A Pencil Dot a Day: A Pre-Birthday Musing


Captain's Blog: Stardate 40318.3

It was Passover and I was three years old. Reportedly, my aunt had purchased an adorable cake for my fourth birthday. Kosher be damned, this boy was eating a leavened cake to celebrate the gift his birth and adoption had brought to this family.

I refused. Wouldn’t even blow out the candles. There was not to be any singing, or cake cutting, of any kind. Not even presents.

My mother was deeply concerned. She hadn’t been this upset since we were in the shoe store when I was six months old and they said my feet were too wide for the shoes they had in stock. But this was something different. I was making a statement and no one seemed to know why.

Later, Mom sat me down and asked me what was wrong. I was very clear. “I don’t want to turn four,” I said, “so I’m not going to. I’ve decided I’m going to stay three.”

“Why?” she asked. My answer shocked the hell out of her.

“Because,” I answered in a very matter-of-fact way, “You don’t look the same as you did when you were three. I like how I am now. I don’t want to change.”

Stumped, my mother went back to the proverbial drawing board to ponder the surprising reason behind my birthday ban. What she came back with has been the subject of Bar Mitzvah speeches, special events, and Baer family storytelling for as long as I can remember.

“You’re not going to change overnight,” she reassured me. “You see, we all grow just a pencil dot a day.”

A pencil dot a day.

My parents never talked down to me as a child. Being around grown-ups so much, I was often spoken to a little beyond my immediate comprehension. And I certainly wanted to know the reasons behind everything I was seeing in this world. I was, and still am, not afraid to ask too many questions.

However inquisitive, I was also still three (almost four) years old. Mom and I would draw and color together. My mother is an artist and worked in graphic design. One day a few years after this birthday conundrum, I would come to her frustrated that my attempts to draw Mister Pretzel had failed miserably. I asked her to do it and watched in amazement as she replicated this dapper, salty fellow. I looked up at her adoringly and said, “Oh Mama, you ARE an artist.”

So, with all this time we spent with pencil and paper in hand, this analogy worked perfectly for me. I completely understood that I would not suddenly “age” overnight and leave behind the me I was happy with at age three.

I still didn’t have a birthday that year. However, the following April I was ready to turn five, and had requests for the cake and the party. I can’t tell you what they were…probably Smurfs, based on the Saturday morning cartoon chronology.

This weekend, I am facing another milestone birthday. It is also, once again, Passover. I have had some trepidation about this birthday and it’s deeper meanings. I’ve been tossing around words like “grown-up” and “…where I thought I’d be…” and so forth.

When I was three, I didn’t want the picture to change. Now that I’m turning…older…I find myself anxious to see what the picture looks like. But here’s the thing: the picture is never finished. We are always growing and changing a pencil dot a day. This analogy may have started as a way to explain change. But now that I’m a "grown-up,” I find it’s about patience. The patience to trust yourself, the artist, as you draw your own self portrait.