|Photo by Todd Nickols|
You are the youngest, and the one to whom childhood still belongs. You are the one with the LEGOs strewn all over the floor like tiny dangerous pebbles, the one with a thousand costumes you still wear, the one who looks for leprechauns. You are the only one of these magical creatures—a child still being a child—that I still have. You wake daily, with tousled hair and bleary eyes, ready to climb into laps and cling like a monkey to whichever parent, or whichever brother, is holding you. You come downstairs, suddenly awake and planning to play, and are interrupted by ordinary life again and again, turning suddenly to glare at me, your delicate face framed by wild hair still unbrushed, so that you look like a cross Albert Einstein with his finger in a light socket.
"I need you to eat because it's time for school," I tell you.
Harumph to all my plans.
Other times you are very congenial about the paces I put you through. You indulge me, like I'm a senile auntie whose time on this earth may be limited, doing your grammar pages beautifully with periodic declarations of "You're the best Mommy in the world." There, there, now, old woman. Don't fret. I've put marks on your pages. Now let us get dressed up and travel to Ancient Greece.
You've taken to quoting the Buddha. This is disconcerting in someone so small. Your mind is a place of spiritual largeness, a sky in which you walk from star to star and explore the wisdom of the Lakota, the Ancient East, and talk to Aslan, asking him if he is Jesus and what it means to have faith. You think about everything; you already have all the right questions to hand.
Outside, you build a trading post, a rabbit trap, a long house. You snare rabbits, you tell me, and use all their parts. You remembered, you say, to say a prayer of thank you for their lives. And can you have some candy now? And some juice?
"I have strong dreams," you tell me.
Yes, you do. You are made of strong dreams. Dreams that sometimes scare you, that rip your insides out.
"I can see it, Mom. I can see just what it would look like. I can see everything just how it would be." Fear touches each feature as you speak to me. Waking dreams of sadness. Sleeping dreams of monsters in the night. Around your room, we cast strong spells to keep both out, the two of us.
I think you are made to walk what wiser cultures called the spirit path. I think your time here is to be spent, in part, bearing the discomfort of living in the loud and angry world of war and televisions and Walmarts and finding your way back to the unity of the stars—that sense that you already have and talk about that we are all one, we are all sacred, we are all a part of God.
I know a little bit about this, because I was a child like you.
I lift you in my arms and carry you, because I still can and I won't always be able to. I hold you close so that I can feel your heartbeat against mine. And, for now, all the bad dreams are kept at bay by this simple act of love.
Today, you are eight. You will wake shortly and see that balloons rise above your bed. You will come down, excited, and get a special smoothie and some cereal you really wanted at the store. You will come down, trailing God in your blankets, rubbing stardust from your eyes, and join me as we celebrate the occasion of your birth in this mortal world.
Happy birthday, child of wonder. May this year bring strong dreams of wisdom and peace to you.