To Nathan on His 8th Birthday

There will eventually come a time when you will be old enough to read and understand these birthday messages.  I picture a future you, having just discovered these, poring curiously over this message. And I cannot help but wonder how much of this year you remember. It has, without a doubt, been one of the most trying years of my life. Even now, as I sit down to write this, I am running on fumes. My blog has been dead for several weeks simply because I cannot muster the emotional energy to pen a coherent sentence. But 2020 has also gifted me a number of invaluable gems. Things that have kept me together when the stress of 2020 has threatened to unravel me. And the prize gem has been you.

You love to hear stories about when you were little. In the early parts of lockdown there were nights when you chose our anecdotes over the usual bedtime stories. In those moments, as you laughed for the hundredth time at the familiar tales, the memories worked their magic, promising that the world could be right once more.  

Memories are stories too – the ones we tell ourselves about who we are and what we have experienced. And like any stories, we who tell them control the direction they go. When I reflect on 2020, I hope I may always tell the stories of endless games of hide-and –seek, with me invariably in some cupboard (there are not too many places in our house where a six foot man can hide). I hope I will choose to tell of your lockdown obsession with Minecraft and Roblox and Youtubers; of how you met Alice – the girl next door – when, bored, you both decided to sit on the garden wall between our properties one day in lockdown. Completely independently, you made an appointment to meet at 13:00 the following day and became firm friends. I will tell stories of how you discovered Enid Blyton books, but we hardly managed to finish any because your beautiful heart was too troubled by the descriptions of the characters’ emotional hurts (something I only pieced together when I saw the pattern connecting the points in the various stories where you insisted we stop). I will reminisce about the fateful day when you discovered one of my old joke books and (mercifully) briefly became a stand-up comic. I will remember your bravery when you cut your hand on the glass coffee table and had to have surgery to repair the tendon. I will remember how proud you made me in how you handled online schooling. I will remember how the ADD medication completely killed your appetite, so that at one point it seemed you survived entirely on a meagre diet of cucumber slices and oranges. It will remain a mystery of biology that you managed to poop this year at all. I will remember how admirably disciplined you were in wearing your mask in public – for hours at a time – when half the adults on the planet could not muster the maturity to wear them at all. I will treasure the memories of the nights when you came into our bedroom in the early hours of the morning and cuddled in our bed; of baking choc-chip cookies and peppermint caramel tarts; of scavenger hunts and Catan and Wild Earth digital safaris. When I tell the story of 2020, I want those things to be the focus. The rest can be forgotten; my story of 2020 will be the year I had the privilege of being with you.

The mother of one of your classmates sent us something her daughter had written. The prompt was “I wish my teacher knew…”. She had written: “I wish my teacher knew how kind Nathan is”. Considering the impact of Covid on schooling worldwide, your end-of-year report was phenomenal. The effort you put into your academics this year deserved so much more recognition than the token certificate the school “awarded” you at prize-giving. I wish your school could have seen just how much effort you put in and how much you grew. I was beyond proud of your achievements academically. But this one ‘report’ – on something infinitely more valuable than academic achievement – made me proudest of all. It is indeed, something I wish your school could see too – but sadly schools tend not to. You only see what you value, and they value children’s achievements over the children themselves. They will deny it, of course, and be horrified by the accusation, but that is why they celebrate achievements not people. But a seven year old saw what your school could not. And it is something that is worth more than a hundred gold certificates and discipleship awards. She saw what you mom and I have known all along. You are kind. You have a beautiful heart.

As I write this, the Christmas tree blinks in the corner, flashing a welcome reminder that peace and joy and love still belong in the world. And that is what you are to me: a sort of a living Christmas tree. No matter the depth of the darkness that seems to engulf the world, your beautiful heart shines as a beacon in the corner, and I am able to glimpse hope. Your name means “God’s gift”, and that is precisely what you are, my little Christmas tree. I love you more than you will ever know. Happy birthday, Nathan.

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