How? How are you nine already? That boggles my mind. You’ve been part of our lives for going on a decade now…
And what an adventure those years have been. Travelling. Learning. Exploring.
From figuring out all the wheeled objects, all of them, to snowboarding and surfing. From your love of reading, often staying up later than me to just finish that one more chapter, to the speed with which you pick up new math topics. And your love of art. And your creativity and imagination.
You wrote a book and gave it out as Christmas presents this past year. At 8 years old. I mean… How very cool is that?
Plus, you’ve written and drawn how many comic books now? The number keeps growing.
This year you have just absolutely exploded with talent at all the things you attempt. All while still being great with your two little brothers. And getting your braces off. And continuing to be good with your glasses. And. And. And.
Really, you are a wonder.
Which just leaves me in constant awe and wondering… What will you do next?
I know, I know… I’m too hard on you at times. I expect great things from you and I push you towards that, often forgetting that you are still so young. You just act so much older than you are most of the time. So, I’m sorry, as I tell you often, that I can be so demanding. I’m working on it. Just as you are working on growing and learning, and learning and growing, and here’s a little secret for you… that never stops. You will always be learning and growing, or you’ll be doing something wrong.
I’m not worried about that, though. Your curiosity is insatiable. You move from one topic to the next, following the answers of your initial questions down rabbit holes of information until you understand something, and then you move on to the next.
All these stepping stones on your way to changing the world. You’re on your way, that’s for sure. And you’ll get there in the end, of that I have no doubt.
Can’t wait to see what the next year brings, and then the decade after that.
“Creative and beautiful,” he replied with his crooked smile.
She knew he wasn’t being truthful. That’s what that smile meant. She wasn’t getting a real answer from him. It had become a game of sorts since their first date when he’d picked her up, she had noticed the personalized license plate – C&B – and had asked what it stood for. He’d laughed and said “Carefree and Bountiful,” with that same smile. She’d asked if he was serious and then he’d laughed again, said “No,” and changed the subject so smoothly to talk about the restaurant they were going to she hadn’t realized she’d never gotten a true answer until halfway through their meal and then she was having such a good time she hadn’t want to bring it up again. It hadn’t seemed important.
Not every date after that, but most, she’d asked again and he’d always come up with something different. “Crafty and Bountiful.” “Careful and Benign.” “Controller and Box.”
He was good with words. She had learned that early on. She liked that about him. She didn’t mind that a year later she still didn’t know what the license plate actually stood for.
When she’d started learning enough about him to take guesses of her, she had tried that for a while. “Something do with your middle and last name?” “Something to do with camping and boarding?” “Something to do with your writing?” Each time he’d given a truthful smile and told her they were good guesses but not correct and then he’d given another fake answer.
It didn’t bother her. He’d told her that if they stayed together for long enough he would tell her what it meant. Some days she’d let it go after one answer. Others, though, she made him come up with several. That was part of the game too. To see if he’d slip up and repeat something he’d already said. She wasn’t keeping track so he might have repeated at some point, but he always managed to come up with new ones no matter how many times she asked on a given date.
“Creative and beautiful? Really,” she pressed on, “that’s the best you can do?”
“Well, I was talking about you.”
“You’ve had that plate long before you met me.”
“Doesn’t mean the meaning of it can’t change, does it?”
“Fine,” she smirked. “So, not yet then?”
Suddenly, after a year of the game, she very much wanted to know the truth of it. She couldn’t define why, but she needed to know.
His smile slipped and he looked away, calculating, and then he looked back with his sincere smile. “It is rather silly, a joke from when my brothers and I were kids.”
She was not going to let it go this time, “Couldn’t be that silly if you wanted it on your license plate.”
“Fair,” he laughed.
“Well?” She folded her arms.
“Chaos and Bloodshed.”
He laughed again. “Told you it was silly.”
“You named your car ‘Chaos and Bloodshed’?”
“Not the car, no. I keep transferring the plate to each car I get. You see, it’s like our family motto. Or, it was. My brothers and I were very wild when we were younger. It became this sort of joke. ‘Why is someone always bleeding?’ ‘What got broken now?’ ‘Another plumbing issue on a major holiday?’ And so on. We weren’t wild in the destroy the neighborhood sense. We were just very active, very exuberant, and at some point we picked up this saying from Hamilton, ‘chaos and bloodshed are not a solution’ as our way of life, or something like that.”
She wasn’t convinced but he wasn’t using the crooked smile so she was leaning towards believing him. He had said it was silly.
“Chaos and Bloodshed?”
