To Simon, On Your 1st Birthday

My dearest son, Simon. Today we celebrate that you have been in our lives for 1 whole year. What a year it has been. While you were born in 2019, you have spent all but the first 6 weeks of your life in 2020. One day you may hear about the year 2020 in your history class and proudly proclaim: I lived through that … all of that. You may not remember it, but we always will.

There is, however, a good possibility that you will have an inkling of a certain memory. I envision you coming to me 20 years from now to tell me that you’ve been having a recurring nightmare. In the dream, you are strapped into a car. You’re buckled into an oversized seat, small and trapped. An ominous figure comes into view. A tall man in a hazmat suit slowly opens the door. He looms over you. He pulls out a giant stick from a sealed bag. Quickly and unexpectedly, he shoves the stick straight up your nostrils. He pulls it out. He shoves it up the other nostril. He smiles, slams the door, and slinks away with your specimen. The car starts to move. You start to cry. You hear my voice – your mother’s voice – echo from somewhere in the car: “It’s okay sweetie. I’m right here.”

It’s then that I’ll have to confess to you: this is not a dream, but a memory. This really happened to you. This was a nightmare of the 2020 kind.

When your Daddy and I marked down all your firsts in your baby book – your first smile, first roll, first crawl, first tooth, first foods, first sit, first stand, first steps – we never expected it to include your first COVID-19 test. For this, my sweet boy, we are sorry.

You were 11 months old on the day of the incident. It was mid-October and the COVID-19 crisis had been raging since you were 4 months old. On that day, you spiked a fever of 104°F. We were so very scared and worried. The doctor needed to check your ears and throat for infection, but COVID regulations prevented her from doing so until we knew for sure that you were negative for the dreaded virus. So, you and I went on an adventure to a drive-thru testing site behind a cardiology center. I was told to park, stay where I was, and leave you in your car seat. I listened. When it was over, you cried for a few blocks, then fell asleep. Me? I cried most of the way home.

Later, we would know that you were negative for COVID and ear infections and strep. You simply had one of those unknown childhood viruses. In a normal year, we would’ve been told: “he’s fine, just monitor his temperature and keep him hydrated.” But your first year was no normal year.

But then again, you are no normal child. You, Simon Nikolas, were born larger than life.

I knew from the beginning of your pregnancy that you would be a big boy. My belly grew large quickly. You pushed on bones and organs; you stretched muscles I didn’t know I had to their very limits. You and I had a rough 9 months on the inside. But on the outside? Well, you have been nothing but pure, unbridled joy. You gave me the gift of the easiest delivery in child-birthing history. 8 minutes and 2 pushes. The sheer force of gravity pulled you into this world. The nurse laid you on the scale and cried out “Woah! 10lbs 4oz!” When they laid you back on my chest, Daddy and I marveled at our larger than life, chubby cheeked baby. You smiled back…and you haven’t stopped smiling since.

Smiling Simon at 10 months

All through a year filled with hardship, fear, and anxiety, you smiled. While we worried about a global pandemic, racial injustice, elections, unrest, and potential civil war, you smiled and giggled. You were nursing and snuggled tight in my arms, as I read articles on about viruses, lockdowns, rising numbers, and essential workers. You were learning to stand, as our friends of color stood up and took to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter. You took your very first steps on Wednesday November 4, as our country sat on pins and needles, waiting for the results of a tumultuous presidential election.

We had a different vision for your first year. We had planned for your first Easter, first family reunion, first baseball game (Let’s Go Bucs), first Clam Bake, first 4th of July parade, first trip to the zoo, first time eating in a restaurant. We planned for your baptism, which will only just take place this coming weekend (8 months late). We planned for you to develop relationships with our Church Family. We planned for you to develop close relationships with your loving aunts, uncles, and cousins (who have loved you fiercely from afar with pictures, zooms, and facetimes). We planned to celebrate your 1st birthday and your Daddy’s 40th birthday (just 2 twos apart) in Walt Disney World.

You have missed a lot. But I wonder: did you actually miss it at all? For you haven’t seemed to notice. Instead, you have liked nearly everything you have eaten, every activity you have done, and every person you have met. Once when you were 8 months old, we gave you a new flavor of teething cracker: blueberry and purple carrot. You inspected it and took a bite. Then you announced clear as day (as attested by your Daddy and sister): “I LIKE IT!”

You like this wildly beautiful life. And we love you. Your pure unbridled joy is larger than life. For, through it all you have taught us more that we could have asked or imagined.You have taught us:

  • The joy in bouncing a balloon.
  • The marvel of sand falling from our fingers.
  • The wonder of a falling leaf.
  • The beautiful bond of siblings holding hands.
  • The patience for a crying sibling.
  • The surprise of peek-a-boo.
  • The delight in a well-placed raspberry.
  • The thrill of a good dance party.
  • The simple joy of clapping our hands.
  • The giggles in funny faces.
  • The accomplishment of being soooooo big.
  • The fun in those wheels on the bus going round and round.
  • The enjoyment of a good book read over and over again. (Currently Pete the Cat).
  • The serenity of a finally sleeping baby.
  • The ability to slow down and just be.
  • The resilience of one who gets back up after falling down.
  • The world in a smile.
  • The realization that all we need is right here.

I hope and pray that as you grow your joy, your delight, and your constant smile will remain at the core of your being. I pray that you may always find a way to giggle through difficult times. I pray that you might discover how to use your God-given exuberance to bring joy to those who sorrow.

My dearest son, I cannot promise that your next years will be less turbulent than 2020. I cannot promise that you will experience any of those missed firsts in your 2nd year. I cannot even promise you that you won’t have another cotton swab stuck up your cute button nose. But I can promise you this: I will be here to protect you. I promise that I will protect you even if it means COVID tests, or staying home for months on end, or permitting that mean ole doctor to give you 4 vaccine shots at once (sorry for that this morning). I promise that I will strive to make the best decisions possible to keep you safe, healthy, and nurtured. I promise to be here to laugh with you, cry with you, and discover with you. I will be here. …even if I’m just out of sight … even if I’m just a voice echoing out to you: “It’s okay sweetie. I’m right here.”

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