Thursday, December 18, 2014

Letter to Malachi, Age 7

Dear Malachi,

We were snuggling in my bed the other morning, as we do so many mornings, and I was telling you about when you were born. We first discussed your chubby cheeks, as we always do. You were the chubbiest, cheekiest baby! After the breathtaking suddenness of your arrival, and after the nurses at the hospital finally finished WHAPPING you on the back (I still don't really know what they were doing, but you cried and cried), they handed you to me and I really wondered if they'd brought me the wrong child. You (your cheeks, mostly!) looked like some fat Polynesian baby, not like one of my own little wisps! But as soon as I kissed those round cheeks, I realized they were all I'd ever wanted in a baby. So soft! So squishable! I couldn't stop kissing you.
You were so full of light, right from the start. I suppose lots of people think their babies are little angels, and Daddy and I chose your name's meaning, My messenger, deliberately, but I never really saw you as the gauzy-robes-and-stardust type. If you were an angel, you'd be more along the lines of a clear-as-the-sun-fair-as-the-moon-and-terrible-as-an-army-with-banners sort of vision; more like John the Revelator's fierce and powerful angels than something from Precious Moments: "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire." I've always loved our Restoration hymn "I saw a mighty angel fly," and the message your baby-self brought was more like that angel's: "Truth is the message which he bears…To calm our doubts, to chase our fears/And make our joys abound." 

I don't know exactly how you've managed to bear that message, young as you are. I guess you've just always seemed wise beyond your years. I don't mean that quite how it might sound—I've heard people say their kids are "precocious," or "six-going-on-twenty-five," and it doesn't feel quite like a compliment—but I don't mean you're manipulative, or over-serious, or jaded. There's just something about you. A depth, a calmness. It can be startling when it comes out in full force. Like when I was nearly due with Marigold. You came up to me out of the blue, laid your hand on my belly, and said with complete confidence, "Soon you'll be having some of those 'compressions,' Mommy. Just be brave and remember that at the end of it all, you'll be holding a sweet new baby." The strangest thing about it wasn't even your grown-up tone, but the way you looked at me so clear-sightedly, like some oracle of ancient wisdom. Not to make too much of it—remember, you also told me with complete confidence that you KNEW I was having a boy, and were so positive about it that I thought for sure you had some insight from beyond the veil. Well, we all know how that turned out!—but really, there is sometimes something otherworldly about you. Like you haven't quite shaken off the last silvery strands from those clouds of glory you were trailing when you came. Daddy and I used to remark on it even when you were just a baby. "Too good for this world," we'd say, shaking our heads at each other darkly as you cooed and gurgled and beamed your beatific, chubby smiles toward us like rays of sunlight. We were mostly joking, but I think it was a bit of a relief for both of us when you started whining and fighting with your brothers occasionally, making yourself safe from immediate translation.
Abe was quite pleased with you from the beginning.
And then there's the way you are with babies. You've told me several times that you would like to be a midwife, and while it's not the most standard profession for a boy, after feeling for myself the force of your quiet presence, I don't doubt you could manage it admirably. You've always loved babies, and I can't help thinking you have some sort of link with the infinite. Our dear midwife Cathy always lets you help out with applying gel, strapping on blood pressure cuffs, and all the other little tasks of a prenatal appointment, and as I lie there and watch your serious face listening to baby's heartbeat, I can almost imagine you communing spirit-to-spirit, some other life still fresh in your mind. 
If that sounds too metaphysical, I suppose I should also remind you of what you said recently while we were discussing the vastness of the universe and the mysteriousness of it all: "Mommy, I literally hate infinity." (You had to add that "literally" in there, as "hate" isn't a word you use lightly—"That's a strong word, Daisy!" I hear you saying reprovingly to your sister every time she says it—but this time you felt it was justified.) Of course you aren't some gauzy, fluttery spirit, gazing off into the ether through your crystals as Enya plays in the background. You're solid, grounded, and you love the solid facts of earth: rocks and volcanos and ice storms. You stumble around moaning "I die! I die!" like a character from Shakespeare when you get 'killed' in a duel. You make faces at yourself in the mirror. You're funny and silly and BOYish.
You tease your sisters; you wail like a police siren when you fall down the stairs; you love digging holes and hammering things with your rock hammer (not always with authorization). Still—every once in a while there's a clarity, a perceptiveness, that sort of beams out from you, and it envelops everyone around you. Even when we're not consciously thinking about it, we feel it, and are unexplainably reassured.

Like I do with all my kids, I love to write down the funny, surprising little things you say, but half of what makes them so cute is your particular tone, which is sort of indescribable. Still, to give it a shot, I'd say: sober, adult-like, matter-of-fact, and with a little twinkle of self-awareness that makes me think you must know how impressed everyone's going to be with your precociousness, but you're not taking yourself too seriously all the same. You recounted a conversation with your little friend Natalie the other day that was the perfect example. You'd made her a tiny, stapled-together book, full of facts and little sayings and pictures of things in her favorite colors. You gave it to her at church, and when you told us about it later, Sebastian asked you, "Did you tell her what it said? Because she probably couldn't read all your writing." (That was true, you know—your current vocabulary far exceeds your ability to spell it, and you're still working on things like making your 6's and 9's face the right way—not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Now, in the retelling, you said to us, "Yes, I read it to her so she'd know what the words said. And then Natalie told me, 'It's okay, I'm still kind of learning to write too.' And then I said to her,"
—(here you inserted the most effortlessly casual of shrugs)—"'Yeah, six-year-olds aren't professional writers!'"

