My precious Milo,
Alas, I am writing this message to you several weeks after the dust has settled on your birthday gifts. With your birthday the day after Christmas, December can feel like drinking celebration-concentrate, the way you might put a straw straight into the orange juice can, undiluted. Rich and sweet—and maybe tummyache-inducing after a while.
This year we celebrated Christmas, with your birthday right on its heels, followed by a family celebration that ended with a three-generational stomach bug, with a chaser of strep throat that coincided with a blizzard and then –20 degree weather. I keep waiting for elusive aspirations like “a normal week” or “getting into a routine” or “finding our rhythm,” and I’ve decided that’s not a realistic New Year’s resolution at this stage of our life.
In a way, it seems appropriate that your birthday was marked by a flurry of intensity—full-on joy, interspersed with every other extreme. One thing we’ve learned about you in these three years is that you don’t do anything halfway. When you eat pancakes, you EAT PANCAKES—often five in a sitting. You run at only one speed: full throttle. You love your brother fiercely—anytime you get a treat, you ask for two so you can share with him. You are a bucket of joy 90 percent of the time, full of expressive gestures and impish antics, making everyone around you (including strangers at the grocery store) grin. That other 10 percent of you, the sheer grit part, results in some stubborn faceplants in the carpet now but will get you far in life one day.
You had two requests for your birthday this year: pancakes and lions. I tried to temper your expectations about the zoo, knowing that cats of any size don’t exactly have a reputation for doing what you ask. But you were adamant that you would see the lions.
Sure enough, one of the male lions was pacing right next to the viewing window, face to face with you. You were mesmerized, not at all fazed by the three-inch-long teeth or the cold rain drizzling down on us. I tried to move us along so other people could have a turn, but your nose was pressed to the glass. “More times! More times!”
As I looked at the wonder in your eyes, I admired the way you were fully present in the moment. You weren’t thinking about what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. You weren’t worried about germs or schedules or to-lists or what anyone else was thinking.
I have a lot to learn from you, my full-of-life boy. You are teaching me that today is a gift—one that will never come again exactly this way. Time, I am learning, is as awe-inspiring and ferocious as a lion. It can’t be tamed, only respected. So I want to embrace all that this season has to offer—the good parts and the hard parts. Fever, and also snuggles. E-learning, and also snowmen. Exhaustion, and also joy. Antibiotics, and also unexpected time at home.
I want to embrace this year of you being three and me being the mom of a three-year-old.
So happy birthday, little man. Your dad and I love you. We’re so glad God picked us to be the ones in the front row to watch you grow up.
Mom and Dad
This day will not come again.Thomas Merton