“A child’s hand in yours – what tenderness it arouses, what power it conjures…”

Happy Birthday!

To my son, on the eve of his seventh birthday,

Nels, I keep forgetting just how small you and your sister are, until you display such an incredible openness as you observe something new: you ask if only the government can print money, or you demonstrate impeccable penny-candy math with the jar of coin and cash in hand before cheerfully marching to the store. “Is that right?” you ask often, tossing your hair out of your eyes and looking up, pronouncing the final word, mmmright?

I’m not having an easy time with you lately. You shout a lot. You shout when you’re happy, you shout when you’re upset, you shout when a new thought or construct occurs to you. You run everywhere, you can climb and navigate and weave your way through trailside and across streets and on your bike and you are confidence, personified. It isn’t that the shouting or the running is a problem it’s that I have this tissue-thin sensitivity and I am so scared, deep down, that something might happen, a car usually is my terrified fear, watching you setting down the sidewalk with the satchel across your shoulders, going to grandma’s to check your sprouting corn, you can seriously grow anything even from very old seeds rattling in the junk drawer for a couple years.

And I forget sometimes, it’s shameful but I really do, that my job is to help you. Mama, I need some milk. And I’m irritated at you that the cupboards are too high for you without some gymnastics. Can you please help me put on my shoes? (Guess what, one way I have pretty much routinely screwed up as a parent, is not to have every pair of my kids’ shoes, ever, slip-on). It just kills me I’m such a shit about it, because you are growing up and up and up and I will miss you when you’ve up and gone.

We must be doing something right because you’re so often helping us. Can I get you something to drink? Mama, do you need anything? Or how every time you visit the shop you think of the rest of us; a daffodil for your father or Phoenix’s favorite sucker (you know the flavors she likes) or without fail offering me a drink of your juice or a bite of your Hershey’s bar (“Harshey’s”, you say). At night: stroking your father or I as we lie in bed, loving and giving always, when you’re not sleeping or it must be confessed, fighting with your sister or running rather wild and feral with confident plans of your own.

Yes, I forget how little you are, when we watch the silliest old B-movie and you’re terrified of the most remedial film artifice, creepy dry-ice effects around a biology-sample skull. “I’m scared alone,” you say – now and then, at night, not a frightened bone in your sister’s body but you are a different child. I’m rather exhausted and anxious at night but I respect you for speaking out, every time, about what you need, maybe someday I can do the same, and in final estimation it makes it a lot easier to do right by you.

Nels, you are little, but after I think about it a bit, you’re pretty big too.

I love you times one million as we like to say.

Nels, Satisfied

Little Chef


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