His birthday is a reminder of where we should be and where we aren’t.
Of the milestones we missed by years and the ones that never came, and may never come.
Of the labels that have come to define him much more than his name or his soft snowy skin or his large, toothy grin.
There are presents, but he will not open them.
There is cake, but he will not eat it.
There is singing, but he will cover his ears.
There is a child who grows into a man, before my eyes. (How will I care for a man? Who will shave his chin and make him sandwiches?)
There is the pressure – of the things I have not done that could make him better, of what happens when I am gone – weighing on my chest when I open my mouth to blow out the candles he cannot extinguish.
I blow and blow and only then does he flash that toothy grin; I am silly, my hair a mess. This is his present.
I make him smile and that makes me smile; this is the only gift that is given today. This little sliver of his happiness.
But then, after.
There is me, in the dark, the smoke from 10 birthday candles drifting past his eyes, my eyes.
Into the air of a night he will not know to be any different than the one before it.
This article was originally published on