You are still in there.

A letter came home with you — an assignment. I was supposed to write about you.

I set that letter down and I knew I would not do it.  Not because I didn’t have time.  Not because the dates on the letter were mixed up and I was confused about when it was actually due, though I used that as an excuse to delay.

I knew I wouldn’t write about you because I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what I can say anymore.  It used to be that I could write all kinds of sugar-sweet thoughts about you…about your raspy voice, or your feathery blonde hair, or that little brown patch in your eye. Or how I loved to breathe in the scent of your crown, or hold your hand. Back then I could write achingly long pieces about little you, buddy, and how gentle and tender you were.

But you are a young man now, and my writing about those things would embarrass you. And the truth is, while I know that little boy is still in there, I don’t see him much anymore. Little things, little rituals, little reminders of that little boy that I have clung to all these years have almost all disappeared. You have changed so much over the past few months. How do I explain you to strangers, when I am struggling to keep up with you, myself? What can I say, to them, about you?

If I could tell them about you, I would tell them that the other day, I stood in the kitchen looking at you and I realized that you have grown. Again. I don’t look straight into your eyes anymore, I have to look up.  So we measured you. Nearly three inches of growth in the last seven months.  It is hard to keep you fed. It is hard to keep you satisfied.

I would tell them that it is hard to keep you happy.  But that I remind you, keeping you happy is not my job. You want a new phone. You want a PS4. You want new shoes. You want to go places and you want to do things. You want money. You want so much. But I want you to learn how good it feels to work hard and save for something. I want you to understand that you have to make choices. Once in a while I see it in you. But fairly often I am left searching for ways to harness your intensity into something productive. Fairly often, I wonder what I need to do better.

I would tell them that you are often the first one to volunteer when I ask for help. That when I ask you to do something, you rarely complain.  That you are neat and organized. That you thrive on rewards. That you crave independence. I would be sure that they knew that even though sometimes you may appear a bit zesty, you are still just a kid trying to figure out his place.

They should know that you are a determined individual. When you are excited about something, you will work for it. When you have an idea, you will pursue it immediately, unfettered by logistics or any other type of constraint. While I love the intensity, and I totally get it because you get that from me, we are trying to teach you about patience, and planning, and proper execution. Those words are not exactly in your wheelhouse just yet.

I suppose I would also tell them that you don’t spend a heck of a lot of energy worrying about your grades. Every once in a while you seem motivated. But you usually do very well without trying all that hard, and I’m not sure that is a good thing. You remember things easily…statistics and names and how many times we’ve had chicken for dinner in the last week. You sell candy from your locker at school. You love basketball. You spend hours on Sundays tracking your fantasy football teams. Or playing xbox.  Or yelling at the xbox. You cannot stand to lose. You love having your friends come over. You love eating all the chips in the house. You love soda. You love sugar. You love teasing your little sister. And yet every once in a while, you will say something really nice to her. You will help her with something. Yesterday, I heard you and Henry in the bedroom. The valves on his baritone were stuck. I heard you help him. I heard you teach him. Those moments don’t get by me unnoticed. Your teachers should surely know about those moments.

This morning, I watched you fixing your hair.  Now that your hair has grown out, you fix it up with gel and a comb and the whole dealio.  And you don’t dress like a slob.  Your appearance is important to you, usually. I stood and looked at you, the young man in front of me, as you spoke. The things about you that I know by heart were still there…how the sunlight softens your long eyelashes; the way the light bounces off your hair; the perfect bridge of your nose, splashed with freckles. And your beautiful eyes, the blue-grey of them and that brown patch that you hate. I love that brown patch.

And I saw the little you.  You are still in there. Your teachers should know that, too.

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You are still in there.

William

The most beautiful, warm day fell on the 27th of January, eight years ago.  It was a Sunday.  And on that very day, I held you in my arms for the first time.  My baby boy. 

I watch you at night, William, while you sleep.  And in seconds, it seems, your life swirls through my heart, I can feel it.  Some things I recall leave me in pain, as though I have been kicked in the stomach.  And I am reminded of how very lucky we have been…this little family of ours…to have you still, William.  I remember things that take my breath away and I swell with pride that you are my boy.  And all of those little, quiet moments in between…I remember those, too.  

I especially remember the way you made your presence known to the world, screaming.  And kicking.  And not at all thrilled with the bright lights.

And 7:00pm, every night when you were an infant.  You would scream.  The Man would put you in the snuggly and vacuum until you had screamed enough.  Then I would feed you.  And you would sleep.  Soundly.  In my arms.  Until I put you in your bed.  At which time you would wake up. 

I remember the first time I heard you laugh.  I mean really laugh.  We had a lot of snow that day.  You were too young to walk in it.  And when you tried to crawl, the snow got stuck between your mittens and your coat, and your wrists turned pink with cold.  So you sat in the snow, bundled in your snowsuit, watching Coco catch snowballs.  And you laughed.

I remember beautiful, beautiful, warm sunshine.  Picking dandelions.  You, in your white shoes and your Easter seersucker shortalls.  Throwing helicopters into the creek from the old wooden bridge.  How the sun made your hair glisten.  And how you devoured the cadbury creme eggs.

I remember the day, two days later.  The day your life took a different turn.  It, too, was a beautiful, warm spring day. 

I remember the moment you fell.  Collapsed.  Screaming.  Frightened.  

I remember the moment I heard the word “stroke” from the doctors.  And how they said the dead tissue would be “reabsorbed.”  And how I couldn’t get that.  And how I still don’t get that.

For days you were limp.  Scared.  Hungry.  Sad.  And then you smiled, one day.  I won’t ever forget that.  Or how many eggs you ate once the doctors finally let you eat. 

I remember how relaxed you were on the way home from the hospital.  How happy you were.  And how it broke my heart that at such a young age, you were at the precipice.  This would be the battle of your life. 

I remember how sad you looked…how your smile looked…how scared you were of everyone.

I remember starting over.  Learning to roll over again…learning to sit, to stand, to feed yourself.  I remember holding your right hand, so that you were forced to eat with your left.  And worrying about the heightened risk of choking.  

I remember the first step you took after your stroke. 

I remember how you would tickle your nose with your blanket tags before you went to sleep at night.

And the precious way you would wrinkle your nose when you smiled or asked a question.

And how you would follow your big sister around.  All day long.  And how she was your hero. 

I remember “Jingle bells, jingle bells…how it goes?”

And Rum pa pum.

I remember how nervous you were to climb the rope to the ceiling in tae kwon do.  I think you were four years old then…and you really didn’t want to do that.  Until I promised you an ice cream sundae.  And then you did it William.  You did it. 

I see  you, in the small hours of the night, when the house is quiet.  I see all of the things that make you.

I see your intensity.  You remind me of me.

I see you run.  See every muscle, the syncronicity, the beautiful way every cell in your little body works together. 

I see your bedhead.  You have the most wonderful bedhead, William.  Seriously.  I did not appreciate the bedhead of little boys until I had you. 

I see a little boy that I am not sure I will be able to continue to feed at the rate he is currently eating.

I see in you a boy that will most surely be an athlete, in spite of the physical struggles you have had.  You have it in you.  You are talented, William. 

I see a boy who needs closeness, who needs confirmation.  One who still, to this very day, says these words before sleeping…I love you night-night.  Sit in the chair up here, the one by the window, I love you night-night.  Yes, you still say it, every night.  And still I smile, every time. 

I see your tenderness.  Your frustration.  Your desire to please.  Your athleticism.  Your competitive nature.  You William.

You.

I.

Love.

You.

William