Archive for March 17th, 2008

The Pocketknife

Sharon March 17th, 2008

Today is Eli’s 8th birthday - yesterday we had a day full of kids, balloons, sugary junk the kids aren’t normally allowed and other special Eli pleasures.  Today is quieter, but just as happy - or at least, as long as I ignore the financial crisis unfolding. 

Now for my own 8th birthday, I received my first pocketknife, a prize that stunned me - because it had never occurred to me that I was old enough to have something as adult as my own knife.  I wish I could say that I still own it, but it disappeared into the world of lost things that is childhood long ago.  I do still have the scar on my right hand from where I ignored my father’s command to always cut away from yourself when whittling - and a strong memory of the flash of recognition I felt when I suddenly realized that grownups actually have reasons for some of the things they say ;-) .  But most of all, I kept the memory of how suddenly taller and older I felt because of the confidence my parents had in me.  I think that was the first time I suddenly really grasped that someday, I too would be an adult, and that I was on a journey in that direction.

As Eli approached 8, I somehow realized that some secret part of me believed that my sons would also receive pocketknives at the same age.  But, of course, for Eli, this is unrealistic - he’s autistic, and while he progresses steadily, he doesn’t yet have the ability to use a knife safely (of course, the above mentioned scar suggests neither did I, but he’s running even a bit further behind).  Every child is different, of course, and what one child can handle at six, another can’t until 10. 

Still, my husband needed a replacement for a lost pocketknife, and as long as I was ordering them, I lingered over knives suitable for children.  I hesitated a while, and then I ordered - not one, but four pocketknives suitable for young boys.  And I put them away in a corner to wait for the day when my sons are each of them ready - or perhaps, as I was, almost ready - to take that step towards adulthood. 

With Eli, there’s a part of this that is gesture of faith.  I hope and trust that the day will come that he is ready for this.  It doesn’t matter that much when it comes - I’m not in a hurry, just that it does.  But, of course, anytime we invest in our children’s future, we are investing our hope and trust that they will grow up safe and secure and become good and honorable people.   For me, this small investment in my children’s future competence - a competence that will be, I think growingly important in a depleted world - ensures me that when the day comes that each boy is ready, he will get that moment of feeling 10 feet tall, because his parents think he is grown enough to have a knife.

They come to us as babies or small children, and we look and try to find the men and the women they will be.  And bit by bit, we see them appear, we enable them to appear.  We push them back, we pull them forward, we risk our precious kids for the sake of the grown people we trust they will become, people we do not yet know, but must imagine.  This thing I do not know but must believe - that my children have a future, both rich and strange to me.  

I bought the pocket knives because I don’t know where the dollar is going and I don’t know where my husband’s job will be in a year or two.  I bought them because even if money is tight, this gift I want to give.  I bought them because I do believe that one day, I will see my oldest son take out his pocket knife is the pursuit of some ordinary bit of farm competence.  I bought them because no matter what the future is, my children will be men in it, and our children, men and women alike, will need good tools.  I bought them because I trust that even if I do not know where I am going, the journey into the future has promise and reason for hope.

 Happy Birthday, Eli!