|beautiful photo by Muggs Bees Photography|
Toby. My sweet little guy just doesn't get much air time here on ye olde blogge.
That seems to have something to do with the tsuris scale, I suppose. Tsuris being the Yiddish term for woe or troubles. Tsuris being one of my loudest inspirations for writing, that would leave my dear Toby out in the cold. He's my EASY child. My Wakes Up on the Right Side of the Bed child. My golden-hearted child. Though not completely trouble-free, he is remarkably healthy and content with life.
Toby's my baby. Number 3 following two boys with some BIG personalities and needs. He is the little brother, sometimes the annoying little brother. (I laugh loudly when Harry comes to me complaining of this or that that Toby is doing to drive him crazy. "But...but...YOU do that all the time!" I splutter. They are very similar in some ways, some annoying ways!) He is all heart. He is all sweet. He has a very active inner life. I often feel I need to hold him down to earth like a helium balloon...or he will float away. But, despite all this and despite those charming freckles and that adorable dimple and a silly, almost naive way about him, he often surprises us with an astute observation, his sophisticated vocabulary, and his deep compassion for others.
Toby turned 12 today. This morning I had to wake him up early-ish, for Hebrew school, and as I sat down on his bed he rose up sleepily to hug me. We fell back on his giant stuffed penguin (Agent P) and snuggled for a while, both of us amazed that he was the grand age of twelve. It feels grand, it feels much more mature than 11 or 10 or all those years before it. It's a precipice year, preteen, on the verge of the very next big move. He will become Bar Mitzvah just one year from now. He'll read from the Torah and teach from the Torah. It's a grown up thing to do. But today we snuggled and that was perfect.
When Ben had his first hospital stay, for brain surgery back in 2006, Toby had just turned 5 and was in preschool. He and Harry stayed home first with Grandma Joyce (Mark's mom) and then Nana (my mom) as our one week in the hospital turned into four weeks and then two months. Toby was their shining little beacon of hope and happiness. Both grandmas told me he was enduringly cheerful, calm and grounded. He happily went off to his wonderful preschool in a little red cottage on a sheep ranch/commune in the little hamlet of Bodega every day. He even gave his navigationally challenged grandmas directions there when they became disoriented. His sweet little voice was on the other end of the phone when I'd call to check in. He missed me, yes, but he was doing fine and in fact, was buoying up his grandmas and his brother with his positive strength.
This is a video Harry took in 2006 when Nana was staying with them during
Ben's hospital stay. It was a miraculous occurance of snowfall in Sebastopol.
What I love is hearing their voices, especially sweet little Toby...and Harry,
too, before his voice changed!
When Toby graduated from preschool he was thrilled to come home to homeschool with his brothers. Since he never went to an actual "brick and mortar" school (as we strange homeschoolers call them) he was never tainted with the "if it looks like school and smells like school, it must mean coercion" mentality. Hence, since his first day homeschooling he has been open to many and most opportunities and activities. "Yes!" is his most frequent answer when asked, "How about x?" And because of this he's done Aikido, nature studies, 4H, ceramics, math, art, crafts, geography, cooking, animal care, walks, hikes, biking, board games, video games, card games, D&D, chess (he taught ME how to play), LARP, and more. This year he's studying French (he wants to be a French chef, apparently), the science of the origin of life in the universe and on Earth, Hebrew preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, boys' book club, and ballroom dancing (following in his big brother's footsteps). Toby learned to read when he was 9, late for the school standards I was taught as a teacher and reading specialist. he learned to read playing Pokemon, Monopoly and Apples to Apples. He learned because he was ready and wanted to learn. I didn't teach him. Had he gone to school, though, he would have been labeled slow and "at risk." I know this because I worked with those kids when I was teaching. Instead, he came to it when he was ready and had no thoughts of having a disability. In fact, the issues he had early on have gone away with time, and no intervention, no beating down of his self-concept ever happened. His sweet and golden nature remains unscathed.
It's been very important to me to protect that in him. Toby is my brand new shiny souled boy. I never really thought about reincarnation until I got to know my kids, but clearly, it exists. Ben was born an old soul. It shined out of his eyes the first day I met him. Seeing the road he has to walk, and how he walks it, it's more clear to me than ever that he has lived many lives and in this life is doing some "time." Harry feels like a fairly new soul to me, but not brand new. He has an enduring innocence despite his age, being a first child, having had some hard knocks and a dark side to his emotions. But Toby...Toby has always seemed "ding free." He emerged with a sweet, untainted heart. He does not tend towards cynicism, sarcasm or ill humor, like the rest of us in the family! He never intentionally hurts anyone, he never lashes out. It's as if he has no experience with the harshness of life. He almost can't see it, or can't register it when he does.
Watching him navigate his relationships is a learning experience for me. It takes a loooong time to draw the last straw from his back, as it were. He rolls with the punches, is incredibly tolerant of difficult behavior in others, and is quite loyal. Recently, I asked him about a boy in one of his classes who I had heard was disrupting class. Was it bothering him, I asked. "Oh no," he said. "That's just who he is. It's fine with me." He is very social, is online with friends playing games most days, his voice ringing through the house as he chats and jokes and giggles.
He is mightily connected to his brothers, too, worrying deeply about Ben when he's going through surgeries, and shedding tears when he thinks about Harry growing up soon and leaving us for his grown up life. (That probably won't be soon, but that doesn't matter, to Toby it will be soon enough.) He hates being pushed aside by them, and he loves to bug them, as most little brothers do. But it gives him unparalleled joy to be included in their play, their circle and their arms.
When Toby was being born he just wouldn't come down the birth canal. He seemed to be in distress every time I pushed. It turned out that his umbilical cord was tied in a knot. Our Mien babysitter told me it was auspicious, though I don't remember what for. Apparently, the Egyptian ankh is likened to an umbilical cord in a knot and might be thought to represent the flow of Life from the Divine to the Human the way life flows from the mother to the child in utero. Toby and I talked about it today. He's definitely not someone who turns himself into a pretzel to satisfy other people's expectations, and he doesn't get tied up in knots about much of anything. But Divine Life Force, I can see that. He's got soul that kid.