His weight is nearly more than I can lift. His weight coupled with his dangling limbs, his long, floppy, slim, dangling limbs, make carrying him just short of impossible. I manage to wrangle him into bed as he pretends to sleep and I watch as he curls, facing away from me, like a potato bug. The space behind him proves irresistible and I join him on the sheets striped with blues covering the bottom bunk of his bed. I pull the top sheet to cover us as I lie on my side and I curl my body around the back of his. I drape my arm over him and feel him nestle into me.
I whisper the tale of nine years ago tonight, how I sensed he was poised to enter the world and I asked his grandma and grandpa to stay with us in case we needed to hustle to the hospital in the middle of the night and let Steven sleep. I explain he showed us early his determination to do things his way when my water broke 30 minutes after my mom started her nursing shift at the hospital the next morning. I remind him he took his sweet time and didn't arrive until 11:11 pm and how his endless energy and zeal for life matches his summer solstice arrival; his thirst for fun, for connection, for not missing out on a single opportunity is like living the longest day of the year fully.
"Mama?" he says, muffled from beneath Tiger and Panther, his nighttime companions.
"Yes, sweet boy," I say.
"Birthdays make me sad,"
"Like mama gets sad about you and brother growing older?"
"No. Like I look forward to my birthday for a long time but when I wake up the next day it is over sad. My birthday is tomorrow and I am already sad."
I sharply inhale as his words pierce. He just explained how I've felt my entire life but have never articulated, let alone distilled as succinctly.
"Oh, buddy, I feel that way too sometimes. And not just on my birthday. Christmas, big parties, really anything I am looking forward to enjoying."
"I don't want to turn nine tomorrow," he says, turning his face toward mine. He searches my face for answers, for help.
"How about we save a brownie from your birthday party for the day after? We can have a mini-birthday party to make it last longer."
"Okay." He pauses. "Mama, why do I feel so big? My friends don't get sad like I do."
This is the moment I didn't know I awaited and it feels custom-made.
"Sweetpea, you got your feels from your mama. We feel a lot. We cry when our people cry and we sing when our people celebrate. Our huge joy sometimes also means huge sadness. But I'll tell you a secret I am still learning: it is the best way to live. If you try to stop feeling, you will make yourself small and it will feel like a tiny death every single day. I know because I tried for a long time to make myself small so I would fit in better. My heart couldn't take it and I nearly turned to dust inside. I'm finding my way back to being myself but I missed out on a lot of years trying to be someone I'm not. I promise there is plenty of room for you to feel big feelings. Your friends may not understand now but don't let that stop you. Your huge heart is what I love best about you."
He gazes at me while the words tumble out of my mouth. I don't know how much he comprehends but I will say it as many times as it takes to make him believe.
"So it is okay that birthdays make me a little sad?"
"Yes. Any way you feel is okay. Do birthdays also make you a little happy?"
"Birthdays make me a lot happy."
"Good. Because you're going to be nine tomorrow!" I squeeze him tightly and get him giggling. He uses Tiger and Panther to attack me and we're soon both laughing.
"Okay, okay. We're supposed to be sleeping." I say, breathless from our quick round of roughhousing. "Snuggle back in so daddy doesn't come in and shush us. I love you little man."
"I love you more, mama."
I hope he never stops loving more.