephan.
“Come with me,” he said. “We’ll have a blast.” His question hit me in the heart, a quick pulse of nervousness and sweat and excitement.
I gave it a couple of days’ thought, but I didn’t need to. I’d decided I wouldn’t go while I was on the phone with him. I had a job, such as it was. I’d just bought a car. I was dating someone. My responsibilities were the reason I gave Ken, but years later, I can be more honest. I was scared. Scared that my future would crumble. My parents would disapprove. My relationship would end. We’d have no money. There’s be no place to stay. And on and on and on ad nauseam.
Here’s what happened. I left the job a year later. The car eventually broke down. My relationship ended. Those things happened and I was far better for them. Life kept moving forward because that is what life does, but it did it so without the benefit of three months worth of memories in another country that I still haven’t seen.
I love the person you are right now and love watching who are you becoming. Hold onto the fire of your curiosity, energy, passion, humor and empathy as long as you can. Let them take you as far they can. Even if that means, eventually, far away from us.
Because (and I’ll butcher Christopher Robin a bit to tell you this) one thing you should know, no matter where you go, I’ll always be with you.
All my love,