Eight things my oldest son needs to know on his eighth birthday

Birthdays in our family come in groups. Bekah, Zu, Bekah's mom, and one of Bekah's best friends are within a few days of each other in April. Bekah's younger sister, JJ, and Christian fall at the end of August and the beginning of September. I'm the odd man out.

But it is the beginning of September. And today is the day that marks Christian's eighth birthday. This post is for him.

Happy birthday, Kid. You're eight, do you feel old yet? Good, you're too young to feel old. But you are the big brother. That comes with some privileges and unique responsibilities. You hear your mom and I say this often but it doesn't hurt to be repetitive. You have to set a good example. On the other hand, you also get to do things first. You were the first to go to school. You were the first to go out to the movies. You will be the first to get your drivers license and the first (hopefully) to go out on a date.

But there is more to your life. And here are eight things I desperately want you to know.

1. You were a game changer. You were the tiny human that transformed your mom and I from a care free couple into responsible adults. You flipped the switch in my head that was afraid to hold a baby. Before you, I was poop-phobic. I still don't like excrement, but I'm at least willing to change a diaper - if necessary. You have brought into our life countless surprises, innumerable laughs, and more joy than I could ever label. I look forward to the ways you will transfer that ability to create change into the world outside of our family.

2. You are probably aware of this, but you are a little different than most kids. You think different. It's what some people describe as quirky. This is why adults think you are amazing but some of your peers think you're weird. As you get older, you might stand out a little more. You might have trouble fitting in with kids your age. The way your brain works makes you smarter than most, but it also makes relating to people more difficult. That's OK. You mom and I are committed to helping you be successful navigating the unspoken and often confusing rules of society. Don't let anyone tell you that you won't ever be anything because you're not normal. The way your brain works is much like many creative and talented people. You're in the same category as musicians like James Durbin, Adam Young, and Bob Dylan; Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith; writers Luke Jackson and John Elder Robison; actor Robin Williams; Bill Gates (the richest man in the world); and the guy who created Pokémon. The doors are wide open for you to do whatever you want. You could write books or make movies. You could create magnificent works of art. You could teach or preach or govern. You could solve some of the world's biggest problems. But you get to decide where you'll go. Not any other person in this world can limit you.

3. I remember the album I was listening to while driving to the hospital the night before you were born. It was R Kelly (odd choice, I know). It was his U Saved Me record. It was the only thing that I could think of at that moment that could keep my mind steady. You weren't supposed to be born yet. Your designated day of birth was supposed to be in the middle of October. There were too many things that could go wrong when a child is born so far ahead of their due date and it frightened me to think about it. So, R Kelly it was. Song after song, my nervousness settled. U Saved Me, Prayer Changes, I Surrender, How Did You Manage. Then I heard these lyrics, "These are the questions asked before I lay me down and go to sleep, Sometimes I wonder why you decided to keep you hands on me. Of all the miracles, signs and wonders, There's still one mystery, How did you manage to love me?" At that point I knew that everything was going to be OK. And everything was more than OK. You turned out great.

4. That thing I said earlier about the way you think making you smarter than most? I wasn't kidding. You are freakishly smart. Genetics help. You have parents that are both intelligent. Between your grandparents, they received a Masters degree, a pastoral degree, and a Juris Doctorate. Your great grandparents achieved great things in mechanics, education, and the military. You come from fantastic genes. However, it wouldn't surprise me if you outshine us all. You were doing simple arithmetic when you were three. You were adding and multiplying fractions while in kindergarten. You've all ready written your first story that fit the arc used in most traditional storytelling. Your mind recognizes patterns and sequences. By the time you were old enough to talk you could tell the difference between a macaroni penguin, an empire penguin, and a rockhopper penguin. Your head is full of scientific facts, bible stories, the plots to all of your favorite movies, and random bits of trivia. You hunger and thirst for knowledge. Your memory amazes me.

5. There is a reason we got you a Kindle for your birthday. You devour books. We want to encourage your reading addiction. However, we do not have the space in our home to warehouse a grand library that is worthy of your love for books. Thankfully, technology allows us to logistically and economically feed your addiction of the written word. I hope and pray your never lose that passion for reading.

6. I dare you to dream big dreams. It is my intention to expose you to as much of this world as I am able. As time and budget allows, there are things to do and places to see that will expand your horizons. Someday, when you grow up, you are going to go out and chase your dreams. You will go further and do more on your own. And I can't wait to hear all of the amazing stories you bring home.

7. If you haven't yet figured it out, your daddy loves watching movies. It is one of my favorite things to do with you. I am a movie geek and I am excited to geek out with you when it comes to film. But I don't want to just watch movies with you. I want you to learn from them. The theater is more than shiny lights and a couple hours of entertainment. There are life lessons to be learned that I am not experienced enough to teach you on my own. So don't be shocked when I ask you, "What was the moral of that story?" Or "What were the people who made that film trying to tell us?" I will ask you those questions, and many more. There is a file on my computer that has a list of movies that I want to watch with you (I really am a nerd when it comes to movies). Some of them are my favorite movies of all time. Some of them are considered the best ever made. But not all. We began to watch them this past summer (like The Goonies), but some you aren't old enough to watch yet and a few I won't let you watch until you are much older. Just be prepared, there is a reason we're watching these movies.

8. Be brave. I know that isn't always easy. Whether it is jumping off of the dock at the lake, or trying a new food, bravery is not your strong suit. You are timid. I understand. You got that from me. If there is a lesson I've learned late in life that I wish you will learn at a younger age, it is this. You are capable of more than you give yourself credit for. You are stronger than you realize. You are bigger than any problem you may face. You have an admirable faith in God. You have a family that loves you. Your mom and I will always be there to support you. You have nothing to fear.

Feliz cumpleaños, gute zum Geburtstag, fantastisk bursdag. I love you.

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