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Today is my son’s twenty-first birthday. He is celebrating with friends, as he should. He started partying last night and I believe has  continued through the day. I have heard from him, and his friend Nicole is posting pics and videos to her Facebook, so I know he’s okay. She also promised to be the designated driver and that she’d be sure he gets home safely.

Twenty-one years ago, this child entered my world. He was taken from me pretty quickly at birth, and the nurses wouldn’t release him from the nursery until his temperature stabilized, so I had to wait a bit to hold him. When they brought him to me, I was alone in my hospital room. The nurse set him in my arms and left the two of us to get to know each other. I will never, in all my days, forget looking into his eyes for the first time. They weren’t like newborn eyes, cloudy and dark. He was clear-eyed and he looked at me as if to say he had known me for a thousand years. He had an old soul, and such overwhelming intelligence from the absolute beginning. I fell head over heels in love that very instant, and there was no one there to interrupt that time. It was just me and my son.

He wasn’t much of a sleeper as an infant. In fact, at night, the only way to get him to sleep was to lay him on my tummy with his head resting on my heart. I had to prop myself up in bed and pat his back all through the night so he would rest. I was teaching first grade at the time and I remember falling asleep at my desk while trying to grade papers. My sweet students sat and colored and read without a peep until I awoke, and they hugged me tight when I lay my head against the chalkboard, weeping for the baby boy I’d left at a sitter’s.

Travis was observant and bright. He loved words. We read Richard Scarrie’s “Watch Your Step Mr. Rabbit!” every day at nap time. He loved to run in the back yard with his border collie, Trixie. He loved baseball like he loved air. He had cowboy boots that he wore with everything, he could read the car manual at five years old, and his primary school teachers loved him.

One of my favorite things about Travis, though, is the way he treats his sisters. I have written before about raising kids who don’t hit, but I have to tell you, this boy was good to his girls. He could always talk with Hil about her stuff, then go play dolls with Lib. Hilary would direct him in plays (someday I will tell you about the Jesus play set to a LeAnn Rimes song) and he’d teach Libby how to bat. No one messes with his sisters, including himself. If a girl ever wonders how he’ll treat his wife, all she has to do is look to how he loves his sisters to know that any wife of his will be a lucky woman.

Travis is a loyal friend. Ask Ben. There is nothing that Travis will not forgive, and he will stand in front of any bullet. Travis loves for life.

Travis will never follow a formula for what many believe is the proper path. He has always needed to find his own way. He has to explore, ask questions, and test limits. That was hard for his high school teachers to accept, it’s been hard for professors to accept. But I know that his life is and will continue to be rich in exploration, knowledge, music, and friendship.

What is MY boy made of?

A generous spirit.

A formidable intelligence.

Art.

If you have a boy, be thankful. Let him wrestle with his dad and brothers and other playmates. Let him cry when he hurts. Teach him to be assertive, but not aggressive. Model gentle power. Give him dance and karate lessons along with the more traditional competitive sports. If he has sisters, teach him how to respect females. If he doesn’t, get him around girls early and often. Answer his questions to the best of your ability, no matter how exhausted or exasperated you are, for then you teach him that curiosity is rewarded. When you don’t know the answers, find the answers together. Model learning and questing. Teach him how to do his own laundry and load the dish washer.

I love my son.

Happy birthday, Travis Austin Bryant.