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We don’t get to decide which things will mean the most to us, or be held in our heart as symbols. Sometimes we know, in the moment, that this thing we’re seeing will stay with us forever. Or we receive a gift, or hear a song, and know it will be linked, always, to a place and a time, or even a feeling. But to choose it in advance? It’s a haphazard thing, not an art at all. Meaning comes with time, and only time can give it the richness our heart wants to hold.
Which is why, so often, the things that we hold as precious are small, insignificant things of daily use: the coffee mug that belonged to your grandfather, the spoon your child always reached for as a toddler, the ring holder your husband slipped his wedding band into every night.
Nearly five years ago now— but also, just yesterday— Simon was a newborn. He was our eighth child, but unique in so many ways that caught us utterly off-guard. He was a frighteningly alert, watchful child from the very beginning, with huge blue eyes and the ability to go eight hours stretches (as a newborn!) without a nap. He was bald. He held his head up, steady as a rock, from literally the moment he was born. He rolled over. He smiled. He was not an unhappy baby, but he was not a settled one, nor was he satisfied with simply being. Somewhere around his fifth week of life, we slipped an amber necklace around his gangly little neck. It sounds silly now, but I remember wondering if something was agitating him, pressing him forward. If so, maybe this would help.
It did not. Simon was—and is— simply a person whose spirit never rests. He is all dialogue, all action, all everything at every moment. Some children reveal their personalities in waves as they grow. Not Simon. He emerged from my body a complete and fully developed person, and has continued headstrong along that path.
The amber necklace stayed. Whether because it was simply adorable (ahem), because I never thought to take it from him, from sheer habit, or from his own preference to use it as a fidget as he grew, the necklace has always been a part of him, for as long as any of us have known. I had no idea, when I first put it on him, that it would be synonymous with my image of my son. But it has been.
It was there for his first birthday cake, for his bonfire dinners in Kathmandu, for strawberry picking, for riding the mower with his Papaw, for building yet another fort under the pole barn. It was pulled by a curious baby brother, tangled in knots more times than I can count as he sat watching tractors out the window, and been chewed on for hours. Along the way, a few beads cracked off. But the string and clasp held. It’s always been visible: a little strand of multi-colored amber, nothing special.
A few weeks back, the inevitable happened. The necklace, after nearly five years of constant wear and tear, popped unexpectedly free. The string itself had given way, just below the clasp. I was actually surprised to feel my heart break just a little at seeing my sweet, blonde headed boy without it on, and even more shocked when I held the broken string in my hand and felt my throat swell.
It’s just a thing. Just a thing, I told myself. When I shared the news with Christopher, who was in Cambodia at the time, I think it hit him, too.
“Buy him another one if you want,” he offered. But I haven’t. No necklace will ever be The Necklace, of course. But it’s bigger than that, too. Simon is older. Moving on. Maybe shedding his amber necklace is something like shedding his first teeth; he is changing, and to hold him in my heart as the little boy he once was is not to fully embrace the bigger boy he’s becoming.
For weeks now, the amber necklace has ridden in the pocket of my apron, where I keep finding it and feeling its tiny, pebble-like beads in quiet moments as I have watched another autumn creep into winter. It’s been a comfort to me as I contemplate the nearness of Simon’s fifth birthday, the one that so clearly draws a line between so much in a young child’s life. I didn’t choose the necklace as a symbol of Simon’s babyhood, but it served faithfully, until such a time as his baby days needed to come to a true close. I’ll always keep the memories associated with this one small, sweet thing close, but my heart is making room for the new things, the new memories to come.