Arthur's Second Birthday!

To Arthur, on his second birthday:

You have the fortune of being born on Groundhog Day—a “holiday” that will always coincide with your birthday.  While men in stovepipe hats ritualistically gather to read the body language of a marmot and the portent of light running across its body, we will shower you with love, gifts, memories, and songs.  Of course, whether we admit it or not, we will be making predictions about the future.

Your second birthday is full of data that are hinting at who you will become in your growing journey.  You are now about half of the height you will grow to in adulthood.  You are starting to acquire language and other skills.  Indeed, there are several things we’ve learned about you:

1.  You have a strong physical presence.  While we are working to help you learn not to push your siblings and friends down to the ground, we are also cultivating your seemingly freakish strength.  You can pick up heavy items, climb on things, and wrestle us with a legitimate chance of winning.

2.  Whatever you do, you do it headlong.  As it currently stands, you show a raw commitment to your actions by attacking them without abandon.  You have certainly hurt yourself, but you are more often pleased with yourself as you fall to the floor, off of furniture, or down the stairs with an open-mouthed grin.

3.  You have early-onset curiosity.  You do not talk as much as your brother and sister did at your age.  You are an observer.  But, when you do speak, you use sentences.  And I find that you often ask me, “What is this?”  When I provide an answer, you repeat the answer with a raised pitch and cocked eyebrow to question my response.  “What is this?”/“This is a spatula.”/“A sp[at]ula?”  With a tone as if you are not sure of the answer and/or you have a bordering-on-the-unhealthy skepticism of your father’s ability to tell you the truth.  I love it.

But whether these qualities are any indication of your future persona, we would be guessing and would probably have better accuracy if we divined it from the marmots.  We are not hurrying the process, but you will continue to change.  I do not know if there is any truly universal principle that we could look to and say that you are guaranteed to turn out “okay.”  After all, this is a world of probabilities and actuaries.  How can we put you in the best place to find honest meaning and satisfaction in your life?  Your mother and I are already thinking about this and how our seemingly small decisions can have great consequences for you and your own future.  We want to be good stewards of the portion of your lifetime with which we are charged.

In the end, though, we want you—our little baby!—to leave our proverbial nest and spread those proverbial wings (while we shed those less-than-proverbial tears).  I have been thinking and imagining the day when we sit down with you and try to impart some sort of unified theory and shove you out the door to face the world head first.  I am working on such a theory of verything, but here is the best piece that I have synthesized to date.

When presented with more opportunities and relationships than you have time to meaningfully experience or develop, ask yourself these questions in this sequence:  (1) “Where am I going?”  (2)  “Who will go with me?”  The crucial part is that you order the questions correctly; if you reverse the questions, you are creating a situation that creates a higher likelihood of trouble and heartache.

You may find that this formula works in a variety of scenarios.  For example, when you are looking to develop strong friendships, you will be wise to visit your own dreams and ideas about your life.  If your friends do not support you or push you to become better, you should cultivate other friendships that do (which will necessarily be at the sake of your relationship with your old buddies).  Not because you are a jerk and view yourself as better than others but because you want to do something with your limited time in this life, where others will desire something else.

Another example, and the most important, is how you choose a life partner.  Any pre-marital counseling or similar relationship discussion will inventory your personal desires for what you want out of your life and how you would like to share it.  It is a strange experience to discuss the big-ticket questions for the first time in a pre-marital survey when the ring is on both the finger and the credit card.  You want to have those discussions earlier in your relationship.  It is part of governing your trajectory.  Where are you going?  Is this the person who should go with you?  This is the evergreen romance; two people outloving one another towards their individual but shared dreams.

But, as the saying goes, you cannot pick your family (or your friends’ noses).  For a while, you are just along for the ride with us, but we want our family to be a launching point, where you will find and begin to tread the unique journey of your life.  If you will have us, we will go with you.

Happy birthday, son.