Today was your eighth birthday. You received a card and money from Bubby and Zaidy, and promise of a gift from us. We had chocolate pudding for breakfast, your favorite spread in the lunch sandwiches, and you were able pick anything you wanted for supper. You chose pizza, and beamed with pride as you distributed it among your siblings. Then, when Daddy came home especially early, we went out together, just you and me.
First we went to buy you sandals. Although I had schlepped all four of you to a shoe store in another neighborhood just last week, when you insisted on a particular style that the store did not carry, I pressed you once, but didn't fight. So there we were, in a more expensive store, where we found the style you liked in the color I wanted in five minutes flat. I tried to ignore the price tag, and we both left happy.
We did a few small errands -- bought some whole wheat flour at the health food store, picked up stockings for the girls at a dry goods shop, and took money out of an ATM machine. When I go with you, every purchase becomes an adventure. Your perpetual curiosity will pick up on the details I would never notice -- the unusual bike helmet someone is wearing, the gallon jug of molasses at the health food store, the brick oven in the pizza parlor we pass. You have an endless thirst for experiences -- to try to work the cash register, to figure out how money emerges from a machine, to try a new health bar at the health food store. Often that thirst leaves me feeling depleted. Today, I just looked on lovingly, answered the stream of questions, and made sure nothing was harmed.
We went to the book store where you picked out a birthday present. I enjoyed watching you fondle the books, peek into so many of them, and deliberate seriously over which one to choose. I myself was doing the same with the books in the adult section, and I could fully appreciate your feelings.
Our last stop was the park. We had stopped at the bakery earlier, and you had picked out two luxuriant triple chocolate ice cream bars. Now we would enjoy them together. We selected a bench which faced away from the street and sat down close to each other. You leaned against my shoulder. We pulled off the shiny wrappers and started licking our treat.
We didn't say much, you and I, even though we are both big talkers.
We didn't say much, you and I, even though we are both big talkers. We watched the stragglers still on the swings, soaring into the darkening sky, the teens roaming the area, and the men hurrying by as they cut through the park to reach their welcoming homes after a long day. I sucked the chocolate coating until it melted, sliver by sweet sliver, sliding down my throat. You took big chunks out of you bar, the chocolate adorning your face, hands and shirt.
Earlier that day, I had turned to Daddy while he looked over my shoulder reading an article on the computer screen that I had just completed.
"It's 2:30," I said wistfully. "Eight years ago, Binyamin was just ten minutes old. Remember how we felt?"
A touch of the incandescent joy which had been ours that long-ago day infused Daddy's face as he murmured, "Yes, we were so, so happy." We sat for a moment letting that exultation, the indescribable happiness of having become parents, pass over us once more. Then Daddy gestured to the screen and said, "You left out the word ‘is' in that sentence."
Now, as the stars began to gleam on an ebony sky, and the crickets to chirp their song in the bushes around us, I searched for a way to pass onto you the feelings I had had for you at that moment.
"Daddy and I were remembering the day you were born." I told you. "We were so happy when you joined our family. We are so glad you're our boy."
You beamed at me.
I looked at you. You seemed so big -- broad shoulders, a solid build, a full head taller than every kid in your class. Your pants were spattered with dirt, and your shirt grubby from a long day of being a boy. It was so hard to juxtapose this reality with my mental snapshot of the tiny infant I had been handed eight years before. That boy had been delicate as a flower petal, fragile as a baby bird. He had smelled so sweet, and I loved nuzzling my nose into his cheek. He had been helpless, fragile and utterly dependent. And the love -- it had been so deep -- I ached from the intensity.
Why do I allow the frustrations of raising a strong-willed son obscure the tender feelings I harbor within?
Looking at you, and thinking of that baby, I felt a rush of deep sadness. The love then had been so pure, so complete. It was the same love I was feeling now, a joy and pride and tenderness all mixed together. There had been no anger, no battle of wills, no disobedience, no impatience, no defiance. What happened to us, to you and me? How have I allowed the beauty of our relationship to slip out of my consciousness so often, drowned out by your acting as little boys will? Why do I allow the frustrations and tensions of raising a strong-willed, determined and active son obscure the tender feelings I harbor within?
If only I could have bottled the feelings I had then, as the midwife handed me a tiny, perfect human being. If only I could trap the ones I have now, as you sit next to me, bristling with energy, yet sipping in the togetherness we are sharing. I would open the bottle and take a whiff each time I find myself losing sight of your preciousness.
We lick the last remnants of our treat. Slowly, we gather out bags, throw away our sticks, and walk home together.
I love you so much my big one,
This article originally appeared in The Front Page.