“And why are you finally telling me now, after a year of giving me false answers?”
His smile deepened and he took her hands in his own. Leaning over he got his eyes on the same level as hers and peered intently. “You know why.”
It had been a fun day. Her first time camping. She had her first night in a tent ahead of her. And she was just about to enjoy her first ever officially cooked on a fire while camping s’more. Not her first ever s’more, of course. She’d had plenty of those, but never one while camping where the marshmallows were toasted in the coals of a fire.
The long drive to get here seemed a distant memory even though she’d been in the car longer that day than she’d actually been in the camp. That time would even out and the swing the other way while she was sleeping that night. The days ahead stretched with endless possibilities.
Her little legs kicked freely, dangling from her camp chair. The fire warmed her legs. It was surprising how quickly it was getting cold now that the sun had set. It had been a warm day but it certainly seemed like it was going to be a cold night. She wished she could get a little closer to the fire but it seemed like too much a production to get off the chair, scoot it closer, and then climb back in. Besides, she would have her s’more soon and then it’s deliciousness would distract her from the cold.
The fire crackled, a pinecone she stuck in the coals earlier popped, the giant trees around rustled their millions of needles, and somewhere off in the darkness the river whispered its lulling song. The river. The river. The river.
She had caught glimpses of it while they’d been driving into camp but hadn’t yet been down to it. The day had been too full of setting up camp to explore it yet. Tomorrow, though, she knew she’d get to feel its icy waters, see its roaring torrents, and play at its edge.
Her s’more was handed to her, its marshmallows browned to perfection and the chocolate already beginning to melt beneath their warmth. She was tempted to shove as much into her mouth as she could at once but decided to let it cool first. Her eyes drifted across the fire to their neighbor’s camp. He had a fire, too. It was smaller than her fire and that was surprising. His wood pile had been huge.
In the dancing shadows she could see him sitting in a chair by himself and this made her frown. Didn’t seem right that he should be by himself. And, it didn’t look like he was fixing s’mores either. That very much did not seem right.
An idea came to her and she carefully scooted forward in her chair, balancing her s’more in one hand while using the other to help guide her way, until her toes touched the dirt and she could stand up. Her dad was by her side an instant later, asking, “Where you going, honey?”
“I’m going to ask our neighbor if he wants a s’more, too.”
“That’s very kind of you. He might want to be left alone, though.”
She smiled her biggest smile and replied, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.”
And then, before her father could argue, she marched carefully away from her own fire, still cradling the s’more in one hand, and avoiding all the stumps and rocks she’d made note of while it was still light, through the dark stretches between the two camps until she was at the edge of light created by her neighbor’s fire. She slowed then, not wanting to startle him, and suddenly a bit nervous, bu he must have heard her coming because he turned and greeted her with a large, warm, smile.
“Hello there, beautiful night isn’t it.”
He was older than he’d looked from the distance between the camps when she’d watched him earlier. The light from his fire splashed across his face, his wrinkles casting shadows of their own. The smile won her over before her nerves had a chance to really frighten her.
“Would you like a s’more?” she asked, holding her own out to him.
“Oh? Why I haven’t had one of those longer than you’ve been alive. I didn’t even bring the stuff to make them this trip. I remember them being very tasty, though. Are you sure you want to part with it?”
She had only just met him but could tell he was being silly. It was something in his voice and something in the way his eyes sparkled. She supposed that could have been the fire light but she doubted it. She doubted it very much.
“We have a lot stuff to make more. I’m planning on having at least two every night we’re here. It’s not a real camping out campfire unless you have a s’more.”
“No? No. I supposed you’re right. Well, then I’d be honored to have one, thank you.”
And with that he took the s’more from her with one of his large, weathered hands and immediately took a bite. Marshmallow stuck to the corners of his lips and somehow a dob of chocolate wound up on his nose. She couldn’t help but giggle. He didn’t seem to mind the mess or the laughter. If anything, his eyes grew even merrier.
“Oh, yes, just as I had remembered. Very tasty, indeed.”
“You’re welcome to join us at our campfire, if you’d like,” her mom said from right behind her.
Somehow her mom had crossed from their camp without her hearing and her sudden arrival made her jump ever so slightly but then when she’d realized it was just her mom she went back to grinning at her new friend.
“That is very kind of you,” he replied, still smiling with chocolate on his nose and marshmallow fluff smeared to his cheeks. “I would love to join your fire tomorrow night, if you’ll have then. Tonight I’m already settled into my chair.”
