“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
Owlet, baby (night) owl, your latest moniker, because of your insistent propensity to roam the house until the early hours, eager to talk with me, recall something inevitably funny, when we laugh until we fear waking up your father. Shhh! Hush! We mustn’t wake him up! You have to go to sleep. You have school. You need your rest, I say. I know, but this is better. It won’t last forever, you say. Sometimes, it’s a meandering meeting. You find me in the kitchen reading or writing, drinking tea, and you ask and receive an omelette, a pancake, a grilled cheese, sometimes, pâté, other times, to my horror, ramen noodles. You are growing again. Already you are taller than me. Today you are fifteen. Happy Birthday, Owlet.
You’ve have so many names: lüdenstrudel, baby pie, pooker bean, pumpkin pie, my heart, little love, Yet, when I was pregnant, your father and I could not agree on your name. You were never in danger of becoming Andrew, Benjamin, August (your Kaki was enthralled by the name), any name Roman or Greek, no matter how much I cared for Aeschylus or Aristotle. Nor were you even close to anything peculiarly philosophical or literary: Estlin or Søren or even Eliot was a bit much for Peter and me. Part of the problem was that we expected you to be a girl. And, I had either traditional ideas about names –Mary Caroline, after my dear friend and grandmother, or Emma Grace, or unusual ones for New England: Clementine, Tennessee, Letha, Evie, or Martillie, names of my Tennessee ancestors. Your father, I believe, was vastly relived you turned out to be a boy. However, up until your near birth, we could not agree upon a name. Conversations typically went like this: How about (insert name)? Oh, God no. That’s dreadful! I knew/dated someone with that name. Can’t bear the sight of them. Or, Are you out of your mind? We aren’t living on/in a commune/19th century England (France, Italy, wherever)/17th century Anywhere/The Ancient World/Outer Space/The South (that would be your dad).
It was your Aunt Maria who, I think, in collusion with your grandmother, gently, in that wonderful way she has, put us on the spot and forced us to come up with your name. Sorta. Your first name at any rate. It was Easter? It was a holiday filled with sunshine, lilac blooms, hydrangea, sugared almonds, crystal, china, the family silver and an enormous amount of relatives. It was charming and delicate. I was probably craving a chocolate-covered ice cream cone and cold slaw and processed nacho cheese dip. Those things were not being served. Everyone cherished you already. I want you know this. Everyone at that table loved you dearly—yet unnamed, invisible, already swimming in a lavish of adoration. Your Aunt’s voice interrupted the chat, So, April & Peter, have you decided on a name?
We had not, and she knew it. Sweet Aunt Maria didn’t seem so sweet anymore. We waffled. Your grandmother tossed out August again. Really? August? For the love of all that’s holy, my name is April. The absolute last name I was going to burden any child with is one on a calendar. Yet, I understand the appeal. It’s a beautiful name, a venerable name—literally. Your well-meaning relatives and friends suggested name after name, all of which had gone through our rigorous vetting process (see above). Aunt Maria’s voice cut through the chat again and asked if there was a particular name I liked. Everyone stopped talking and looked at me. I felt the pressure to come up with something, anything. A name a name a name, one we had not considered. One worthy of a child for a lifetime, one that inspired, one that reflected all the hopes and dreams and characteristics we wished for our son, one that could not be perverted into a cruel nickname, one easy to spell.
I opened my mouth full of wishes but without a clue. And out came the name,
In my mind I thought, Thoreau. Then I thought, YES! Then I thought, Isn’t there a serial killer…oh, no matter, can’t have everything. Meanwhile, your father looked stunned, and said, I like it. You’ve never mentioned that name. He seemed rather put out about it. What can I say? By the time we got around to discussing names out of desperation, the Ts were pretty far down on the philosophy section bookcases. It’s difficult to bend over in your last trimester. And, Emerson is a mouthful—it was on consideration for a middle name until Henry came up. That would be too twee. My weird pregnant brain didn’t make the jump to Henry David. But it kicked in when it mattered. Everyone liked the name. Aunt Maria looked very pleased, and you were named. It was a perfect fit. You were uniquely Henry from that moment. Yet, like the man we hoped would inspire you, you are your own person. You love and love more. You are true to your work, your word and your friends, you have a tremendous capacity for empathy, and you live the life you imagine.
My heart, again, Happy Birthday, keep living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life. Maee.
P.S. If you wish to change your name to Emerson or Estlin, since you’ve expressed astonishment why we didn’t choose those names, you may legally do so after you turn 18. Although, please consider how amusing it will be to people, if you choose Emerson, when you tell them you changed it from Henry.