I’m writing this a couple days early since tonight I will board a plane to Paris. [Edit: I forgot to publish this before getting on my plane, and now our trip is half over. But better late than never.] I won’t see you for three weeks, a fact that has been completely boggling my mind since I stopped suppressing it a couple days ago. I love you, special boy, and I am going to miss your eager mind, your strong body, your sweet smile, your darling voice. Your hair in my fingers, too. And your very good hugs.
This has been a big month for you and I think you’re ready to take on this challenge of being without us for three weeks. We’re worried about you, because you have been sensitive and volatile recently. You burst into tears when the littlest thing goes wrong and it takes enormous will power for you to let go of something that disappoints you. One day I went to the grocery store while you napped and when you woke up to discover you’d missed out on the trip you cried and spoke with so much anger, emphatic that you wanted to go back to the grocery store right away.
It was that way on Tuesday, too, when you got your first bee sting. You just kept bringing it up again, angry at the injustice: “I want the bees to NOT sting me!” you would whine every few minutes. Yesterday at Gramma’s pool you got bitten by a fire ant, adding two new welts to your precious toes where the bees had already done their work. You took that in stride a bit better, and it was a chance to describe to you that when Jesus returns to judge the whole world and be the King forever we will live in a world where those things never happen. I love to think that your enormous sense of justice can become a lifelong longing for the kingdom of heaven to be here once and for all.
Anyway, for all your big emotions, I think you are ready to do this business. You’ve been so excited about it and now that we’re here you are having endless fun, mostly in the form of hanging out with your cousin, Nate, who lives here. You guys have been busy all day long chasing around the house, shooting each other with finger guns (Nate had to teach you that, but you are coming along nicely), creating deep, squishy mud pits, playing at the pool, building legos. Combine that with Gramma’s good eats (as witness I should mention that you began and ended your day with ice cream yesterday), her snuggles, stories, and fun, creative ideas and the obvious fact that Grampa seriously adores you, and the added bonus that Aunt Becks is coming the same time we are leaving tonight… Yeah, my boy. You are not going to lack for any good thing this month.
We’re glad Merry has such an obsessive big brother, because your favorite subject of conversation lately is the interpretation of her speech. To everyone who will listen with even half an ear you explain her language in great detail: “Merry doesn’t say ‘popsicle,’ she says “Pop-puh-puh!” or “When Merry wants to go potty she says “Uh! Me! Potty!” Please take good care of your Merry, give her comfort when she’s sad, and help translate for Gramma while we’re gone. Do you even realize how much she loves you? Eyes scanning eagerly, the first thing she says in the morning when her head comes off the pillow is “Bah-bah!!!”
There are a few things to recount here to mark these good summer days we’ve had. Little things, but big to me in the moment as I watched you grow. There was the deconstructed garden, and the way you made the best of it at each step, digging away with your trucks when the stone wall came off, leaving a big sand-castle of dirt. Then when the dirt got hauled to the side of the property I found you one day with your bike parked up on that pile of dirt and my full-size shovel beside you. The dirt traveled, and so did you.
There was the bike, and how I finally figured out that you ride with the basket tipped down, dragging along the sidewalk, not because you can’t get it to stay up or for any other reason but that the sound of it along the cement is, in your mind, the sound of your engine running, and in that case, the louder the better. I marveled at that one.
You went running with Patrick a lot this month, in the stroller. A few times you tried to convince us that you could run instead of ride, and so once we had a race just to find out who was fastest. Patrick, well over six feet tall, beat you soundly. But you have visions of yourself with legs as long as Patrick and all summer you would run the length of our sidewalk, back and forth, back and forth, as fast as you could. Once you explained to me that when you run really fast the wind blows you. So there you were, running for the sheer goodness of the wind blowing in your face.
There was the night in church when we scurried into our seats a moment late and I set you down beside me. You looked up at me with a grin I’ve almost never seen. I thought you wanted to say something or had something mischievous up your sleeve but you held your gaze and kept grinning and then went about the business of worship and then it struck me, you didn’t have anything to say, you were just happy. You were glad, glad, glad to be there and your face betrayed that. It took me by surprise a bit, since by Sunday night I am usually pretty tired and somewhat disinterested and since the worship we engage in there is so many miles off-course of what your Daddy & I love, what we think of as robust, historic Christian worship. But not to you. To you, it was as it ever is, you, me, Daddy, your buddies, all of us singing with our books in our hand, and you were happy. I’m glad I got to see that.
You had a few big growing moments this month. The week before we left home on our adventure you attended a local VBS all by yourself. That first day I dropped you off was comical. You were calm, cool, and collected. I was sure I would be too but then in the last few moments I lost your socks, lost your shoes, lost the keys, realized I need to bring you a change of clothes, remembered at the last second to grab my wallet to pay for your registration, set out to buckle you into the car and had to go back for the other set of keys, having forgotten which car your seat was in. My plan to show up early, go slow, pray together, and wave goodbye (you know, how it looks in the catalogs) was foiled and I was a fool in my own mind. I laughed at myself, dropping off my first child at his first day of “school” and completely frazzled by nerves I didn’t think I’d have. I was proud, too, so proud of you. So apparently all the tales of how this feels for the first time are true, and the joke was on me.
You, on the other hand, took it in stride that first day and had a wonderful time. You were extra lucky that some of our good friends were among your teachers for the week, and you had lots to say about Mr. Robert teaching you the baptism song. You bounced around the house singing the only snippet of any of your VBS songs you could remember, and to my horror (and great amusement, in light of your intensely introverted personality) that little snippet, sung in a cheerful voice, was “All my enemies! All my enemies!” At the closing ceremony four days later I discovered that the actual song goes “Jesus rescues me from my enemy!”
The other hilarious thing about what you took away from VBS is that, while not much of the content you were given about Jesus on the sea of Galilee with his disciples sank in, you took away a new understanding of rehearsal technique, since Mr. Robert and Miss Liesl taught you to sing songs by an echo. So one day you were singing something with Daddy and told him with great earnestness “I’ll sing a line, and then you’ll sing it after me.” No surprises here, really.
Last, but not least, is the story of jumping in the pool. It would be an understatement to say you’ve been timid around water this summer. You just sit on the steps having a good time and yelling “No!” at anyone who offers you a ride. Daddy joined us at the pool last week and got it into his head to teach you to jump into his arms. You would have none of it but Daddy would have none of that. So for 15 minutes we coaxed and prodded and modeled and cheered and nagged. I made a complete fool of myself trying to get you psyched for it. It became a fine-tuned system by the end and slowly your fear started to melt away and then finally, suddenly, you did it. You trusted, you succeeded, and you couldn’t quite believe how much fun it was. So you did it again, and again and again as fast as you could for 20 minutes until we needed to go home. Rarely have I seen such a beautiful bonding moment with you and your daddy, and rarely have I seen you conquer a fear to that extent. I was so proud of you and so happy for you – happy that you were able to move past the fear to just lean into the joy of it.
And that seems to be my theme for this little epistle, because that is what I’ve been telling myself for the better part of a year since deciding to take this trip without you. I was good at it up to the last few miles of our roadtrip to Gramma’s house, and then I realized how it would feel to not have you in my arms and I began to feel like you looked, scared to jump. What a waste, though! Just remember how it felt, finally, to jump! Here’s to leaning in to the joy and turning a deaf ear to the fear, no matter what that looks like. Don’t ever forget that. Have a wonderful time with Gramma and Grampa. I will be back before either of us know it.
You are my very special boy and I love you all the way to Paris and back.