Today, my firstborn son is seven years old.
I know the cliché is to say that time goes too quickly and they grow up so fast, but with him, I don’t feel that way. It seems like eons ago that I brought him home from the hospital, this chubby wise old soul, his dimpled cheeks flushed pink. He has always seemed older and wiser than his years to me and I feel as if, in some odd sense, he was seven years old even when he was seven weeks old.
He spoke in such full, articulate sentences by eighteen months, I could always understand exactly what he was saying and never needed to translate his baby speech. People were always in awe of how clearly he spoke, even as a toddler. He’s still a great communicator. He prefers to be spoken to directly and without mincing words, nothing sugarcoated. Because of that, I’ve always spoken to him more like an adult than a child. He uses words like “inappropriate” in the right context and can be borderline condescending when he feels someone is being “inappropriate” (i.e. that “someone,” usually meaning his two-year-old brother). This boy does not suffer fools gladly. But inside that often exasperated exterior, lives a fiercely loving and sensitive boy.
At times, I see glimpses of the teenager he’ll become. When I’m explaining to him why it’s important to complete mundane tasks such as brushing his teeth or making his bed, I’m met with epic eye rolls and a defiance usually saved for the most hardened of adolescents. No explanation as to why he needs to follow instructions is ever good enough for him. He will argue a point with you inside and out until you almost want to raise a white flag and surrender from exhaustion.
He’s smart and he’ll try to outsmart you. Sometimes, he’s too smart for his own good. When I catch those glimmers of teenager in him, I’m also quickly reminded that he’s still just a boy, a boy who has only recently left the stage of being a “little” boy and I see him struggling with that concept. He sees his younger brothers being helped with everything and doted on and I can sense there’s a part of him wanting to feel small and babied and doted on too and I make every effort to do that for him. We snuggle in bed nightly, just the two of us, and it’s at these moments that I’m made aware that at seven, he’s struggling to find his way, knowing he’s this unusually tall, overgrown child who is often mistaken for being ten years old, all lanky limbs and sharp joints, who feels older and younger at the same time.
When he was seven months old, I wrote this poem for him:
Life rushes by with the force of a wave
Before it drenches me
I need to tell you
Everything you are
With a shock of black hair
Wide set eyes fixed upon the world
You kicked your way out with determination
Like now, when you kick mommy in your sleep
Your smile stops strangers on the street
Your giggle inspires a joy I can’t contain
You are curious
You are stubborn
You are sensitive
You are strong
You are full of peace, just like your name
You are a mystery, baby
And I devour your every move
How you run your tongue across your toothless gums and grin
The way you clench your tiny fists when you are elated and mad
The tone of your raspy cry
How proud you are when you stand on your sturdy legs, bobbing up and down
How your doughy thighs move like lightening as you crawl
I cement these images in my memory
They are as fleeting as the tides
Rolling in and out of life
With an ebb and flow I can’t control
Soon, you will grow from baby
and it will blur into that space
between memory and make-believe
So this is how we can remember,
a time when you were only seven months
With two bottom teeth
And a smile that stopped strangers on the street
And a love from your mommy
As deep as the ocean.
In so many ways, he is still that seven-month-old baby, his personality set in stone from birth. All of those traits still apply to him today: curious, stubborn, sensitive, and strong. Although, those two bottom teeth he once had as a baby have since fallen out and been replaced with two permanent adult teeth. In fact, he has a mouth full of tiny baby teeth mixed in with oversized adult teeth and empty gums still waiting for new growth, an unwieldy combination of different sizes and shapes representing past, present and future, just trying to all fit in and find their place.
Which, I suppose, is very much like being seven years old itself.
Happy Seventh Birthday, my sweet, sophisticated son. You are the one who started it all and it’s been one wild ride ever since. I have learned immensely from you and these have been the best seven years of my life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.