"Tell me a story from when you were little?" he asked me. It's our ritual at bedtime. But this night I had other plans for my little boy who I would be tucking in six...and waking up seven.
"Tonight I'm going to tell you some stories from when YOU were little. How's that?" I proposed. I got my answer when he curled up into my arms.
I will never forget the day you were born. December 16, 2008. I was 38 years old. I couldn't wait to finally see your face and when I did I thought you were the most beautiful baby.
I had to stay in the hospital for four days to recover from the birth and they were some of the happiest days of my life. Daddy was back and forth because he had to be with Gavin so most of the time it was just the two of us. I barely put you down.
We bonded and got to know each other and I just knew that the two of us were going to be really close.
I remember the moment that you met Gavin. Daddy and I were so happy that Gavin was now a big brother. We could tell that Gavin instantly fell in love with you. He had that protective big brother look about him from the first day - and he was only 15 months... that's not even two years old!
I remember your first birthday. You loved balls so we got you a ball pit!
It was hard to get you out of there. You were always so easy to please and could entertain yourself really well.
When you were two - boy do I have a story for you. I was downstairs doing something when all of a sudden I heard a loud THUD!!! I dropped what I was doing and RAN upstairs and FLUNG open your bedroom door and guess what I saw. YOU sitting on the FLOOR!! You looked up at me and smiled and said "hi." You had climbed out of your crib!! (Brian laughed and laughed so hard at this story that he made me tell it three times!) The next day I put a "crib tent" over your crib and each day at nap time and each night at bedtime I would zip you right into bed. You loved it!
And you were very curious about everything - inside and out of the house. That Christmas I definitely had to tell you "we look with our eyes and not with our hands, Brian" about thirty times a day as we stood in front of the Christmas tree!
Three was a big year for you. You started preschool - AND you started TALKING!! You were holding in all of your words until just the right moment. When you first started in this preschool you were so quiet and shy.
But then - you discovered the reason why you had been holding in all of your words! Your words and your compassion started flowing out that year. By the end, your teacher told me that you would always reach out to classmates that looked alone or needed help.
It was also the year that you and I started seeing movies together! Your first movie was "The Muppet Movie" and you loved it!
And the big three year old news? You moved into a big boy bed on your third birthday! The transition was so simple with you. We put you in the bed - you took sixty seconds to arrange your "guys" the way you wanted them...
...then you'd lay down with a smile and go to sleep! In the morning you would lay there with a smile until we came into your room to say it was okay to get up. Do you know how unusual that is? You were such a good boy - and still are!
Four was a super-exciting year. It was the first year we were lucky enough to hear Santa Claus outside of our house on Christmas Eve!! We heard him right outside YOUR window!! And I was so lucky to have my camera there to videotape it.
"Mommy, you always have your camera," he reminded me with a smile.
"Good point, bud. Good point," I said.
But four was also a very sad year. That was the year you had to say goodbye to Gavin. But it was also a powerful year because we all learned that good things can come out of really bad things. Like organ donation, remember?
And Hope! Four was the year you became a big brother to Hope! I will never forget the first time you met her in the hospital. You sat in a chair and Hope was placed in your arms. You leaned down and kissed her.
Then you whispered, "Hi Hope. I'm Brian, your big brother. I'm going to love you forever."
"Wow - a lot of crazy things happened when I was four," he noted.
"Indeed," I agreed. "You can say that again."
Five was a fun year! You wanted to be involved in every single one of Hope's firsts. You even gave her her first bath!! You were a natural as a big brother - and still are!
And that was the year that you were Daddy's best man and Hope was my maid of honor when we decided to get married (again) on our ten year wedding anniversary in Las Vegas! Remember your first ride in a limousine... "and how hot it was. Las Vegas was too hot!" he reminded me.
I remember after Daddy and I said our vows "Elvis" started singing a song and you asked Hope to dance!! It was so sweet.
And you were five when you started Kindergarten at St. Norberts and now you'll be there all the way through 8th grade!
Six was the year that you lost your first tooth - it was just a few weeks after your 6th birthday, actually!
You also started LOVING sports - especially soccer.
And now here we are - seven. I can't believe it. And I can't wait until next year to talk about all the great things you'll accomplish as a seven year old!! Are you going to want me to go through each year again all the way up to eight on your next birthday?
"No - that's okay, Mom."
All righty then.... ha! Well I definitely enjoyed the walk down memory lane. And with that, I tucked him in and said goodnight.
Brian's birthday has been a lot of fun! This morning we gave him his presents at breakfast. We wanted to send him off to school feeling excited - and I'm pretty confident we accomplished that. He opened a present "from" Gavin first - two books. Gavin was instrumental in teaching empathy and compassion to Brian without even trying. I want to be sure, now that Gavin is gone, to continue instilling those virtues in him through example, activities we do as a family and good stories like these two.
I highly recommend these two books: "The Invisible Boy" by Trudy Ludwig and "Each Kindness" by Jacqueline Woodson. We read them both tonight and Brian was deeply moved by both stories - and they sparked a good conversation between the two of us.
Hope gave him the ultra coveted, much wanted, highly hoped for video game "Super Mario Maker" that he had been wishing and praying and asking Santa for. I made sure I told him that I whispered to Santa that he could scratch that off his Christmas list since we were giving it to him for his birthday. Brian thought that was wild that I talked to Santa and told him that.
When Brian came off the bus this afternoon, he told me that the ENTIRE bus sang Happy Birthday to him this morning!! It totally made his day.
We played in the basement together and made custom paint with Crayola paint maker which was a lot of fun! We had lots of time to play before dinner. It's a tradition that you get to pick your own dinner on your birthday (and actually, every Friday night in our house!). Brian picked cereal!! That took about one minute to prepare!
After dinner we presented him with his birthday cupcake...
...and as he made his wish, I thanked God for my wish come true.
It's hard to express how much I love being Brian's Mom. He has always been a sweet, tender hearted child who is not afraid to show how much he loves us.
We have always had a very special bond - from those first quiet days in the hospital. I feel very lucky that he comes to me with questions or problems or fears... and I feel equally lucky when he shares his excitement and stories and even his corny jokes with me. We laugh together a lot.
I love watching his relationship with his Daddy, too. Every time Ed says, "I used to do this with my Dad" - I just melt.
We have been promising Brian for a few years that he can start watching the "Star Wars" movies when he turns seven. He didn't forget - and neither did Ed! They watched the first one (although it wasn't technically the first one - I have no idea what that means - it's a Star Wars thing) this past weekend and I'm not sure who was more excited.
Watching Brian with Hope - even when he's frustrated with her - makes me so happy. Our lives would be a lot lonelier if Hope hadn't come along after Gavin's death. We all needed her - even if we didn't know it. Brian fell into the big brother role so easily and has loved her intensely from the second he knew she was inside my womb.
I'm not sure how many more years I will get of the Brian who wants me to spend time with him... to play with him... to tell him stories... and hold him. My guess from knowing him is many more years.
Lucky for him, my arms will always be available for holding - no matter how old I am...
...and no matter where his path leads him.
Happy Seventh Birthday, Brian!
(Thank you to Lauren Naldzin of Lauren Ann Photography for the last group of photographs. We love them!!)