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!


10 Responses to “The Pocketknife”

  1. Greenpaon 17 Mar 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I find it interesting that we both took refuge today from the outer world- in our children…

    :-) very very nice.

  2. Kimon 17 Mar 2008 at 5:02 pm

    This is a beautiful birthday gift in itself. Your sons should read this post when they get older. My son, 19, loves to read things I wrote about him. It shows a constant love that means the world to him as he faces an uncertain future.


  3. MEAon 17 Mar 2008 at 6:26 pm

    My older daughter turns 11 in June. Today, not knowing where the dollar would be by early summer, bought her a bike — one that should fit her until she’s 5′8″ or so. (The chances of her reaching that height are remote.) It should, also, with care, last a long, long time. My rather neglected Raleigh is older than I am (nearing 50). Until now she’s ridden trashing picked department store bikes. It’s a statement that she’s old enough to take care of a bike. (I was amazed at all the things you no longer need– such as chain degreaser.) It’s also an realization that this may be her main form of transport for most of the rest of her life.

    And, in an act of faith, I bought an alley cat for my younger daughter, in the hopes she can learn to balance if she doesn’t have to guide the bike. If not, other people will get use out of it. I’m still hoping to get an OT to teach her to ride, but given her lack of judgement, this seems a safer option.

    On a related note, the man at the shop mentioned that the price of bikes was going up becuse steel was going up becuase, as he put it, when gas goes up, everything goes it.

    I think the concept of PO is becoming mainstream.

    I also have spend out my reserve and then some. For the first time, I have a balance on my credit care that will take 2 cycles to pay. Strange, that now I’m willing to go into debt…


  4. Robyn M.on 17 Mar 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Today of all days–the things that happened which have rocked our world–this message resonates with me. Thank you for saying this. It helps immensely; I suspect I will return to it frequently over the next few months to remind myself to hope.

  5. Anonymouson 17 Mar 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Beautiful post. My son just turned eight, too. My brother refurbished an old guitar for him and the look on his face was, I imagine, quite similar to what I expect yours was when you got your knife. Happiest of birthdays to your son.


  6. Danielleon 17 Mar 2008 at 9:24 pm

    My kids got pocketknives at 10, 8, and 7—all within a week of each other. And it was exactly when each was ready.

    It is a humbling milestone.

  7. Anonon 17 Mar 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Happy birthday, Eli!

    You are loved. :)


  8. Burbanmomon 18 Mar 2008 at 5:34 am

    Beautiful post, Sharon. It’s a wonderful and yet scary thing to watch our babies grow into children and then lumber on toward adulthood. Happy Birthday to Eli and Happy Momming to you.

  9. nicoleon 18 Mar 2008 at 8:16 am

    What a beautiful post — and a great tonic to the otherwise gloomy news of late.

    It brings back warm and wonderful memories of receiving my own first pocket knife…and it makes me realize that my oldest daughter will be ready for her own come her next birthday. What a sweet joy it is to share one’s dearest childhood loves and traditions with the next generation.

    Cheers and Happy Birthday Eli.


  10. Marcellaon 26 Jul 2008 at 9:38 am

    That was beautiful. I just found your blog and love it. I wonder if I read something you wrote before because when I read the first sentence of this post I thought to myself that Eli was autistic. I did find it odd when I read ahead and you said he was. Anyway, my Isaac is autistic as well. He turned 7 in May. I have many hopes for my beautiful little boy, for all 3 of my sons, but Isaac is special in so many ways to me.

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