When Nels had emergency surgery for a hernia when he was four weeks old, I couldn't help but consider what it would be like to lose him. What struck me most was that I didn't know him yet, and I wanted so much to have that opportunity.
Before he was born I wondered what he would be like. Shy? Outgoing? Reckless? Would he like sports? Books? Music? Never in all my wondering did I come close to considering even a fraction of the qualities that I've discovered about Nels in the six years I've known him.
At six, Nels is conscientious, cautious to a fault, deeply philosophical, and a total goofball. He is frustrated to the point of tears by the necessity of doing mundane tasks like getting dressed in the morning.
He is a whiz with Lego and loves to figure out how things work. He recently asked me why the birds don't get shocked when they land on telephone wires. His favorite books are all non-fiction; space, shipwrecks, sea creatures, army tanks and the human body are some of his favorite topics.
He loves to ride his bike like a maniac.
His favorite colors are orange and "sparkle."
I will never forget the first time we watched Star Wars with Nels. As the theme blasted over the rolling credits at the end, he cried and cried. From happiness. He'd never been so moved. Until we saw the movie Iron Giant, that is. At one point the boy Hogarth is having a talk with the Iron Giant (SPOILER ALERT) right after some hunters kill the deer the giant was petting.
"It's bad to kill," says Hogarth, "but it's OK to die." Nels began to sob and then shook his head.
"I'm not crying because I'm sad. I'm crying because it's so happy." It was their intimate friendship that he found so touching.
Later he proclaimed, "Mom, Iron Giant is a better movie than Star Wars. In Star Wars I cried at the end but in Iron Giant I already cried in the middle."
The jury's still out on whether or not he likes sports.