It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving, and you’re six days old. I haven’t met you yet. In fact, my belief in your independent existence still wobbles a bit. You came two weeks early, and we had to shift the world to set an extra place for you this Thanksgiving. But you’re the most welcome guest we can imagine.
And so here you are. A boy. Not just a bump any more, elbowing corners into your mother’s belly, but a _boy_, with a name of your own.
(You’re going to have to teach me how to be friends with little boys, Liam. My world was always full of small girls–sisters, neighbours, and cousins. I know them well, even now. But my friends grew up to bring boy after boy into the world, of whom you’re the latest and the most dear.)
Your first choice was a good one. Those are lovely parents you found for yourself, and they’re ready for you. I wish you could remember them as they are now. You’ll see photos of them from this week: your drained and blissful ma, your dad babbling with pride. Their hair is still brown. What can I tell you about who they are now, at the beginning of your life?
Your daddy’s long and pensive Huguenot features are at odds with his enthusiasm. He still has a kid’s joy. When he’s caught in some wild exaggeration or some giggle at the wrong moment, he still ducks his head like the youngest brother he is. He is lovable, crusading, and generous to a fault. A note-perfect mimic who slips on characters to make your mother laugh. He’s forever tweaking his own Orange County WASPiness.
He gobbles information–people, books, events, opinions–and finds unexpected connections within them. When he comes back from long runs, through Holland Park or Dupont Circle, he is restocked with global theories.
He’s often outraged. Like your mother, he wants to make the world a better place for you, and right now, it’s not co-operating. You should have heard him sputter and speechify through this past election, his focus sharpened by a dozen years of absence. Maybe you came early just to cheer him back up.
Your mama is a different character. She’s always been more serious, which is why so many people love to make her laugh. She draws them to her and draws them out like Oprah. The titanium plates that once braced her spine have been removed, but a steely core remains. This is a mother who would slug a mammoth to get food for you, Liam, and she’d endure a thousand years of winter to keep you warm. She is smart enough, and persistent enough, to invent the wheel for your MacLaren stroller. And she has a genius for human beings. When you go out into the world, you’ll learn that she’s a rare listener, with rarer compassion.
The first time I spoke to your dad, your mother put him on the phone to me from Bosnia. She’d fallen in love, she said, and she wanted me to talk to this guy, who worked in Sarajevo. He had a radio announcer’s voice. From 4,000 miles away I liked him immediately.
The second time I spoke to him was at six in the morning, six weeks later. He was calling from The Hague, where your mother had just moved to take a new job at the War Crimes Tribunal. He had joined her for the first week, to help her settle in. Just before he left for Sarajevo, a car hit her bike and tossed her over the hood and onto the ground. Her back was broken. They knew no one in The Netherlands.
He never went back to Sarajevo. He stayed with her, spending every day at the hospital. He found a ground-floor flat for her to move into when they let her out of hospital. He fed her, talked to her, held her hand, supported her first steps, told her she was a babe in her blue surgical corset. (This is encouraging news for a person who can’t yet hold his own head up.) To keep her dignity, he invented Bruce, a camp and gossipy hairdresser who bathed her and clipped toenails.
She told me later that even with all that pain and fear, it was one of the happiest times of their lives. What a love story you come from.
I wonder what will happen in the eighty or ninety years that stretch before you. You’ve already had an interesting life as a passenger: made in Tehran, gestated in Dublin, made your entrance in DC. By birth, you’re Huguenot, Celt, Brit, Nortsoider, So-Cal dude, and Beltway insider. You own this century more than we do.
We can’t imagine what thoughts you’ll think in 2044, or 2094. We can’t even imagine what thoughts you have now at you stare milkily at your new mother. In a few years you’ll probably roll your eyes as your parents apologize yet again. (They both say “Sorry” more often than the entire population of Canada combined.) You’ll roll your eyes as ma presses fancy sandwiches and pumpkin muffins on you as you head for the bus. (She does it to me, too.) Dad’s Ultimate Frisbee League can only be a tremendous embarrassment. And we won’t even start on cringeworthy letters from your mother’s best friend.
Liam, I’m appointing myself fairy godmother, and as you know, we’re in the wish business. So tonight I wish you this: may you be as brave, bright, and beautiful as your birthright promises. And may you have the gift of choosing to be happy, no matter what the big world deals you.
It’s the beginning of a great adventure.
With very much love,
P.S. Halfway through writing this, I saw the first photos of you. You have your daddy’s muzzle, ears, and eyebrows. And auburn hair! Your pricked heel is covered with a band-aid. You have long toes.