During the earliest parts of the pandemic, I was in the first year of restarting my life and didn’t have a lot of material things. So my boys and I started making heavy use of the library. We checked out and read untold hundreds of books. Campbell fell in love with one story in particular about a famous premature hippo named Fiona. He insisted that we read everything possible about Fiona. We even watched her live-cam at the zoo. Campbell really wanted to visit Fiona, but COVID restrictions made that impossible. Campbell, however, kept Fiona close to his heart over the next couple of years.
As we were planning activities for summer of 2022, Campbell leaned in and softly asked, “Dad, can we visit Fiona?” The pandemic had waned enough that we decided to make an epic road trip. We drove nearly 2,000 miles through seven states—we visited caves and the Gateway Arch in Missouri, ate ice cream in Indiana, visited the Zoo and a Museum Center in Cincinnati, had dinner in Nashville, and picked out some new stories from a bookstore in Memphis. But that zoo trip, it was the reason we went. Campbell was excited. Buzzing. He and his brother got their faces painted at the entrance, with Campbell sporting a hippo motif so Fiona would feel comfortable when she met him, of course. It was time. We walked to see the star of the show. And it was worth every step, every mile, and every year it took to get there.
Campbell was so sweet to Fiona. He introduced himself formally, and then watched with fascination for a long while because time stopped working. Campbell asked me if I was seeing everything he saw—Fiona zooming around the pool, her dad making loud noises and playing with her, and her mom gently showing affection in between. Suddenly, Fiona came over and introduced herself formally and watched Campbell with fascination for a long while. If you had told a younger me that one of the happiest moments of my life would reveal itself through the joy of a five-year-old child as a small hippo manifested herself from the dreams of a book into the depths of his heart, I would not have believed you. But there we were and I will never forget it. My heart grew bigger by the amount of love that Campbell carried for a hippo.
It was a big year for Campbell—you see he grew four inches taller. He graduated from Pre-K and started kindergarten, where he is excelling. His passion for art and creating things is unrelenting (our walls feature many of his prized works) and I am amazed at how many ways a cardboard box can be repurposed. Campbell is a generous person—never passing an opportunity to get or make people gifts just because “they might like it.” Campbell is still a fierce defender of right and wrong, and his compassion for others remains the best gift he offers. Campbell stopped playing soccer and started jiu jitsu this past year. He really enjoys himself and seeing a big smile on his face when he spars with his classmates is really quite delightful. Campbell remains his own person. He loves Bluey, princesses, pink, purple, and animals. And even when kids might make fun of those things on occasion, we talk about it and decide that his joy is for him to hold and not for others to take.
Campbell is full of energy. Although I am accused of being partially responsible for supplying that energy, it is a lot for even me. Campbell is go-go-go. Asking questions, telling stories, singing, dancing, running, laughing. There is rarely a moment of repose while Campbell is awake. So it still catches me off-guard when we are sitting calmly at the end of a day—maybe watching a show or listening to music—and I hear a slight voice say unprompted, “Dad? I love you.” And I know that time is painfully fast and Campbell will continue to grow into himself and I will continue to embarrass him. But I will still ask how it feels to be one year older.
I love you, too, buddy.
Happy Birthday, Campbell.