Of course you aren't, and we love you for saying so, little Ky-guy. You're not some mini-adult, you're a sweet little just-turned-seven-year-old boy, and that's quite enough! You've never been the slightest bit conceited or smug, with all your "wise-beyond-your-years"-ness. If you don't understand something, you say so without self-consciousness, and if you suspect obfuscation in someone else, you ferret that out too, with your usual forthrightness. 
"How's being seven?" I asked you the other day.
"Exactly the same as being six—since I don't seem to have received any more privileges," you replied, twinkling your eyes a bit, but with some severity in your tone. 
"What privileges were you thinking you'd get?" I said, laughing back. 
"Oh—I don't know—probably a later bedtime, at least," you said. 
"What about that mango lassi you ordered when you went out to dinner with Daddy?" I asked (getting a drink with a meal is kind of an unheard-of privilege, and you'd been telling me about it with a mixture of delight and awe earlier in the conversation). 
"Well—" you shot back, with some eyebrow action—"I DID like that mango lassi quite a lot—but—you know, Mommy, that had nothing to do with my being seven." 
Here you are with a branch poking right into your head. "Just take the picture; I've grown to quite like it here by now," you told me, when I told you to lean away.
I had to admit you were right. But in spite of not having new "privileges," you know, we have been treating you as one of the big kids for a long time now, probably longer than you really deserved. It's that emanating wisdom again. For a long time, when you did something more little-kid-ish, like pouting or hiding the truth or crying over something small, Daddy and I would realize suddenly and wonderingly as we discussed it, "Well…he IS only five!" We mostly expected you to act like your older brothers because you so often DID act like your older brothers, being responsible and competent and interested in things far beyond what someone would expect of a boy your age. So it's good when you truly "act your age" a bit—it reminds us to be patient and appreciate all the funny little things about your little-kid self. 

Still, on the whole, your maturity is pretty impressive. In your baby blessing, Daddy blessed you with—I can't remember the exact words—but something like, that you would be "comfortable with complexity." And I've never seen someone for whom that's been more true. When we talk about scriptural symbols, you have absolutely no hesitation in putting forth your own interpretations of what they mean. You understand metaphor. And you ask the most perceptive questions! When we read Macbeth, you asked about Lady Macbeth: "Do you think she still saw blood on her hands after she killed herself?" Whether you approach it through the sciences or through the arts, I can't help but think you're going to navigate the world, in all its complexity, remarkably well.

So, I wonder who you'll be when you grow up, Ky-guy? I'm always telling myself not to read too much into my kids' "profession choices" at such young ages. There are so many things ahead of you, so many experiences and potentially life-altering realizations, so many twists and turns and new interests to find. I love how wide-open your future still is, and I hope you have many adventures and surprises as you explore the friendly road ahead. Having once wanted to be an astronaut myself (and having read statistics about how many boys think they might be NBA players someday, for example), I know that for most of us, our vague views of our vague futures are often fuzzy or unfounded or easily-swayed. "You can do anything you dream of!" isn't a phrase you'd often find me saying, practical-minded person that I am.
But—but—I just can't help looking at what you love now, and seeing something true in it—something about you that MEANS something, whether or not it has anything to do with the nuts and bolts and practicality of your future life.

Here's what you love as a seven-year-old, Ky. (It's not ALL you love—heavens no! You are a boy of many and varied interests, drawn to all kinds of people and all kinds of things!—but these things are your enduring loves, the ones that seem to go on year after year.) You love birds. Have loved them, ever since you were a tiny little bird yourself. I sometimes wonder if we ought to have given you "Robin" as a middle name, but your namesake Leslie Norris loved birds himself, and saw the natural world more keenly and lovingly than most, so I think that connection is still apt. Ah, but there was that stuffed bird we gave you when you were just a baby, so perhaps it's not anything intrinsic to you, but simply a quirk of fate. 
You love space and the universe and you say you want to be an astronaut, but again, it's a common-enough wish, of little boys who love the thought of exploring new worlds and who know nothing, yet, of the study required and the unlikelihood of this chance, among so many. And then there's the midwife thing: perfectly understandable that you should be drawn to the idea, with so many babies around, and with Cathy so friendly and competent and willing to let you help her. Love babies? Of course you do—sensitive, kind little guy that you are. You see, I have to cover my bases a bit, Malachi, so that when you read this as a (probably very rational-minded) adult, you don't dismiss me as an entirely sentimental being, blinded by my fond, motherly emotions. And, okay, I admit that when it comes to my children, I can be as fond and unreasonably emotional as the next person, so perhaps your caution will be warranted. But I believe in a mother's insight, too, so I'm going to say this anyway, despite the horrifyingly wind-beneath-my-wings-ish sound of it, and if need be we can laugh about it together when I'm old and grey.

So this is what I think, sentiment and all: you are drawn perpetually upward, Ky, because that's where you belong. You want to fly, you want to touch other worlds. Your spirit is reaching beyonduptoward—and maybe you don't even know what you're reaching for, but I feel that whatever it is, it's closer for you than for some people. I feel like, unlike some of us, when you reach heavenward, you're reaching up to touch something you never fully lost, and when you connect with it, you'll be tapping into something that you've always deeply known. And I just can't wait to see where that upward reach takes you, and how it will transform the rest of us—looking up, and watching you, and marveling.
So glad we have you, little messenger-Malachi. So proud of who you are, and who you're growing to be!

I love you,
Mommy

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