This face of joy is Caleb, at one, at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island. He’d learned to walk at nine months, which meant that despite having a brain about the size of a walnut and a diaper the size of a basketball, he would climb up stairs, stagger along the curb, or waddle straight into the surf, utterly without fear.
This August, we spent our tenth summer on LBI and it’s Caleb’s favorite beach (which, given that he’s now spent time on beaches in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, is quite a compliment). Our first summer on LBI, I was hugely, gigantically pregnant and wearing a maternity bathing suit that was so hideous it can be only excused by pregnantbrain. Why else would a woman in her last weeks of pregnancy purchase and wear a shiny teal maternity tankini? On the upside, I suppose I was responsible for any number of teen-age girls not getting pregnant that summer. They took one look at my spherical teal body and told their boyfriends to back the hell off
But Caleb. My sweet, fearless Caleb, who still plunges into the ocean with the grace and abandon of a seal, he’s ten. He’s learning Arabic and computer coding and the trumpet; he wants to be an author, or maybe a spy, or maybe a mad scientist, perhaps a basketball player. I think he might be headed for the stage, because the boy has never met a hat he doesn’t like:
This boy who loves hats and computers, who doesn’t read books so much as devour them, and who was as happy with his book about military history as he was about an envelope containing 300 dirhams (about 80 bucks, and okay, he was a bit more excited by the cash), doesn’t yet realize the strength of his own gifts. He measures himself against his older brother, not willing to concede the difference that almost four years makes. I think that might be why Caleb learned to walk so young: he wanted to keep up. Now, however, with the dawning of pre-adolescent self-consciousness, he sometimes doesn’t try to keep up because he’s sure that he’ll never catch his brother. It’s a funny trick of growing up, isn’t it, the way the confidence of childhood evanesces just when we need it most?
Caleb is our current-events child; he reads the newspaper and tells us what’s happening in Gaza, in Syria, in Ferguson–and then asks the hard questions that we should all be asking and attempting to answer: how do these things happen, why do these things happen, why do people care about the color of other people’s skin or the way they worship?
We moved to Abu Dhabi on the eve of Caleb’s 7th birthday and the traveling we’ve done since we’ve been here means that he’s been to more countries by ten than I had by thirty-five. His passport looks weather-beaten, as if he were a career foreign services officer–and who knows, perhaps that’s where he’s headed. I can’t even begin to predict what he’s going to be when he grows up–perhaps the stage, or maybe he’ll go concoct strange potions in some jungle laboratory. Who knows.
All I know is that our lives for the past decade have been richer and more joyous for Caleb’s presence. I can’t wait to see what’s next on the journey.