A birthday message for my youngest son.
When it came time for him to be born, I was well accustomed to the ways my body would shake and erupt. The third son to occupy and intend to vacate my womb in less than four years, I was the 23 year old mother of a three year old, an almost two-year-old, and, almost (yet already, I suppose) him. “You know how this happens,” people would joke, as my belly grew and stretched and I wrangled toddlers in a grocery cart or at the playground. Eyebrows were raised, advice often given, inadequacies glaring - but I was accustomed to this as much as I was familiar with the ache in the center of my hips, the movement of a son’s heel stretching across my taut midsection - the way a baby can wedge behind a ribcage for days. We say that things “get under our skin,” but it wasn’t until I reflected on carrying my three sons that I really understand what it means. They take over, use your food, take your energy, are connected by blood. There is no escaping the ways they move and shape us.
When it came time for him to be born, it was a Leap Day in a Leap Year and we arrived at the hospital (just around the corner from our house) with a laptop and a few episodes of Lost on DVD, fully intending to wait to have this baby until he could have a proper birthday. I make terrible and hormonal decisions while pregnant - a bad haircut with baby #1, another pregnancy right after baby #2, and with this baby I determined that he would not be born on February 29th. My pregnancy-brained rationale was twofold. One, his father was born on February 28th - so I wanted this youngest Slack man to have his own birthday/month and not be forced to share the celebration. And two, I wanted his special day to come annually - not every four years. And so determined, I told the nurse, “Do not come back into this room until midnight. I will not have this baby until March 1st.”
I was dilated to ten a full hour before, but at midnight they re-entered the room, staff and gloves and lights and ready to go and at 12:18am, my third son, Beckham Brandon Seavers, came full faced and bright eyed, much chunkier and louder than his brother just before him, pink and perfect into the world.
This is now a cause for much dismay, as of course, OF COURSE, it would be much cooler to have a Leap Day birthday, and so, in my good intention, I failed him first, before I ever did right by him - I exercised my own best will and thought process and, as I’ve learned over and over in these 12 years of parenting him, there is much he knows about himself that I could never guess.
When it came time for him to be born, I was already exhausted of parenting, lost in an identity I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to begin with, and didn’t fully claim until my thirties. But somehow, this easy going and round faced baby did what all mothers of all youngest sons claim, “he completed our family.” And he did.
If you know Beckham you know that he isn’t completely sure he excels at any one thing. “I haven’t found my thing yet,” he’ll say. But I could list for days the “things” that Beckham does with intention and integrity. When very few people do, especially young people, especially today, especially with the distraction of the internet and social media and entertainment and selfishness, Beckham shows up. Over and over again - to hard situations and weird situations and challenging situations and dream-filled situations - Beckham puts on his hoodie, shoulders some world, and shows up.
I am proud of all of my sons for the ways they’ve built lives they can be proud of, themselves. But in many ways, Beckham is most like me. He is exhausting in his need for affirmation - to be seen. He is hard on himself, always, daily, crushingly, and he second guesses his own worth always, daily, crushingly. He sees the world for it’s broken beauty - Annie Dillard style, as do I.
“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...””
This morning, on his birthday, he insisted on waking early and buying birthday donuts to share with our food insecure friends in the park. We often go on Sunday mornings with a pot of soup or a roaster filled with cheesy potatoes - warmth in the cold, smiles on our faces, hands and feet of Love and all that. Today, our friends were led in Happy Birthday and then, as that music faded, a Native American man came towards Beckham and began to sing his own version of the song. Part Lakota chant, part traditional Happy Birthday, with a refrain of “May God protect and keep watch over you,” he used his voice to rain blessing on Beckham. Cold and weary, wind whipping our ears and numbing our fingertips, Beckham was seen and gifted something holy and sacred.
When it came time for him to be born, I had no idea how this human being would change my life. Beckham’s curiosity and creativity abounds. He talks a mile a minute and asks a million questions. He has described, in stunning detail, more episodes of Supergirl or Instagram Memes or Minecraft Realms than I ever knew I wanted to know. He has shaved his head for his grandmother, who did not lose her hair, once, and will shave his head tomorrow, again, alongside his Papa, who will lose his hair - because Beckham shows up.
When I am deeply involved in the community, it is Beckham who carries the tables and collates the papers and bakes the cookies and holds the door and loads my car and wears the Pride t-shirt and shakes hands with his elders and makes conversation with artists and asks questions about the environment and cares little about politics but wants people to be safe and fed and happy and whole.
He has cultivated a close knit group of school friends in what is widely considered the worst school in our district, and he has emerged a leader in more ways than one. He is not loud and demanding. He sometimes breaks down over an English assignment, saddened that his efforts in spelling continue to be unrewarded, and he has taught many friends that a masculinity exists in tear-filled-vulnerability and pink hoodies and hats. Beckham is far from perfect, but he’s definitely on some less-traveled path that heads in that general direction. He takes photos of sunrises. He still comments on cows in pastures, as we drive.
When it came time for him to be born, I was born too. With each of my children I was gifted something new on their arrival. When you put cells and blood, of your own body, outside your body and out into the world, for better or for worse, you can only bite your tongue and cross your fingers, try your best and stay amazed. My boys will and have all failed, splendidly. They can be selfish and cruel, awkward and angry, immature and nearsighted. They have all taught me grace and growth, in the shallows and in the depths. They keep my head above water. Beckham has taught me to love the hardest parts of myself. In loving this big-hearted boy who wants to change the world, I have learned to love this big hearted girl who wants to change the world. In encouraging his art and creativity, imperfect and spontaneous, I have learned to accept my own art and creativity. I get the gift of curling on the couch with him, most nights still, and reading books that answer and ask questions about race and sexuality and humanity and religion and politics and nature and psychology and what it means to show up and be fully alive. Together we are exploring a world that I will not live to see but he will carry into its daylight, taking photos of that sunrise, shaking hands with his elders, asking questions of scientists and staring wide-eyed in wonder at the work of artists’ hands.
I didn’t know I’d get a Beckham. Didn’t know I wanted one. Didn’t know we needed one. There is no escaping the ways he moves and shapes me - he gets under my skin. I’m the luckiest to know him, to have him come from me, to have him go out and grow beyond me. Happy 12th birthday to my very favorite youngest son and one of the best people I’ve ever known - you contain multitudes and facets and damn it kid, you reflect all the light.