I am looking at my grandson Adam's picture as I write this. His mother snapped it with her iPhone, an old iPhone so the picture is pixelated and a little out of focus.
Still, you can see the joy in his face, a child's joy; unmasked is the word, I think. But it's the wrong word because Adam is only 11 and has nothing yet to hide.
He's beaming a huge, life-can't-get-any-better kid smile because he just got his own phone. Not a new, top-of-the-line phone, but who cares? It's a phone that works. And he has his own number. And he can text!
Sixth grade prompted this. Growing up. Keeping up.
Last week he got his own computer, again not a new one, a relic by computer standards, but not by his. He e-mailed me that day: "I got my own computer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Again, pure joy.
I wished then, as I wish now, that I could bottle this joy and save it for him like a vintage champagne to be brought out and opened not to celebrate an occasion, but to remind him when he is older and his heart aches, and it will — it will ache and it will break many, many times — of what childhood joy feels like.
My childhood joy. A bike. Even if it's not a Raleigh like your best friend's and your father got it secondhand. Or thirdhand and painted it himself. Green. A color you don't like but it's a bike. And it's all yours and you're riding it around the block and down the street, pumping hard because there's only one speed. But who cares. You can feel the wind in your face and the beat of your heart and the sun on your back. And you ride all afternoon into dusk, until the streetlights come on. And in the morning, you get up and you walk outside and you look at that bike and you think green isn't so bad, green is kind of nice. And you get on your very own bike and you ride around the block and down the street. And it never gets old.
Only you do.
It doesn't last, a child's joy. You can't stockpile it for later. It's as temporary and fleeting as childhood. It's like all the best things in life. It has an expiration date.
Which is why it is so precious.
Adam was just hours old when I saw the old soul in him. It seemed to me that he was dazed by where he was, "What am I doing here?" the question in his eyes as he looked around at the world, at the hospital, at us. I pictured him, an elderly British gentleman, ensconced in an easy chair, sipping brandy from a cut-glass snifter, pondering life, a life of morning suits and pocket watches and privilege, listening to the BBC, and dozing off. Then awakening, stunned and confused, because there he was, no longer an old man in his chair, but small and naked and wrapped in a blanket, lights everywhere, a baby again.
A Native American would have named him Been-Here-Before.
This is Adam still. Been-Here-Before. You can almost always see the adult inside the boy.
"I am going to love communicating with you in this new way. Is the PC at Dad's? Is it all yours? xoxo," I wrote back in response to the first e-mail to me.
And this is how Adam replied, the adult in him peeking through:
"1. me too
2. at mom's
Which is why I keep looking at this picture that shows none of this, that has captured not the old soul within the boy, not the man he will become, but only the boy — only the sweet, full-of-joy child he is.
Beverly Beckham's column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.