Happy Birthday, Son

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Strange week. Snow days and birthday parties. Cold horses and dedicated help.

First the snow. You know it’s coming. Know the ramifications when it does come. The newscasters who stand on plowed street corners and interview spinning motorists and puffing shovelers should come to the farm, we’ll give them some insight and color. And drama.

I get up in the dark, slide on layers set up the night before, I wonder why we gave up the apartment in New York City for the farm in Middleburg. The winter gear felt so much warmer the last time, skiing in Jackson Hole never feels as cold as mucking in Middleburg. I wake up a cat on the porch, step past the snow shovel, walk to the barn. The air whips across the back field, angles and spindles of light dance off the snow. It would be pretty, if not for the blindness of a full barn waiting to be awakened. All the horses stay in to protect from the ice and snow, they’re mad about it, I’m mad about it. I see light from Blue’s stall. Like a sailor discovering a lighthouse in the distance. Did I leave the light on all night? No, couldn’t have. I see movement. Dari has made it. I hug him. He wonders why. I’ll have my second cup of tea in minutes, rather than hours.

Horses seem good. Ready to get out, buck and kick after a pent-up night. It’s a risk, turning them out. It’s a risk, leaving them in, as they get fresher with each hour. Life with horses. As Allen Jerkens says, “Everything you do with horses is a calculated risk.”

This routine goes on for days, dressing in the dark, making the walk, hoping for the light.

The light was on every morning.

I’m back in the house in minutes, rather than hours. There is nothing like the warmth of a laptop propped on your lap. 

As all kids, Miles has learned to love the snow and all the chaos it brings. No school. Late breakfast. Snowbound parents. No babysitter. Books and blankets. Sesame Street. Then the art of bundling up and venturing outside. He crawls through the snow, pushing it like a plow, then rolls in it. He answers, “I’m not cold,” to any question I ask. We hike, looking for gypsies, “Dad, where do the gypsies live? What do they eat? What do they wear? Are they nice? Are you a gypsie?” We make half a snow man, he topples it. He climbs to the top of his new swing set, pushes the snow down the slide and follows it, laughing and spinning in freedom. I snap photos, hoping for a Christmas card. Maybe, that one. Maybe.

I remember the freedom of snow days. Free days. Then, one day, my older brother told me we had to make them up later, cutting into the summer. Life never seemed so free again. I’m not telling Miles that one.

Sunday birthday party postponed until Wednesday. A dozen kids converge. We sing, eat cake, dance, open presents. Another free day.

When it’s all over, Annie and her sister Stella take naps, they did the heavy lifting. Miles brings me seven new boxes, “Open this, Dad. Open this, Dad. Open this, Dad…”

We put together the Lego Police Helicopter. Well, I put it together while Miles asks me why it’s taking me so long. All 94 pieces, this is not my childhood Lego set. Seven extra pieces when finished. Hmmm, I must have missed a few steps. I hide them.

Miles jumps up and runs through the house, flying the helicopter, making the whirling sound of the rotors. 

We eat dinner. Take a bath. Read three new books and say good night.

“How was your day, Miles?”

“Dad, it was the greatest day of my life.”

I say good night, turn off his lights and think to myself, “Me too, buddy. Me too.”