Ten years ago, I was watching Super Bowl 40 when your mom went into labor. The silly woman… did you know she told me we could watch the rest of the game before we left for your delivery? She really did! But I knew that decision might come back to haunt me, and I was eager to see you anyway. My first boy.
We left during the game and met you a few hours later. We gave you the middle name Landry after the legendary Cowboys’ coach, because football is a part of Hague culture. Part of my world. Like every dad, I had visions about sharing my world with you. We would watch sports and read Narnia, and you would have lots of friends to better annoy your sisters.
By now, you know what happened next. When you turned two, you lost all your words, and we felt like we lost you. We couldn’t bring you into our world. That’s when we began searching for ways to reach you. To connect with you. We’ve been on that same journey for years now, and the truest piece of advice we have heard was this:
“Stop trying so hard to bring him into your world. Come into his world instead.”
We’ve done our best to follow that advice, son, especially this past year. And right now, on the eve of your 10th birthday, the most prominent features in your world are your movies. I confess, I don’t understand the appeal of all the DVD covers and screenshots that adorn our living room bookshelves, but that doesn’t matter. You do. You line them up, you flap them, you quote them, and you sometimes even watch them.
It is only natural, then, that these movies have become our access point into your world. Into Jackson-ville. We have become experts in Pixar and Dreamworks. We watch everything from Monsters to Minions, we do the voices, and we create all manner of fan art for you. And I suspect that you love it.
Last month, you asked a random question. “Cars 2 or Despicable Me 2?”
You might have been talking to yourself, but Jenna and mom took it as a question.
“Well I don’t really like Cars 2,” mom said.
“Yeah,” Jenna agreed. “Despicable Me 2 is funny. Cars 2 is not as good.”
You responded with this crystalline jewel:
“All right, just because everybody hates it doesn’t mean it’s not good!”
The house exploded in laughs and wonder. You may not be classified as “non-verbal” anymore, but you don’t ever string that many words together to make a sentence. We knew right away that you were quoting Gru from Despicable Me after he tasted Dr. Nefario’s new jelly recipe. You even delivered the line in Steve Carrel’s vaguely Russian-ish accent.
Scripting movie lines is an hourly occurance for you. What excited us was the question of timing. Had you just re-purposed that quote for your current conversation? Were you using Gru’s words to defend Cars 2? Had you just found a way to communicate to us using your own favorite things?
Maybe some day you can set us straight on your intentions, but for now, it takes faith. And I’m okay with faith. There are plenty of reasons to believe.
“Come on, Jack. It’s bed time,” Jenna said.
You resisted for tradition’s sake.
“Jack, let’s go. I’ve got to brush your teeth.”
You put on a pouty expression and gave another quote from an agitated Gru: “You’ve got to be pulling on my leg!”
“Jack, do you like school?” mom asked early one morning when the house was quiet.
“No, okay,” you said. That’s just how you say no.
“Why don’t you like school, bud?”
“Awkward,” you said, lifting the line from Rio.
“Oh, is it awkward at school?”
Your voice went low as you answered her. “I… awkward.”
These are the moments that make us believe you know exactly what you are saying. You are in there, son. We know you are. We know that there is more to your world than we ever could have imagined.
Do you already understand all our conversations? Do you just sit back and take it in? Do you feel frustrated that your body has trouble making words of its own? And why do you like Cars 2 so much? Is it Mater? Do you relate to him? Do you feel… awkward?
My dear boy, your family cheers for you. We want so badly to share your frustrations, to join your laughter, and help shoulder your fears. We want to experience the beautiful messiness of life with you. And it is beginning to happen. Thanks be to God, it is beginning.
When I got in the van you were waiting for me in the front seat, all buckled up and giddy. I was taking you to get McDonalds fries, your favorite sticker-chart reward. When I started the van, you looked up at me with one special request: “Hiccup?” You asked.
I launched right in, doing my best impression of the Stoick the Vast from How to Train Your Dragon. “Hiccup, son! We’ve got to gooo gaaaate yer fraaaainch friesss!”
Your eyes glowed. I know why. The scene is made up, but familiar. A boy and his father.
“I don’t know, dad…” I countered in Hiccup’s ever-quivering voice. “What if a dragon takes one?”
Your smile stretched as I switched back to Stoick.
“They woooon’t, son! Not if ya eeeeat them fossssterrrrr!”
You fell apart in laughter even before the tickling began. We shared every drop of that moment.
There are so many moments. So much laughter is ours now.
Your future can look however you want, son. Jackson-ville is your world after all, not mine. But I’m so glad you have chosen to let us in. Thank you for letting us in.
We love you, buddy. Happy Birthday.