For Finley on his Seventh Birthday
Finley, my love, my baby, my only son – grin-giver, chaos-creator – you, my boy, are seven.
What does seven mean for you?
A third birthday without your dad.
Second birthday in New Zealand.
First birthday minus two front teeth.
Who are you, at seven?
You stand 47 inches (120 cm) tall and weigh 49 pounds (22.4 kg). You’re one of the smallest boys in your Year Two class at primary school. You own a thatch of thick brown hair and recently cut your own sideburns. A spray of freckles stipples your button nose. Your cheeks lack their former ‘baby-man’ voluptuousness but remain round and soft. At least, that’s what I recall when you stop moving long enough to let me brush my hand across your face.
Movement is your best friend. So’s Noise. You never travel without them. “Finley, do you ALWAYS have to make noise?” I’ll ask each morning at the breakfast table while you hum, sing, screech, chatter and squawk. “DEE-DEE-DA-BEEP-BOOP-WAAH-WOOP-WOO!” You’re like a radio that’s impossible to turn off, whose volume only gets louder. “New volume, please!” I’ll say. You’re too busy rolling in your own exuberance to hear me.
Your well of enthusiasm for play time, sports, chocolate cake and tormenting your big sister bores deep – all the way to America. I watch you on your birthday bounce shirtless on a trampoline with a friend. You wear black soccer shorts with long, white dangling drawstring. You giggle and yell, “Hey, watch this!” before somersaulting onto your back. You bounce up again and –boing, boing, boing – laugh and yell. I stare at your perfect little boy tummy, which, like your cheeks, retains a whisper of toddler apple-ness. Your belly stretches nearly straight up and down. Your ribs are visible as piano keys. Yet, you’re solid – strong legs carry you near the front of the class during school races, and wiry, muscled arms can scale lamp posts in fewer than 30 seconds.
You blend well in our adopted home of New Zealand. “I don’t need shoes, Mom!” you say. “I’m a Kiwi kid.” You occasionally (and willingly) eat Vegemite and refer to ‘Recess’ as ‘Morning Tea.’
I hear a trace of Kiwi accent starting again to creep into your speech. Questions are phrased as roller coasters, rising up and down, up and down and up again: “Did YOU see my SKATEboard anyWHERE? You’ve always spoken your friends’ names how they pronounce them, for example: SKAH-let (Scarlotte), AH-lo (Arlo) and GREE-ah (Greer). You’re learning Maori (native New Zealand) language in school and delight in the fact Whakarongo (pronounced FAHK-ah RONg-oh) means listen. You like saying, “FAHK-ah, FAHK-ah, FAHK-ah…”
You try getting away with hiding toys, candy (‘lollies,’ here in NZ) and with whacking Fiona when you and your sister fight. You’ve become a master of denial: “But it wasn’t ME!” you’ll say. Right, Finley. Even while your dad was in hospital, he looked at you, all of four years old, crashing toy cars on the tile floor, and said, “Don’t let him get away with anything.” Now, three years after that admonition, I scramble, as if chasing papers in the wind, to keep my word to your dad I’d keep control of you.
Oh, it’s hard, Finn. You challenge most of what I say. You’re the negotiator, the joy-boy-on-fire, Spiderman and Bart Simpson rolled into a wall-scaling, mischief-making package. You found a stick in the front yard a couple weeks ago shaped like a club. One day, you gathered fallen palm fronds outside and whacked them to bits with the stick. The same day, you amassed a rock collection from the garden, stacking it into a pyramid on the lawn. I made you clean that up, too. “Fiona, will you HELL-elp?” you cry.
You rely on Fiona for lots of things. Too many things. Sometimes, you get her to do your jobs (setting the table, cleaning up…). Too many times, really. You still insist on sleeping in the same bed (oh, you are going to be embarrassed reading this later!). Fiona reads you stories and you giggle together until the din of disobedience irks me so much I separate you. You’re staying in your own rooms– starting tomorrow.
You whine about what the other has, or gets to do: “Why does Fiona get to take Petey’s water bottle to school?” “How come she gets to go to the birthday party.” (Because I said so and because she was invited and you, Son, attend a birthday party every week).
Have I already explained to you what a ‘Funny Farm’ is, and why Mommy might enroll?
Mouth Guards and Hoodies
|Rugby Camp -Mt. Maunganui|
You’re learning to play rugby, which you didn’t enjoy the first day of camp. “Everybody buh-cept America knows rugby, and I can’t play it. And somebody tackled me!” you cry. The second day, you greet Fiona by tackling her and flashing a wide smile wearing your bright blue mouth guard. You later tell me you got to play a ‘real’ rugby game where people watched and a professional player (from the Bay of Plenty Steamers) signed your arm. I ask if you want to keep playing rugby, “Yeah,” you say. “But can I still play soccer?” Yes, Finn. You can.
You like pairing hoodies with shorts. You wear long sleeves nearly every day because you don’t like applying sunscreen. You ride your orange MGP scooter .75 kilometers (almost a half mile) to school. You begged me to let you ride alone, with only Fiona (most days I allow this independence). The only shoes you want to wear are soccer cleats.
Your best friend in the whole wide world is Ryan, in Spokane. One of your buddies in New Zealand (the one with whom you shared a trampoline) is also named Ryan. You’ve said, for at least two years, you intend to marry L .(name withheld to protect the innocent who will undoubtedly change her mind about her life’s partner).
We talked tonight about L., just you and me, when Pete was still at work and Fiona attended Brownies. You start by asking, “How do I get a job?” I ask why you wanted a job and you say, “To get money.”
“Finley,” I say, “What are you gonna do with the money?” Finley responds, “Buy toys for my kids.”
He tells me he wants two – no, make that four – kids. “How old do you hafta be to get married?” he asks.
I tell him you really should be 25 or 30. Finley asks, “Will you take me to America when I’m 25 so I can get married?” I assure him I will.
“But – how do I get the babies? Do we get married and then they just come?” I ask Finley if he remembers any of our ‘How are Babies Made?’ talks. He doesn’t. I start with the sperm and egg routine, then, seeing the blank look on his face, realize I need to be more – explicit. I start with a question: “Finley, what do you have on your body that Fiona doesn’t?”
Finley responds with excitement, “Two kidneys!” I tell him, “Yes, that’s right – Fiona has one kidney and you have two – but it’s something else. You have a penis and Fiona has a – what?”
“A Pah-GYNA!” says Finley. “That’s right,” I say. “A pagina, I mean, vagina.”
I do a quick dance around the ins and outs (pun intended) of sex and Finley says, “It’s gonna be hard!" (pun not intended) "I think she’ll say no.”
“After preschool,” Finley says, “I used to kiss L. on the cheek. “Did she ask you to?” I probe. “I think we both decided that,” he says.
He starts again on the how-to-get-a-baby track, inquiring, “Could it go like this – you don’t do the pee-pee thing?”
I want to kiss his innocent face. Freeze his naivete – preserve it, like the fossil it soon shall be.
This conversation will transform radically in five years. Even by next year.
Besides describing your seven-year-old quirks and passions, what I’m trying to say, Finley, is how fiercely I love you. Even though I tire of repeating myself, asking you to do something (Did you not hear me five times saying, ‘Get dressed?’); even though I lose my temper and sometimes yell, I love you madly in a way you’ll eventually understand – if you decide, when you’re 30 years old and happily married – to do the pee-pee thing and have a child or four of your own.
Happy seventh, Finn-man.