“Perfect! We’ll have a chair for you and everything. Just come on down after dinner and we’ll make s’mores again,” the little girl replied, her excitement causing the words to come out in a loud rush. Then she skipped back to her own fire, heedless of the rocks and roots that might grab a foot if she wasn’t careful, knowing that her father had almost certainly made another s’more for her. She was ready for it.
She’d made a new friend. She was camping. Tomorrow was going to be an adventure.
And, in the distance, she could still hear the blurbling and bubbling sounds of the river. It was like magic, that sound, just like she knew this whole trip was going to be. Magic.
Perhaps the river was the source of it all. Perhaps it was the magic. Maybe she’d find out tomorrow. She figured she’d dream about it that night. She had before, having only seen it in pictures and heard stories from her parents. In fact, she was certain it must be magic.
The river. The river. The river.
Making it safely back to her chair, having ignored her mom’s calls to slow down and be careful, she climbed in and started kicking her feet again. A moment later her dad handed her another s’more and this time she didn’t’ wait. She just crunched right in. She felt the marshmallows smear onto her cheeks and nose and she giggled happily, contently, magically, while she ate.
Last week I said goodbye to a friend. He was more than a friend, though, he was family. Our families adopted each other. The Queen and I had him in our wedding, introducing him as my adopted grandpa…
It has taken me some time to find the words I wanted to share. So what follows may be a jumbled mess and while I know that is okay, for moments such as these I wish I could come up with the “right” words and I wish I could come up with them faster. I sat silently and listened as others shared stories about this amazing man. Maybe what follows is what I would have said if I’d had these words faster, if I’d been braver. I doubt it, though. I couldn’t even type them without spilling tears. There’s no way I could speak them out loud.
He called me Matt the Cat. I’m not sure there was more to it than he liked the way it sounded. I never asked him. And now it is too late.
We adopted him, in our fashion, and made him part of our adventures. He went camping with us a couple times. He always said it was an honor to be included. We wouldn’t have had it any other way and wished he could have made it more often. He was like a kid in those mountains. His eyes full of wonder and joy. Then again, his eyes were always full of joy. Joy was who he was, how he approached life, how he treated everyone.
He played the harmonica. He could make it sing. He could make it whistle like a train picking up speed and getting closer and closer. The Little Prince used to love that.
He was good with the two older princes. Patient. Attentive. He wanted to hear their stories and watch them run. The newest prince hadn’t met him. And now it is too late.
As the Queen and I began our winter pilgrimages to the snow with our littles in tow, we would stop at his house on our way to the mountains and share stories and pictures, stretch our legs, visit. We always felt bad invading his home with our chaos. I’m certain he didn’t mind. I wish we could have stopped more often than we did. I wish we could have stayed longer each time too. You could hear it in his voice, that buzzing excitement, each time we knocked on his door. You could see it in his eyes, sparkling with that joy he exuded. And now we’ve made our last stop. It hurts to say that.
I believe you may be a surprise, certainly not to yourself – that will come later – but to some of my readers, to some of even the most faithful of the kingdomites. We didn’t plan on keeping you a secret and we didn’t mean for it to come to this, where you are here and there are still several people near and dear to us that likely didn’t even know you were coming, and yet here you are, here we all are. This year has been a strange one. Your arrival is most definitely one of the bright spots.
Your brothers, the Little Prince and the Littler Prince, already adore you and, of course, already want to know when you will be able to play. They stayed up late to see you, to say hello to you, literal seconds after you were born. The Little Prince helped cut the umbilical cord. They both made toys for you, each hoping you might grab on to the one they made first. They have helped pick out some of the outfits for your first days. They have watched and asked questions and been present in those days. Yes, they already adore you.
Oh, the magical years you have ahead of you. Three brothers, with worlds to conquer for and against each other. Three brothers with mischief to make and wrongs to right. Three brothers in a family that embraces adventure.
The Queen and I, the humble Jester, promised adventure in our vows to each other, and we have promised it to each of our sons in turn. The adventures won’t always be fun. The adventures won’t always be the ones you want to have. That isn’t the point. That isn’t what the promise is about.
You will see amazing things. You will travel. You will discover. You will learn and love and lose and live. Music will be a part of it. The mountains will be a part of it. The ocean will be a part of it. And you will help us find new paths to walk. We will walk them together, the five of us. For no matter what the adventures bring, we will see them through as a family. That is part of the promise as well.
So, my dear Littlest Prince, welcome to the family. You are loved more than this writer could attempt to capture with mere words. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings, and the day after that, and the day after that…