I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but I find myself celebrating your eleventh birthday today.
On one hand, the years since you were born have, quite literally, flown; on the other, you often seem so far beyond your years that I feel you must be older than this. You and Lyle like to tease me for introducing you to someone as my “11-year old son, Baxter” back in April. And of course I’m sorry about that, but you have to understand that even as a tiny baby your doctor once referenced your chart in the middle of an appointment to check your birth date because you seemed to be bigger and more mature than he expected of a 6-month old. “Did he skip an appointment?”, he asked, laughing incredulously. So it’s not just me, you see.
Baxter, I love to see the world through your curious, logical lens. Your favorite dinner conversation, the kind that lights you up, is a math problem. You and Daddy frequently geek out at the end of dinner, with you running to get paper and a pencil to work something out. Some nights you bring home a brain teaser to see if any of us can complete it. (I never can.) You told your extended family that the highlight of your upcoming week will be the day you get to go to Advanced Math. And science? You love it all. You intend to be a zoologist someday and you went to sleep last night with a new animal encyclopedia open on your chest, a treasured birthday gift from Oma and Pops.
But there is more to you than your strong left-brain dominance – oh, so much more. You are sweet and sensitive, good with younger kids (including your own brother, which I thank you for), and a truly kind soul. You think of other people, asking me, for instance, how my day was. Recently, when you woke me during the night, you asked with great concern the following morning if I’d ever gone back to sleep.
Baxter, you have your challenges just like the rest of us, but you have a song in your heart. You sing and hum all day long – while reading, while walking, while taking a shower. You don’t even know you are doing it most of the time. Your Oma does the same thing. This year you decided to discontinue playing the flute and switched to choir. This seems right.
You read. You read and read at a pace your speed-reading mother never imagined possible, completing the hugest of books overnight and recalling minute details. In fact, I was so blindsided by your love of reading from the time you were a small toddler that it took a teacher to point out to me that math and science were your true loves. I’m still a little shocked a few years later.
I adored you as a baby, toddler, and small boy, but Baxter — eleven is heaven. It truly is. You are still engaging and funny, and now you also get the grown-up stuff. We stifle giggles about the little kids in the carpool, and we share a love for NPR shows we listen to on podcast together like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Car Talk, and Radio Lab. Our taste in music is so similar I’m spooked sometimes when I’m about to turn up the volume on a song in the car and you say from the back seat, “Can you please turn this up? I love this song!” On every album we like (everything from Copland to REM to The Decembrists and Alexi Murdoch), we share the same favorite tracks. It’s uncanny. You love The Onion and political jokes – you have a strong interest in politics in general. When The New Yorker arrives you read all the cartoons but always flip to the caption contest first. You have read the recent Dear Mountain Room Parents Shouts & Murmurs essay to every person who has ridden in our car in the past couple weeks, killing yourself laughing over all the best parts. “Fanta!” you hoot. You keep that issue in the back seat, just for fun.
You are old enough to want to comb your hair some days before school, but young enough to bounce excitedly into the kitchen to show me how it looks. Old enough to preen before the mirror in new clothes but young enough to wear them out in the back yard in Michigan and let your brother and cousins tackle you to the ground and sit on you, grinding them into the dirt.
We were recently talking a bit about what we believe in. You immediately rattled off a list so compelling that I stopped to write it down. Here’s what you told me: “Peace, love, awesomeness, and impossibilities.”
Yes. You did.
You are a child of my heart and I love you and your earnest, full-of-life self more with each passing year. Happy 11th Birthday, Baxter.