Let me start your annual birthday letter with a story…
Before Christmas, your father, your little sister Lucy, your little brother Will, and I were browsing in the Disney store. Seemingly out of nowhere, a Buzz Lightyear toy sparked Will’s interest, distracting him from the Moana display. He picked up the little plush spaceman, hugging it to his chest, and saying that he NEEDED it. As he did, I noticed that the toy’s shoe had a name stitched on it. Lucy noticed too and said animatedly, “That toy has ‘Andy’ on it!!!! Is it our brother’s??? Has he been here???”
I tried not to cry as Lucy began to search through the stuffed toys on display, getting more and more excited as she did. “Look, Mommy! This one has Andy’s name too!!!!! Can we take them home, please??!!”
And so we left the shop that day with Buzz and Jessie the Cowgirl in tow, and, soon after, we had copies of all the Toy Story movies too. Together, we watched this other, cartoon Andy grow from a little kid to a 17-year-old preparing to leave for college. For your brother and sister, the fictional adventures of Andy and his toys are a real connection to you. Toys that you left behind for them have found their way out of the dark depths of the toy box and into everyday play. Lucy asks me to tell her which toys were your favorite, and Will wants to know which you saved specifically for him.
And, while I appreciate how Toy Story has given them new insight into the boy you were, for me, the movies are a window to what might have been.
When you were born nine years ago, your father and I had big plans for you. We had tried for so long to have a family and spent years imagining the picture-perfect life we’d share. We envisioned the backyard soccer games and playground adventures. We couldn’t wait to watch you grow from a chunky baby to a tousled-headed toddler to a rambunctious little boy. Your birthday would be the start of many life-long celebrations to come.
But, on January 8, 2009, at 11:52 AM, you entered the world on your terms – a week late, pink and screaming. We should have realized then that life isn’t as predictable as a three-act film; nothing really goes according to our plans.
You were diagnosed with SMA, and the prognosis was unimaginable. Suddenly, everything that we once took for granted was uncertain. Unsure that you’d see your first birthday, we began to hold parties for you on the 8th of every month. You’d wear a paper hat and a gummy smile, and we’d help you blow out your candles. There were always presents – new soft toys and rattles and music for your crib – but you preferred the shiny birthday balloons. You loved to pull their strings and watch them dance above you.
For your father and me, every day that we had you with us was a gift. You spent 140 days in our arms, and we both still long for more. If your life was a movie, it was cut short before the opening credits could finish.
On your ninth birthday, I can’t help but wonder if you’d be like that fictional Andy at all, were you still with us. I imagine you as a blue-eyed and brown-haired third grader with a sweet smile and a sharp mind. Funny and smart. Loyal and kind.
Your brother and sister are watching the last movie in the series again today, and they laugh as I get teary-eyed. “Mommy cries at all of the movies,” says Lucy, but then she snuggles closer to me on the couch. Not to be left out, Will crawls across my lap. He holds my face and whispers, “Mommy, don’t cry” then he tries to lick my chin. Laughter through the tears, a feeling that’s very familiar to me. And it’s one that I associate so closely with you, Andy.
The incredible joy of having you in my life is always tempered by the indescribable grief of losing you from it so quickly. But, while my arms still long for you, my heart knows we are forever connected by love. You made me a mother on January 8, 2009, and you will always be more firstborn son. You aren’t here with us, but we know you’re not far either.
Because I believe that your hand led your brother to that toy in the store on that December day. And, you spoke to us through those movies, so very clearly.
“I wish I could always be with you,” Andy’s mom says to him at the end of the third movie. “You will be, Mom,” he replies with a hug. And, I know this is true.
Happy 9th birthday, my little braveheart. We have our party hats on, and we’ve got a special balloon, just for you. We love you to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond, always and forever.