While the kids were with us the past few days for Thanksgiving, we also celebrated Bear’s 8th birthday with a hyper-chocolate cake with fudge frosting that left me slightly tipsy on chocolate and a touch nauseated. He loved it though, and had requested chocolate and more chocolate, so I popped some Tums later and sang “Happy Birthday” and watched the kids decorate their faces with icing as only kids can do.
A combination of Dennis the Menace, Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, and the Energizer Bunny on speed, Bear is a powerhouse of energy and curiosity. When I first met him, he proudly announced to me several times, “I like ice cream.” He grinned widely each time he proclaimed this affection for ice cream, like I was now in on top-secret information.
On my desk at work is a frame that holds a photo of each of the kids, and Bear’s school picture somehow simply doesn’t do him justice. Who is that cleaned-up boy in a plaid shirt with no dirt streaks on his face, sitting still instead of leaping from the walls to the ceiling, no fantastically wild smile that says “I just did something you don’t know about yet, and by the way, do you have fire insurance?”
We have joked that Bear is soul mates with our youngest and most energetic cat, Sylvester, since both have the eerily similar affinity for seeking adventure first and asking about its potential to cause mass destruction and bodily harm later. My favorite picture of Bear was taken nearly 2 years ago, as Sylvester was huddled under the Christmas tree and Bear wiggled his way underneath to see what he was missing out on. He and Sylvester ended up sprawled face to face, watching each other curiously, and I snapped the picture as they regarded each other, nose to nose, and seemed to be comparing notes and trying to one-up each other.
As I held the pen to sign Bear’s birthday card this past weekend, all I could think of was how frequently we have to say “Bear!”, usually with alarm and urgency in our voices, to stop him from near disaster with his latest endeavor, and how that may feel to him a bit like we don’t enjoy his imagination or energy. Far from it. So I wrote in his card how much I love him and that I hope he knows how much we love having him with us.
When Bear opened his dinosaur birthday card, he read it out loud, then read what I had written. He stopped and just held the card in his hands for a moment with an odd expression on his face. I started to think what I had written must be stupid, when he suddenly exploded from his chair, ran to me, and flung his arms around me, squeezing me tight.
I honestly expected him to barely read what I wrote, to be too excited to tear into the presents in front of him, to not know the intensity and enormity behind what I wrote and how much I meant it. But beneath all that energy, non-stop motion and noise, Bear has a huge, gentle heart. He went back to the table and read his card again, read what his daddy wrote, and kept looking at the card.
I almost hadn’t bought a card. I thought the presents would mean much more, that the card would be barely touched and then tossed aside. Gary told me he thought the cards for the kids meant more than I thought they did. As Bear reread his card, Gary leaned over to me and whispered, “I told you” with a smile on his face.
Not everyone enjoys Bear’s energy or curiosity, and for those people I feel truly sorry. Squashing his fire and rambunctiousness, trying to mold him into a hands-folded, seen-but-not-heard mannequin of a child, is not only a losing battle, but also the heartbreaking waste of his imagination, his vitality, his wondrous mind and heart.
I thank Bear for forcing me to use my imagination just to keep up with him, for making me laugh out loud when he bursts out with his hilarious observations of the world, for the way he adores and appreciates love that is sent his way. And I thank him for opening my eyes to a new view on life: if it’s worth doing, well, then it’s worth doing while on fire, running as fast as I can, backwards if possible, rolling down a hill, yelling at the top of my lungs, arms flung wide, upside down if I can manage it, preferably with multiple simultaneous explosions, all the while relishing every last drop of life as I go so I don’t miss a single thing.