To Lincoln, on His 5th Birthday
When you were still in my tummy, only a flurry of muted swirling and bumping inside me, I bought a baby book to chronicle all the milestones you would achieve in your early years. I just knew you would be an overachiever, and I would be right there every time you learned something new to scribble the date of your latest brilliant endeavor.
I must admit that I was never very good with those baby books. By the time you came along, I was too busy chasing after you and your brother to stop and jot down exactly what day each tooth came in. And there was something more after you joined our family, more than being too busy. See, you made us realized that those baby books, with their expectation of a certain kind of progression at a certain pace, represented a focus on performance and measuring up that suddenly seemed downright misguided.
I'm sorry to say that before we knew you, your father and I had the tendency to believe that what a person accomplishes determines their worth. We understood that how much money someone has or what they look like doesn't mean much in the bigger scheme of things, but sometimes we forgot that how talented or athletic or smart someone is doesn't make them worth more than anyone else. Just sometimes, mind you, but I guess you can see why we needed you to come in and remind us that the worth of a person is inherent and unshakable. It doesn't work on a sliding scale based on how many degrees follow someone's name or how well someone can complete a triple axel.
But you know, I still remember what we wrote in your brother's baby book, in the space where it asked us to write a letter to our new baby. It took me a few months to write it out because every time I turned to that page, I couldn't imagine condensing everything I wanted to say to him down to one lined page. Finally, I sat down with my pen and started writing out my hopes for his life.
"I don't care how much money you make or what job you end up doing. I hope only that you find something you love doing, and that you give yourself time to pursue that. I don't care who you fall in love with or where you make your home. But I do hope that your life is characterized by love, that you spend your days loving the people that surround you."
See, I almost understood. Almost, but it wasn't until you arrived to challenge my notions of worthiness and achievement that I understood it clearly. Until then, I was buried beneath the weight of perfectionism. It wasn't just that I expected other people to demonstrate their value by the virtue of their performance. No, it was that I believed my own value was still up for debate, that I had to do enough, act perfectly enough, to establish my worth as person.
Like I said, you can see how badly you were needed here. Here we were, acting like we thought we were supposed to act, hoping it would earn us the love and respect we weren't sure we were good enough to receive. Frankly, I don't know how we kept it together until you got here.
And now, we are celebrating five years of having our priorities forcibly restructured.
Five years of your infectious smile, your all-encompassing hugs, your dogged focus on whatever it is you want at that moment. For half a decade now, our family has been lit up by the light of Lincoln, glowing from within and fueled on the battery of your remarkable spirit. You're not a saint, by any stretch of the imagination. You aren't the stereotype we hear about so often, with the sugary smiles and the announcement that "people with Down's are such happy people."
Because you are like any other kid. You are so kind one moment, rushing to comfort a friend in tears, and then you go and throw a matchbox car at someone's head. You are so stereotypical sometimes, a perfectly stereotypical little boy who turns everything into a gun and is constantly covered in dirt and who-knows-what. You are so hard to handle one moment and so easygoing the next. You are perhaps the most affectionate child I have ever seen, and yet when you want to go it alone, well then that becomes the hill you will die on, by golly.
Today, as we celebrate your 5th Birthday, I can only tell you how grateful I am for the lessons you're teaching me, for the perspective you have brought into our lives, and for the joy you give us everyday. We are so proud of who you are, Lincoln. We wouldn't change one single thing about you. Happy happy birthday, my sweet boy.