When you were a baby you were the noisiest, most restless baby in the history of babies.
We kept you beside us for the first half year, in a sort of platform thing that stuck onto the side of the bed. It was called a "co-sleeper" and was supposed to be the perfect solution to keeping your infant near you without actually having them in the bed where you could, say, roll onto them in a drunken stupor and suffocate them.
We called it the "co-screamer" and looked upon it with unmitigated loathing for the nocturnal hell-din it signified.
When you were four you had a caretaker you adored. She and her wife loved you and indulged you and scolded you and watched over you and you thought that the sun rose and set on her. That same year your elders here in Oregon decided in their wisdom that people like your caregiver shouldn't be able to call their beloveds "husband" or "wife", and we tried to explain to you why she was sad. We told you that some boys liked girls and some girls liked boys but some girls liked girls.
"But dada..." you said, insistently, "Janey and Susie are boys."
When you were seven you had night terrors that lifted you shivering and sobbing from your bed in a dream so terrifying that I could not console you.
When you turned eight you told me that there were two people who knew everything about everything in the Universe; God, and Santa Claus, and you weren't certain about God.
You told me that you would rouse in the small hours of the night and think about Big Things; stars and galaxies, about how big the world was and how many things were in it and how you might never know all of them and how that made you feel small and sort of sad.
When you were ten you would break into tears, sometimes at the smallest of checks, because you had frustrations and fears and hurts you couldn't express. You hurled yourself at what you loved, like your mother, with the wild thoughtlessness of one who has never been badly hurt and then were aggrieved when she pushed you away as too rough.
Now you are eleven.
Even after more than a decade together I am sometimes amazed at what I don't know or understand about you.
I have no notion where you inherited your slender build; your mother and almost all of her family are compact and boxy rather than gracile (where they are not simply as round as balls...) and I am as bulky and squat as most of mine. What long-legged girl or lanky boy married into your family too long ago to be remembered, whose small, rounded arms and legs are reborn in you? Certainly not the one you took your rufus colors from, all thick Celtic hair and freckled fair skin.
And perhaps the most strange: I cannot seem to see though your eyes. You are too different from me, sky where I am earth, cloud-topped highs and drenching teary lows where I stretch away endlessly calm and stolid.
I do not understand your frequent glums, how often you give up quickly rather than persevere, why you seem to see boredom and frustration where I see patient learning and practice.
I love you, but I often don't understand you. We are air and flame against earth and water.
Here you are now, poised near the Land's End of boyhood, at once straining to strike out into the dark seas of adolescence while still clinging to the last vestiges of childhood; your mother's touch, your stuffed friends, the small warmths and cozinesses of your brightly-painted child's room. You are beginning to strain away from me while I am still finding new things to love about you.
I love your small sweetnesses and your great silliness, your quiet moments and your wild, tearing energy. I love you, my no-longer-small-boy, with the open-eyed recognition of all your faults and failings that live alongside your virtues and strengths. Family is for loving when there may be little liking and we are, at the last, family.
It's late, and I am tired, but before I am done I will walk slowly down the darkened hallway in my halting step, to lay my hand on your head where you sleep wondering what dreams you dream and hoping, in the still, silent moment the hope of every father for every son; that he will wake each day wiser, kinder, and stronger than he lay down.
And so I do for you, my son.