If you’ve been reading for more than 4.3 seconds, you’ll know I’m a big fan of words and, by proxy, a big fan of letters. (And if you hadn’t been a big reader, there it is. Now you know!) I like to write them and receive them, and hear about them, and watch movies about them (except Letters from Juliet. That was nothing to write home about.) Anyway, my baby is turning seven years old in a few days. Seven. years. old. My baby!
Okay, Taylor’s not mine. I have not been hiding secrets about birthing humans, no. But I stayed with my brother quite a bit around the time Taylor was born, and when his boy was about seven months old, I moved in for keeps. Taylor doesn’t remember a time when I wasn’t there; to him, my presence was not only normal, but a vital part of our family. I’ve spent more time in Taylor’s life than any of my other actual siblings- and man oh man, I loved every second. Taylor is in first grade, and I doubt the following letter will be reading material for him, but one day, I want him to be able to read. I want him to know that he made me happy and he brought me joy and that without him, my life is missing something.
Let me start by saying, sir, that you are one of the most awesome people I know, and I’m including grown-ups in that. You aren’t afraid to speak your mind, and because of that, you’ve constantly got us laughing. We love that about you! It’s one of the wonderful things about watching you grow up, but that doesn’t mean that your growing up isn’t a little bittersweet.
I remember that when I moved in, having a baby in the house was one of the best parts. See, I’m a baby person. I used to beg to be allowed to take care of you- “Can I feed him?” “Can I give him a bath?” I even wanted to change your diaper! And at night, you and I would lay down in Mom and Daddy’s big bed and I would cuddle you until fell asleep (For the record, we watched General Hospital together.) And then, you got older and taking care of you was something I was almost expected to do, and sometimes, I wasn’t thrilled about it. I can’t tell you how many times I turned down friends during the summer because I “am watching the kids.” I have to admit, I wasn’t always happy to be responsible for little people and every now and then, I resented making all those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
And then I moved away. I’d calculated all of the risks: I’d miss so much, so many. But Taylor, I hadn’t factored you in. You’d always been there- the little baby in the orange bean bag, the toddler nestled on my hip, the adorable three-year-old with the lisp calling me “Schlindsley,” the annoying four year old jumping up and down on the bed- the sassy six-year-old rolling his eyes when I told him no cookies before dinner. And I’d always been there, too: changing your diapers, giving you baths, tucking you in, letting you have cookies before dinner. I’ve been to t-ball and soccer and baseball. I’ve watched you as the Shepherd and on the swings. It’s what you knew, my presence. And suddenly, we were apart. And I couldn’t come.
I’ll never forget coming home. You wait at the door, almost as if you might be waiting so that you could retreat at the sight of me, because honestly, you get a little angry that I go away so often. But instead, you fling the door open and meet me in the yard. And always, the first thing you ask is how long we’ve got. “How long are you staying? How long until you go?” It breaks me every time that you associate me with leaving, but I know one day you’ll understand, because one day you’ll pack up and go, too. And then you’ll know: it wasn’t always fun football games and parties with friends, that independence didn’t just mean freedom, but that it’s heartache and regret at what’s being missed, at the memories that aren’t being made and the little boys who are disappointed. (That’s not to say it isn’t fun- you behave yourself!)
There’s a song- “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart- and that’s a little cliche, I know. But oh my soul, it conjures your face every single time. It says a lot, but mostly, “Be courageous and be brave. And in my heart, you’ll always stay forever young.” That’s all I’m saying here, little boy. I want big things for you. I know you’re going places and you’re going to be making people laugh on your way. And much of the time, when you run by me, I am so happy that you’re this wonderful person. But every now and then, I catch the eye of the little baby who would snuggle me in the rocker, or the two year old demanding to watch Shane Falco one more time, and my heart yearns for that you. I hope there’s never a day when I can’t go back because that boy colored my rainbow every day and the he did it again.
Basically, love, you hold a part of my heart. I’ve always known that, but I didn’t realize how much of it you actually had until I left it with you when I came to college. I’m sorry about all of the games I’ve missed, all of the movies I haven’t watched with you, all of the stories from first grade that I haven’t heard. Don’t think for a second that you don’t cross my mind, because you do: I often wonder what you’re doing, how much you’re hating football practice, how many m’s you wrote today at school. You’re the light that I know will meet me when I pull into the drive, a shine that I can’t wait to encounter. You love me even though I leave because you trust that I’ll always come back.
And I promise- I will.
Happy Birthday, you great big kid, you.