“Hey Mama? Did you know that I’m four years old today?”
Four fingers waving proudly in my face.
A family of three that’s waiting for any minute now when we become four.
Four years of life on earth, of questions big and small, of sounds and colors and actions and firsts and lasts. Of a baby coming and then fading into a toddler and now into a professor.
Asher asked for two things for his birthday: A claw truck that can pick up logs, and an aquarium. The little boy scientist who tells us that he’s going to be a paleontologist, who loves looking for worms and gets excited when it rains because “the plants need sun AND water to grow.” The petite red head who said to me the other day, “Mama, it’s so hard for me to see right now because the biggest star in the solar system is shining in my eyes.” It took me longer than I’m proud to admit to realize that he was talking about the sun. Of course Asher would ask for a fish tank, something living that he can ‘wook’ at, a source for a thousand more questions with the best that we can do to answer in return.
And of course we obliged.
I re-read Asher’s birthday letter from last year, and thought about how I kind of don’t need to write another one yet because his essence is so much the same. And I wonder if I will read it when he’s 15 and again at 25 and one day at 40 and think about all of the stories that I can tell about his life–our life–but also think about how little has changed since he turned three that one time. At his core, Asher is fundamentally sweet and curious above all else. Drew said it perfectly last night when he said that Asher just has a nugget of sweetness in his core and it’s so very true. His name means Happy, his eyes crinkle when he smiles.
And on a slightly different note, this:
On the night of September 10, 2009, Drew and I were in bed and I was rubbing my massive belly kind of jokingly telling the mysterious baby inside that he might want to skip being born the following day because I didn’t know about having September 11 as a birthday. You know the rest of the story, and at 12:50 p.m. on Friday, September 11 another little light clicked on in the world.
Asher asked me for the first time this year what it meant that a plane crashed today and I did my best to talk to him about it in the way that seems appropriate to me. The truth is, we know what that day felt like 12 years ago. We, as individuals and collectively, we all know. We’ll never not know. But honestly, today is a day of celebration in our house. We spent last night taping up streamers and balloons in the dining room, talking about labor starting, and marveling at the time that has passed between that night and this night. I think that we were more giddy this morning thinking about sharing this day with Asher than either of us have been about own birthdays in years. That’s in the forefront. But under that is that little thing that lives in all of our guts since 2001. The rock that can take us back instantly to the sickening moment that we heard, or saw. That moment.
This is the first year that I’ve written about our family sharing such a special day with such a sad day and in some ways I think it’s the natural order of things that there is happiness sharing the space with the other memories. In the proverbial order or doors closing and windows opening, time has marched on steadily, bringing with it new life, new days, new chances, but always with the weight of the memories of the past tethered close behind. Much like the various scars that criss-cross our bodies, this day tells a story of hurt, but also one of healing. The two narratives can’t exist without the other, and so the question becomes, which side of the story do we focus on?
Asher will grow up hearing about how I stood in the landscaping shed lot at Warren Wilson with my backpack dropped to the ground listening on the radio as the second plane hit the second tower. In much the same way that I know where my parents were when Kennedy was shot, he’ll know the broad strokes of that story that happened 8 years before he was on earth and he’ll know its impact. But he’ll also know this story:
And so when people ask me if it’s weird that Asher was born on September 11, I just say that it’s a day for remembering.
This song from 12 years ago is for all of us, for the hurting and the healing. For remembering.