This year for Spring Break, you went to Texas. Claire and Tommy came with you, but your dad and I stayed behind in DC to work. As we packed up the bags for your first solo airplane trip, we reminded Claire about watching Tommy and calling us when you landed. She started to get really nervous. I tried to calm her down as I packed her bag with the passports. “Don’t lose these!” I said, sternly, which didn’t help her nerves. She got so upset that she had to sit down and collect herself.
I looked at the passports and then at Chris. And then we both quickly decided that Claire could not be in charge of them. So we gave them to you, Austin.
You listened to my directions about how to keep them in one place, and when you would need to show them. You acknowledged what had to be done, and then you went to sit quietly in the car. It took us a good 15 minutes to get everyone else out there. You never yelled from the car or came back in the house, and you never touched the passports until the time they were needed. You simply waited.
It’s something you’re good at – waiting patiently and staying calm, even when things around you are chaotic. You’ve always been like this, even as a baby and a young child. In fact, when you were just three, you broke your collarbone in two pieces after falling off your bed. You cried a bit, but then seemed okay. It took me a full 24 hours before I took you in to the pediatrician who looked at me with alarm and told me we needed an x-ray.
“But he didn’t complain about it!” I said, defensively. It was the truth. You’d just been using your other arm for everything.
You got a sling that was too big for you and an orange popsicle and you looked with big eyes at all of the nurses who came in to check on you. “What a good boy he is!” they all remarked.
I wish I could say this was the end of your injuries and illnesses, but it was not. Still, each time you were hurt or sick, you didn’t complain too much. You simply threw-up in a bucket next to your bed when you had a migraine or let me glue your head together when you got a gash on your face. (I still feel bad about that scar you have.) And of course, you were the quiet one when your dad Shawn died, and the quiet one when your dad Chris arrived in our lives. What were you thinking when your life and our lives changed so much, I wondered?
Surrounded by two extroverted siblings, you’ve never seemed to mind the role of middle child. When Claire needed to get everyone’s attention for the latest show or dance she’d learned, you watched patiently with full concentration. When Tommy was screaming as a baby, you learned how to soothe him, and when he wanted to tell the longest and funniest story at dinner, you listened. Their joys were your joys, and there were many times when you came home from school to ask first about how things were going with Claire’s newest crush or if Tommy got the Lego set he wanted. Yes, have sometimes I worried that you were invisible in our family talks. But just because you weren’t talking didn’t mean you weren’t part of the conversation.
You were just playing a different role.
You weren’t – and aren’t – usually the star of the show. But you know something that often takes adults a long time to figure out: there are many ways to be an integral part of a group or a family. Not all of them are loud.
When you got Covid – the only one in our family to get it – you never complained. Just once did I see you sad. Tommy was feeling a little sick and I tested him for Covid, and you said, “I hope Tommy doesn’t have Covid, because it’s kind-of terrible, but a part of me hopes he has Covid because I’m so lonely in my room!”
Oh, that broke my heart. It reminded me that although you don’t always say when you are feeling sad or scared, you still feel that way sometimes.
But you also understand that your emotions and your ideas won’t always be the center of attention. When you have something terrible happen, or when you have something great happen, you might get some sympathy or praise. But most of the time, life isn’t like that.
Most of the time, the world isn’t going to give you any fanfare unless you ask for it.
What’s interesting about you, Austin, is that you don’t usually need excessive attention. You can let someone else be the star, someone else tell the story, someone else get the praise. I admire that in you. So does your dad Chris. So would your dad Shawn.
Even today, on your birthday, I’m sure you’ll spend most of the time laughing at Tommy’s funny antics and Claire’s loud singing voice. After dinner, I bet you’ll clear the dishes and put on the rubber gloves I bought you for a Christmas present and hum to the music while you put all the dishes in the dishwasher. That’s just you, kiddo. You can feel the joy that comes from others, and you can relish the simple life that you get to live every day. In the background of all the chaos, you are there, being dependable, listening, helping.
And carrying the passports, too.
Happy birthday, my sweet boy.
Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.