Homebound Letter 10 – April 14, 2020
Dear Stuck-at-Home Luna:
Happy birthday!!! I can’t believe you’re six years old! Seems like just yesterday your mom and I were bringing you home from the hospital, to your Popo’s basement apartment in Brooklyn, where we were living at the time. I remember showing you all around the place: our new glider chair, your bassinet at the foot of our bed, the tiny desk where I wrote my stories. You were only 48-hours old, and the nurse claimed you couldn’t see more than two feet in front of your face. But I knew you saw more than that. You saw me, that was for sure. From the very beginning. I knew because every time you looked at me, I could feel it inside my chest.
And now you’re six! You’re reading Frog & Toad books to me every morning, and when we race to the end of the block, I actually have to work hard to let you win by just the right amount.
Look, I know you wanted to celebrate your birthday with friends. I promised we’d make it happen the year you turned six. A real party where everyone sings before you blow out your candles. But then the world changed. And your birthday – like so many birthdays – had to morph into something different. And yet . . . .
And yet this was one of the happiest days of my life, Luna. Kids from your kindergarten class drove past our house with their parents, shouting, “Happy birthday, Luna!” honking their horns and holding up colorful homemade signs with your name surrounded by rainbows and unicorns. Your mom made a pink cake in the shape of a crown – because you love crowns – and all your aunties and uncles and cousins and grandmas and grandpas gathered on Zoom to sing Happy Birthday and watch you struggle to blow out your six candles. Your little brother surprised us all by pronouncing your name correctly for the very first time. But best of all, when we were tucking you into bed and mom asked what was your favorite part of the day, you excitedly answered, “Everything!” Which made me feel so proud to be your dad.
An hour later, however, as I was catching up on all the bad coronavirus news, I heard your subtle footsteps moving toward the living room. And when you rounded the corner I saw tears coming down your cheeks, and you said in the saddest little voice, “I don’t want to be six, Dad. I still want to be young.” And I was so caught off guard. Mom was in the shower, so I was on my own. At first I just held you, wondering if this was somehow related to the virus, or the fact that you can’t be at school, or be around friends. And then, for whatever reason, I went over to the bookshelf and grabbed a short story collection by Sandra Cisneros and carried you and the book back to your room where I read you a story titled “Eleven.” The story is about a girl who is turning eleven. But her theory is that even when you turn eleven, you’re still ten and nine and eight and seven and six and five and four and three and two and one. She says getting older is like the layers of an onion. Or the rings of a tree.
After I finished reading you the story I tried to explain that even though you had turned six, you still had the five-year-old Luna in there, too. That part didn’t just disappear. And you nodded and hung onto me and we just sat there for a while. And as we sat there, I realized I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing as a parent. Especially in the time of this virus. Here you were, a day into your sixth year, and I had just read you a story I first encountered as a sophomore in college. But then another thought occurred to me. Maybe it doesn’t matter what I said to you in that moment. Or what I read. It’s not like there’s an actual right answer in these kinds of situations. Because there ARE no right answers. To any of this. Maybe what mattered was us sitting together. Your head leaning against my arm. Maybe what mattered was that me and you and mom and Migue were all together. In our little house. Leaning on each other during this uncertain time. But celebrating too. Your birthday and Mom’s crown cake and Migue’s interesting pronunciation of “watermelon.”
I wish I could teach you the world, Luna. Just like I wish I could promise things will get better. But I’m afraid I don’t know a whole lot more than you do. About anything. What I can promise is this. I love you, little girl. And you can always lean your head against my arm. Or come get me when you’re sad. No matter how old you get.
Happy birthday, Luna!