My Dear Oliver,
When you were born I thought we wouldn’t be able to keep you. I felt that your attachment to this planet was tenuous, that you were a balloon waiting to float away. I held tight to your string and now, eleven years later I can’t believe how solid your medium sized self has become. As I type this I listen to your rant on “the most controversial subject in geometry…the trapezoid. They have CHANGED the definition. We need to reconfigure the heirarchy of quadrilaterals! What a task.” You laugh with the thrill and craziness of this. All the way through 4th grade you had this whole trapezoid thing nailed down. Now, according to you, trapezoids have gerbobbled everything up. Your brother interrupts you. “I’m going to study geometry, I don’t want any SPOILERS.” So you are quiet for a minute, a millisecond actually, and you are on the the next exciting topic, your birthday, voice raised, arms flailing, eyes bright and wide.
You went from this anonymous unhealthy baby to OLIVER. You are so totally Oliver.It might be the bowl cut that you think you will have until you are old. You imagine it will go from golden to grey and just on those few fancy days will you part it in the middle, slicking it down with both hands like Waldo’s mother did before he boarded the bus in that video that you will never see. It could be the light in your eyes as you beam at me asking how I like your hair like this. It could be how you wave around your papers as you run home, breathless, to explain how you didn’t quite get the 102 because you forgot the units again.
Maybe it is how you can barely sit in your seat at school, not fidgeting out of boredom, but vibrating with the excitement of academics as your interest propels you upwards. Perhaps it is because you earnestly asked where you should apply the deodorant you requested. You thought it was your feet, because they smelled the worst. Logic never leaves you. Perhaps it is that you can only find one sock, so you wear one white and one black and pull them as close to your knees as you can. Even with your crocs. Which you are the last kid in school to sport.
Or maybe it is sports overall, your teamlessness. The only low grade you have ever received paired with the comment, “Cannot control his body in space.” This confused you as you demonstrated jumping jacks in our living room, hitting your face with your hand, and literally tripping over your own feet as you tried to perform them in double time to demonstrate your ability. Maybe it is the songs you sing. The ones about life being an oyster that holds a pearl. Locked tight for each of us to find. The trick, you scream sing, is that it can only be opened with kindness, not with force. If we are kind enough the world will open to us you proclaim in your particular singing voice. You continue along these lines for 20 minutes, long enough even for parents to tire of your message.
It is how you live your life though, allowing your brother to beat the crap out of you whenever he wants. When I ask you why you don’t defend yourself you pat my arm reassuringly. “I am a pacifist mama (you still call me mama on the eve of your 11th birthday) the only thing worse that me getting hurt is me hurting someone else…and how do you think Leo would feel if he wasn’t safe around his older brother…that is a world I wouldn’t want to live in.”
You hurt our ears when you yell with enthusiasm. When you are excited, which is approximately 98% of the time, all you can do is yell. When we shush you your voice dips down to normal for two syllables and then races back up to the stratosphere. I mention how often you express your love for life and you come up with the 98% measure as well. I am working towards 99 you tell me as you unwrap a birthday gift and realize with glee that it is a six pack of socks. You might be the only boy to be excited by socks. And wow, that moment when you realized that the six pack actually held SEVEN pairs. A bonus pair you exclaimed, loudly, it’s like two gifts in one. Your younger bother, naturally cool, looked at you through slitted eyes and shook his head slowly. A move and a judgment that you didn’t notice. It that lack of noticing (so frustrating with the shampoo and the milk) that is both the blessing and the curse here.
We celebrate your birthday early because we will be in Italy on the actual date. You have a sleepover with 8 other boys and are the first one to sleep, keeping your streak of 5 parties in a row where you nod off before a single guest hits the sack. I am woken by a noise at 3:44 am and check on your crew. Your hand is cupped under your chin in the pose you have struck since you were 8 months old. One sleeping friend has his tousled head near yours as if you had whispered each other to sleep. I know that is impossible because you can’t whisper but I imagine it. The rest of your guests are in our living room having literally climbed to walls atop the fireplace. I usher everyone down, direct them into the room and pledge (silently) never to host one of these again. As the kids insist they are not tired I study your sleeping face looking for your third dimple. It is smooth in sleep and it makes me want to stroke your hair, but we are not alone so I hold back.
When it is just the family I hold you close and try to send you my love and acceptance as you wriggle out of my embrace to thank me again for the birthday socks. Again. The socks. An hour later you are asleep on the couch, exhausted, and I take a quick picture for my “Oliver sleeping” album. You fall asleep at dinner, in the car, at sports events, at plays, on the floor stores. You sleep and I document it. There is a price to pay for meeting the world at 99%…and it is the afternoon nap at 11 years old. (Or 42, but that is for a different reason.)
I know what I wish for you my boy… and it is not birthday parties. May socks always bring you that last percentage of happiness. May you continue to enjoy the act of singing rather than caring about carrying a tune. May you treat the world with the kindness you summon for your brother. May you cherish the close relationships you have with the lucky people that love you. May the energy that you expend bring you more lovely naps. May you show off your third dimple when you realize that the exact definition of a trapezoid might change but it will still essentially be a quadrilateral. Just as you might change, but essentially you will always be my Oliver. And your own.
Love love love, Your Mama A different version of this was published at the Good Men Project.