"Jesus, he's beautiful."
Your grandfather breathed these words when he first beheld you, lying in your plexiglass hospital crib sporting a onesie and diaper. Grampy's voice exuded love, surprise, disbelief (and not only because he had begun to believe his daughter would never have a baby), and joy. He watched you closely, took in your wide wide eyes, your delicate olive skin, your slender fingers and toes. "He looks like he's looking around at stuff," he said, as if you possessed gifts other babies did not.
And of course, for us, you did. Many, many times have I silently echoed Grampy's words: "Jesus, he's beautiful." There's beauty in your appearance, yes, but also in your interactions with your friends, your family, and with the world. A beautiful soul: gentle, loving, quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) forthright. You are a perfect balance of natural empathy, stubborn determination, restless curiosity, and boundless energy.
Your fifth birthday has arrived, and as I reflect on the years that have brought us here, I see a slideshow in fast-forward, and I am struck by the need to slow it down, to pause, to record everything so that no part of your wonder years are forgotten or overlooked. I recall your dark eyes probing my face as we rocked in the glider. You're in a yellow sleep sack, sucking on a pacifier, and I'm reading "Goodnight Moon." Your gaze is so deep it's startling. "He's a very intense little baby," your dad said around this time, and this intensity is something you carry with you in everything you do: I see it in the complicated narrative of your play; in your face when you are troubled; in your dogged focus at the skating rink; in your concern for others' feelings.
I remember the first time you went to daycare. We did a one-hour trial run: I stayed for the first thirty minutes and watched you play; then I left, slowly, hesitantly, amazed at the depth of my emotion as I drove away. I cried. I had stayed home with you, not working, for fifteen months, and the guilt I felt in this moment was overbearing. And I don't think it helped that you waved good-bye, or that you were smiling. When I returned, you were playing happily. The sight of you, all baby fat and fine curls, wearing your red overall shorts and Carter's sandals, made me cry all over again. "Mama!" you shouted. As I embraced you, I thought, "I've never known love until this moment."
Your intensity is most remarkable in your relationship with your sister. What great friends you are! This, of course, after an initial transition that was rocky at times. Our first night home with Alexa, you stood crying in your crib, clutching the blue Patriots football my parents had brought for you. In the morning, you climbed into bed with us, your expression at finding the baby still here a mixture of confusion and excitement. "Hi, bee-bee," you said, crouching down to see her as she slept. "Good moanin!"
Last year, on Valentine's Day, your teachers asked you to answer the question, "What is love?" You responded, "Loving my sister." This year, your response was the same. And it's no empty phrase. Dianne, our neighbor, once commented that you carry your sister "by the scruff of her neck." You jump when she drops a book, you're sad when she's away from you. You derive great joy from teaching her new things, and she prefers your company to anyone else's. At night, when I kiss you both while you sleep, I see that Lexi is covered with stuffed animals and extra blankets, and I know that her brother-angel is looking out for her.
Today you said to me, "I think Lexi and me might wanna get married when we get older, because we don't want to live far away from each other." Already, you are thinking of your future, and planning ways to keep your sister close by. I hope you will always share this bond.
Dylan, you are beautiful. Jesus, you're beautiful. And yet, beautiful can't even begin to capture all of the things that you are. My greatest pleasure has been to watch you grow, to share your brightest moments, and to comfort you when you have needed it. I enjoy watching you line up your cars as much as I enjoy watching you skate ferocious laps around the rink. Always, I am proud of you. I could easily lament the swiftness with which these years have passed, or beat myself up about how I haven't lived in the moment, or played with you enough, or appreciated you as I should. Instead, I would rather smile on the moments we have now, on the rich and wonderful years that await us: days and weeks and months and years filled with camping trips, hikes, skinned knees, amusement parks, trips to the city, broken bones, t-ball games, shouting matches, conversations, movies, et cetera, et cetera.
You've been here only five years, but I can hardly remember the years that came before.
Happy birthday, beautiful.