A uniform here, a purchase of pencils and shoes there. Filling out forms and naming responsible people who can pick you up in cases of emergency.
All the little things we do to prepare for your tomorrows. One small gesture and your days have form, your future a touch of shape: the path before you.
And you in the wind running and not thinking of it at all. You are free from such concerns. You are a kid trying to fly, a boy increasing his speed, a son loving everything your arms can’t yet get around. And you are wonderful.
I want you to know that you’ve been doing a great job at life. Watching you grow this year has been a lesson to me. You love to play. Your mother said once that you lived to play. That still fits.
But you are such a good student. You do all your homework and usually finish it quickly so that you can play. Your teachers and we your parents have some difficulty keeping you from all that play when nobody else is ready to play. Even with those, there’s part of me that never wants you to stop playing. I want you to find a way to keep playing, to live playfully.
Part of me wants to say, when we’re at the table about to eat, before we pray, that we must be reverent. And part of me wants to edit myself and find a way to explain to you that all of prayer is playful. That the two in the eyes of the Divine are the same. I want to tell you that if you can balance living and playing, then you’ve lived well. I want to tell you to be as responsible as possible, to be as strong and generous as possible, and to do all of those without compromising play. I want you to be able to consistently revile in life, to be about playing, and to do so without compromising all those other important things.
It is a succinct picture of Sabbath. It is a simple way of expressing joy. It is pure and honest and descriptive of your personality. It is, in a sense, who you are. That is both frightening for the stark clarity that is you and enlivening because it is a kind of complete integrity on display.
I want you to play. In some ways, son, that’s all I want you to do. Perhaps the best thing I can tell you is to find a way to always play. To get the other stuff done. To do the homework. To clean your room. To get all those things “out of the way” so that you can do what you love, do what you live to do.
Perhaps it’ll take me a few years to fine tune my message, to figure out how to present that lesson to you well. Right now, you’ve got the playing thing down. I hope you never lose it. I hope in my efforts to father you that I don’t hamper it. And I hope you keep teaching me this year and that I learn a bit more about play.
The picture of you sitting on a bright orange seat, across from Grammy, mimicking her. “Deep,” you said, repeating your best impression of her as she offered an impression of someone else. You were so tickled, so taken by something that made you laugh, that held you like a loving embrace, that wouldn’t let you go for a long minute.
I was there, next to you, taken by your laughter. And it was the highlight of the day. Remembering it makes me thankful because the whole thing comes right back in my ear and in my eye. You curling up in stitches.
The three of us—you, your mother, and me—doing what you love and what we generally don’t. On the road, with me behind the wheel—was it I-55?—we listened to the soul satellite station, we skipped through other stations, with you choosing by the first sounds you heard, and we danced.
You in your car seat, leaning to the side, tucking your head just a bit, holding your fists and turning your arms to the music, kicking your legs. And your mother and me, in our lovely, remembered-to-us way joined in.
Life for my child is simple, and is good.
He knows his wish. Yes, but that is not all.
Because I know mine too.
And we both want joy of undeep and unabiding things,
Like kicking over a chair or throwing blocks out of a window
Or tipping over an ice box pan
Or snatching down curtains or fingering an electric outlet
Or a journey or a friend or an illegal kiss.
No. There is more to it than that.
It is that he has never been afraid.
Rather, he reaches out and lo the chair falls with a beautiful crash,
And the blocks fall, down on the people’s heads,
And the water comes slooshing sloppily out across the floor.
And so forth.
Not that success, for him, is sure, infalliable.
But never has he been afraid to reach.
His lesions are legion.
But reaching is his rule.
You’ve gone to bed several nights too late. You’ve crashed from over-tiredness. After all that screaming and running and mask-wearing and banging and rolling and hugging and wrestling and beating and singing and forgetting about eating. Each day’s been printed with the fingertips of your friends. So remember them well.
Eliot from Sunday. Ian and Emerson from Saturday. These boys and friends like them will form the circle of love that keeps you going when you hate me, when you’re displeased by your mom. These boys and friends like them will be the people whose parents will let you come by when I put you out so you can take a teenage version of a timeout. These are the people you need to keep along the way.
It was truly fun to hear you tell me about your day with your mother. You lit up at dinner when talking about your surprise. She did too. And the memory as you, together, reflected on your afternoon made me happy for you both. From turtles to fire trucks to the long conversation you sustained with mommy and granny on the way home, you had a blast Wednesday.